Almost any parent will tell you that one of the scariest parts of becoming a parent and expecting a child is knowing whether or not your child will be born healthy. That kind of worry can consume a person. I know when I was pregnant with my first child, I did not care whether or not he was a boy or a girl. I simply wanted to know that he was healthy. When our first child via adoption was born, the worry increased tenfold. When you do not really know the health history of a child’s birth parents, there is certainly justification for that fear. Luckily, I knew the general history of my child’s birth mother and some general history of their birth father. I knew that there were important questions that I needed to ask both of them in order to ensure not only that the child was healthy, but more so that there were not health issues that I would have to face with the child as they grew and did not know about. If there was medical information that I could gather now that could help me to better care for my child, that was of the utmost importance.
When you think about asking questions about health before accepting a match it is best to think of your own real-life situations and the way your family has affected your own health. For instance, my youngest son has an allergy to fruit. Luckily, I had expected that as his first father has an allergy to food as well. In general, we avoided fruit because we had this information. Sure enough, when one of the grandparents gave him some fruit, he had a reaction. We were ready for that since we knew the health history. There will be many questions that you will want to ask birth parents, if possible, about the potential health issues and possible complications your child may face. Some questions will be easier than others. Some of the questions about health will be broached by your adoption agency on your behalf while there will be some questions that you forget to ask. There will also be a lot of blind trust and lack of assurance that you will either have to give into or choose to pass opportunities when these situations arise.
If you are lucky enough, you will be in a position to ask the expectant parents about any allergies that they may have that might pass down to their child. Some will have dairy allergies while others may have allergies to specific foods like nuts. You may also find that some of these expectant parents have general allergies. Allergies can be passed down from generation to generation. For example, my mother is allergic to leather, which is a really weird allergy to have. I found out soon enough, as a child having my first pair of leather shoes, that I was allergic to leather too. Knowing these allergies and what your child might face will allow you to avoid certain foods or hazards for your child or approach them with caution until you know for sure.
I have a good friend who adopted a child a few years ago in a closed adoption situation. The adoption was closed per the birth parents’ requests. When her child was about 2 years old, he had a severe reaction to a specific type of nut. While sometimes nut allergies are not necessarily passed down, there may have been a warning that the birth parents could have given regarding the child having a possible nut allergy if the adoption had not been a closed situation. There may also be allergies to medication, anesthesia, or certain sensitivities your child may inherit that could be a matter of life or death. This is why it’s definitely a blessing when you’re able to get that information even before an adoption may be closed or request it somehow. Knowing this information helps prevent extreme reactions or helps give adoptive parents the knowledge to know how to handle such reactions if they might arise.
Family Medical History
I recently took my 2-year-old to the cardiologist to check on a heart murmur that his primary care physician had found at his yearly checkup. While waiting for the cardiologist, the nurse asked me many questions about my son’s family medical history. While I could answer a lot of questions about the history of allergies and cancer, I realized that I had never asked his birth mother and father if they had any history of anything heart-related. I had no clue. I was incredibly nervous, suddenly, that there was something I might have missed and could have caught before. Luckily, he was completely fine, and his murmur was benign. Yet, I definitely wished I had known to ask about heart-related and organ-related conditions prior.
If you are in a situation where you are able to ask about the health history, do so and do so often. It is an incredible blessing to be able to maintain a relationship with your child’s birth parents in order to keep updated on that health history and ask questions about health when you need to. I later found out that many people in my son’s family had heart murmurs with no issue. I could have saved a lot of worry for myself and my husband had I asked about this prior to the issue. Most parents will be able to know right away what information should be shared about conditions that might be genetic. I know as my biological children grow, I will definitely let them know that they may inherit any genetic conditions that are present, so they may prepare as they create their own families.
