Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Facing The Lack of Family Medical History in International Adoption

I recently had a mother tell me a story about bringing her two
adopted children to a new doctor. She, like many parents of
children adopted internationally, have very little information
about their child's family health history before adoption. After
she had explained this on the phone, in the forms and to the
nurse, the doctor proceeded to tell her, "adopted dogs have more
family health history than you have!". Needless to say, she was
absolutely shocked and appalled and immediately found a new
doctor. While this is extreme, it is very hard as an adoptive
parent to have to explain this fact repeatedly, sometimes for

This wonderful piece by Dawn at Creating a Family on this topic
totally resonated with me.

Adopted: Family History Unknown

Last week was the first game for the middle school girls' soccer
team, and one of my daughters was starting as center midfielder.

As she streaked down the field, she took a soccer ball in the
face. She shook it off, and the game resumed. All's well that
ends well, right? Wrong.

Her comment the next morning that she was seeing black streaks
started us on a journey that would end three days and three
doctors later with laser surgery to repair a torn retina.

I spent the week in doctor's offices waiting, playing cards, and
filling out forms. In the past when we've gone to a new doctor,
my daugher has been young enough that she was not paying
attention while I filled out the forms. Either due to her age
(13) or her anxiety about the black spots and flashing lights,
she was paying close attention as I completed them this week.

Every form had a family history section. With the first form, as
I wrote "Adopted: Family history unknown", I thought that my
daughter became a little more reserved. I slipped into my
Mommy-the-role-model role to show her how to handle this
situation in a matter of fact manner. Adoption is a natural part
of her life, and throughout her life she'll face situations where
she has to explain it to others. I'm sure she has done this many
times with friends, but maybe not with adults or when specific
information is being asked. After we sat back down in the waiting
room, I tried to use it as a conversation starter about lacking
information about her birth family. It was a non-starter.

Later, the nurse felt the need to confirm that we had no family
history, and then the doctor highlighted this fact when he
reviewed the form. With each successive form and doctor I
noticed my daughter growing increasingly quiet during these brief
family history discussions. Her body language whispered

I don't really know what she was feeling; too much was happening
then and since for me to have that conversation. She needs some
time to process, and for life to settle into routine again. But
what surprised me were my feelings. I wanted so much to protect
her from all of this. Yes, from the torn retina and all that
will entail both now and in the future, but also from a lifetime
of writing "Adopted: No family history." on medical forms and
then explaining it to a lifetime of medical personnel.

I wanted to ditch the Mommy-the-role-model role and become

Mommy-the-super-hero (complete with spandex costume), throwing
myself in front of speeding soccer balls and mending torn retinas
with one fell swoop. Mommy the super hero would be able to
shield her child not only from speeding object, but also from
prying questions. Mommy the super hero would make sure her
daughter never felt uncomfortable about being adopted.

OK, as I type this, I realize how silly this sounds-ridiculous
really. I know I'm over reacting. My daughter's medical
treatment did not hinge on family medical history. Nor is she
emotionally fragile; she can and will learn to deal with these
types of questions. This is a part of her life, and as her mom,
I need to teach her how to handle it. But it stinks. It stinks
that we don't have this information and it stinks that she has to
explain this fact. So, in my fantasy, I'm wearing my
Mommy-the-super-hero costume, filling out medical forms and
slaying soccer balls. And since it's a dream, I also look good
in spandex.

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