Finding the right pediatrician is only one part of ensuring your child’s health growing up. You also need to make sure that your pediatrician understands the complexities of adoption — and it all starts with the way you talk about this subject.
As an adoptive parent, you have become an unofficial ambassador for adoption. You’ll find this applies everywhere in your life, but it’s crucially important in spaces like the doctor’s office. Here, you’ll be responsible for your child’s well-being and effective treatment by medical professionals, especially those who are unfamiliar with how adoption works. While it’s always best to choose a pediatrician who has experience with adoption, it’s not always possible. But, it gives you the opportunity to educate and help spread awareness about this family-building method.
So, how exactly do you talk about adoption with your pediatrician in a friendly, straightforward way? We’ve gathered some helpful hints below.
Filling Out Medical Paperwork
Often, the first opportunity for you to discuss adoption is the first step in a visit: filling out medical forms. As you do so, you may find that your child’s medical history form has no space to explain their adoption history. The fact that they were adopted is not something to be omitted, however.
As you fill out your child’s medical history forms, make sure to add that they were adopted somewhere in the information. And, when you hand back in your forms, point out the omission to the administrative staff. You can ask them to include a checkbox for “adopted” in future forms to help adoptive families like your own. When you bring this up in a friendly and open manner, many nurses and staff will be happy to oblige.
Talking About Medical History
Medical history can be complicated when your child is adopted. You may have access to a great amount of information, or you may have none at all. So, when your child’s doctor asks about certain family history, you may be unsure of what to say.
Honesty is the best policy. Make sure your doctor knows all the information you have, but explain that certain details are unavailable or may even be inaccurate. For this reason, it might be a good idea to have your child’s doctor do a comprehensive medical evaluation every few years. Even if there is family medical history for your child, a comprehensive evaluation can identify issues that may not have been mentioned (or even known) by your child’s birth parents.
In addition, you should also make sure your child’s doctor has the birth mother’s pregnancy records, when possible. These can play an important role in understanding a child’s health history, and it’s crucial that your pediatrician has the best information from the start. It’s much more effective for a pediatrician to view those records in person than have them summarized by you, so talk to your adoption specialist about having those records sent over as soon as possible.
Finally, if your child is of a different race or ethnicity than you, you’ll need to remember that medical evaluations may be a bit different, too. Certain races are more prone to certain diseases, and your pediatrician should always keep that in mind, regardless of your own race. For example, sickle cell anemia is much more common in the black population but, if you’re a white parent, you may never have been personally screened for it before. Do a little research on what is commonly seen in your child’s race or ethnicity, but remember that your pediatrician is the medical expert and will do what they feel is right for your child.
Talking About Mental Health
Fortunately, society has become much more open and accepting of mental health issues. It’s important that your child’s pediatrician is equally concerned about their mental health as their physical health.
If your pediatrician has little experience with adoptees, you should talk to them at length about how adoption can affect a child’s mental health growing up. Even in the healthiest and most loving households, adopted children can struggle with identity issues and feelings of loss. As they come to terms with their adoption, they may act out — but it’s important that their pediatrician does not misdiagnose these behaviors.
Many behaviors commonly associated with mental health disorders like ADHD may actually be signs of grief, PTSD, reactive attachment disorder, and other mental health issues stemming from a history of adoption. While these are much more commonly seen in foster care adoptees, it’s something that all adoptive parents should be aware of.
While adoption may be a natural, open topic of conversation in your household, it may not be everywhere else. So, make sure your pediatrician understand the importance of being open and transparent about this subject, especially in one-on-one conversations between the doctor and your child. Your child should be just as comfortable talking about their feelings regarding adoption with their doctor as they are with you at home.
Modeling Positive Adoption Language
Whatever aspect of adoption you’re discussing, you must remember to always model adoption-positive language. You may be the first experience some doctors and staff members have with adoption, so it’s up to you they understand the best ways to discuss this topic.
It’s pretty simple: Rather than using terms like “give up” or “put up” for adoption, explain that your child was “placed” for adoption by loving birth parents who just wanted the best for them. When you hear people use outdated terms, gently correct them and offer them alternatives. Remember, not everyone has your experience with adoption, and it may take some time for your positive language to rub off on others. Don’t give up, though; your dedication will ensure your child feels supported and respected during their medical appointments.
We know that talking about adoption can be tricky but, with practice, it will become easier and easier. If you ever have questions about how to answer doctor’s questions or discuss your child’s adoption with medical professionals, your adoption specialist will always be able to help.