This past weekend I was taken by surprise when an X-ray completed on my son that was intended to evaluate whether or not he had pneumonia revealed something else. The doctor walked into the room and asked if I have ever had any concerns about his heart. As the conversation developed, I began to realize that I know virtually nothing about his genetic medical history. I stood there and felt a little panicked at all that I do not know.
These four words, “I DO NOT KNOW”, are words that I have had to say to medical professionals about both of my children through the years. I get angry when I do not have the answers or clues needed that could assist in seeking results or directing the path that doctors need to take. I know though that even parents who are raising biological children do not always have the answers needed when discussing medical history, and that medical conditions are not always related to genetic history. I mean, look what happened at me!
As an adoptive parent though, I feel very helpless when standing in front of medical staff with barely anything to add. My thoughts go from frustration, to anger, and then to guilt. I feel frustrated for not being able to help. I get angry at realizing that poor choices by my children’s birth mothers could lead to health problems for my children. I also get angry knowing that it is almost nearly impossible for people who have been adopted to find out their medical histories. Often, they have to get attorneys to subpoena the courts to open the record. It is not an easy process at all. I understand protecting the birth family’s and adoptive family’s right to privacy, but when it comes to medical history, adoptees should have the right to know as much as they can.
The guilt sometimes comes from not finding out as much as possible before the adoptions were finalized, or for not pushing for answers from case workers and biological family members if possible. I do not blame the case workers at all (I was once one and my husband is currently one). I just wish getting the information would have been easier. I know that I asked as many questions as possible about their genetic medical history. It seems though that each time something comes up and I do not have an answer for, I feel guilty. Looking back, I wish I would have listed out every disease process and used a yes/no system to ask questions about genetic history.
I was talking to another adoptive parent the other day about these issues and we both agreed that it is different from raising biological children. Let me clearly state though that It is NOT different in the love, effort, and energy poured out when parenting. It is NOT different in the genuine sense of knowing our children are “ours”. But, there are different issues that adoptive parents face. My friend who adopted privately has had to face similar issues. Her son is now an adolescent so she was able to share with me how she has faced some of the unknowns and questions her son has had through the years.
There are many unknowns in adoptive parenting. I do not know if any other significant medical problems will develop as they age. I do not know what my children will think or feel about being adopted as they grow up. I do not know my children’s biological grandparents’ names, histories, or any other valuable information that could be passed on. I have very, very few pictures of their birth mothers and fathers. I do not know if they will look for their birth parents (although I am open to assisting them with this). I do not know if they will get angry for not having more open contact through the years.
My son is okay. It was just an incidental finding related to respiratory issues. His heart is healthy and he is going to be fine. I can relax now. I can stop stewing over the conversations about health issues that I should have had with his case worker and birth mother. I have come to realize that adoptive parenting is an incredibly complex; yet, amazing experience. I am also realizing that I must walk in faith when it comes to navigating the unknowns.
If you are an adoptive parent (especially out of foster care), do you have any nuggets of wisdom you have gleaned through the years that you would like to share? If so, please comment as I am always seeking out ways to understand the complexity of adoptive parenting.