Your child’s birth parents may know right away what to share with you when you ask the simple question, “Are there any medical conditions that run in your family?” It will likely ring a bell and allow you to have information that they may have forgotten to share. This is one reason open adoption is a blessing, as you can obtain updated medical information as needed. Many medical and mental conditions may not manifest at an early age. There may be genetic conditions that the birth family can warn you about as they happen. It is advisable to ask for a line of communication even in a closed adoption to ask medical questions and so that the child’s birth family may be able to update you on any new medical information. Getting ahead of any kind of genetic condition will be key to treating it and giving your child the best chance at a healthy life.
Trying to discover whether or not your child has been exposed to drugs and/or alcohol can be quite a difficult task. While there are many cases where an expectant mother is forthcoming about any exposure the child might have, there are just as many cases where they may not be. This is not necessarily because that person does not care about the exposure that their child has, but rather that they are ashamed and addicted. That, in itself, is common when it comes to drug and/or alcohol abuse. In these cases, all that you can do is take an expectant parent at their word. Your adoption agency will likely take the lead in this case and try to discover what a child may be exposed to. It is also good not to assume that the child has been exposed at all. Many people are placing their children for adoption simply because they are unable to parent at the time. While exposure does happen, it is not necessarily always the case. It can be very accusatorial to ask this question when the subject is not really valid.
Ask your agency to broach the subject of exposure. Also, it’s important to ask yourself what you are prepared to accept. If an expectant mother states that she has used a drug in the past but is clean now, be prepared to have knowledge on what that type of exposure can do simply because you are handling addiction now. While the hope is that they will not use again, addiction is a disease. You have to prepare yourself to accept the fact that your child may be born exposed to that substance. Explore with your doctor and with your agency what that exposure may do to your child and what types of effects it may have on them as they grow. Then, you will need to decide whether or not this is something you and/or your partner are prepared to handle should the situation arise once the child is born. Open the door to honest communication between you and your child’s expectant mother in hopes that she will remain forthcoming with any exposure information during her pregnancy.
Older Child Adoption
While all of the medical issues listed above may be true when adopting an older child, there will be a host of other questions about health you may want to ask. Many of these questions you can actually ask the child, or the child will be able to communicate with you once they’re in your home. However, you may want to get access to a child’s medical records in order to understand the full scope of what you are handling when it comes to raising the child. These medical records may contain information on medical issues or medical treatment that your child does not remember or is not happy to disclose. This medical history may include both general physical information as well as mental health information. Specifically, older children may have mental health issues that can stem from genetics or trauma that has occurred. Having this information is vital to know how to handle various situations you may encounter with your child.
If you are adopting from foster care, which is usually the case in most older child adoption, the child placing agency may have a wealth of information about your child’s medical history to divulge. It is advisable to get information from whatever sources that you have at your disposal. If you are able to speak with the child’s birth parents, reach out for this information. It may be uncomfortable or awkward, but it can be vital for your child’s overall well-being. Knowing how to help your child and knowing the care that they will need will be vital for your adoption as well as moving forward as a family.
Aside from the generally positive and open relationship that comes from open adoption, one of the greatest benefits of an open adoption is the access it gives you to your child’s health information and medical history. It is vital to know how to best care for your child and having all of the information available to you about your child’s past and the past of their family will help you to be successful in this matter. The littlest information may matter immensely. Even something as little as knowing allergies that may be passed down may be incredibly valuable.
It is also vital to ask these questions about health before matching as there may be situations you do not feel equipped to handle. While there is an extreme sense of guilt that may be felt with this, it is okay to say no to a match if you feel you or your family is not equipped to handle a situation. Adoption is a very unique way to build your family but also a very difficult decision-making process. Asking good questions about a child’s medical history before accepting a match is the best way to ensure that you are the best match for that child to be able to meet their needs and give them the care they need and deserve.
Lita Jordan is a master of all things “home.” A work-from-home, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of five. She has a BA in Youth Ministry from Spring Arbor University. She is married to the “other Michael Jordan” and lives on coffee and its unrealistic promises of productivity. Lita enjoys playing guitar and long trips to Target. Follow her on www.facebook.com/halfemptymom/.