What You Need to Know Before Adopting
No matter where you adopt—whether domestically or abroad—you will encounter unexpected health issues. For starters, the biological mothers of adopted children don't always get good prenatal care or know much about their own family's medical history. Medical or emotional issues can pop up at any age. Still, having a newborn health history is helpful. When a baby is adopted from overseas, you may have nothing more to go on than a video or picture.
And adopted children aren't returnable, at least not without heartbreak. Who will ever forget the disturbing story of Torry Hansen, the Tennessee mother who sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Russia alone, with a note saying she didn't want him because he was mentally unstable. Because of that incident, Russian officials threatened to halt all adoptions to the United States.
You need to track down whatever background information you can find so that if a health issue comes up, you can help your pediatrician diagnose and treat it quickly.
6 ways you can educate yourself
Be Honest with Yourself
Go in knowing that children from other countries often have health and developmental delays, probably due to a lack of toys and stimulation, minimal time with their caretakers or even trouble connecting emotionally with staff members who wear surgical masks to prevent the spread of disease. That said, I remind parents that the likelihood of a child having learning disabilities or other health issues is similar whether adopting abroad or in the United States.
Learn the Lingo
I've seen the language vary from state to state and by country. A baby described as having "developmental delays" may have mild to moderate mental retardation. A child described as "active and needs a lot of attention" may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). "Specials needs" may mean there are serious health issues or that the child has an older sibling and they must be adopted together.
Ask Everyone Questions
Not just the agency head. Hang around and ask the everyday foster care or orphanage workers if they've noticed any differences between the child you're hoping for and others who are waiting to be adopted. Do they know anything about the mother or her family? Ask whether the mother had any history of alcohol abuse, which could cause fetal alcohol syndrome? Get a photo so your doctor can detect subtle features that may signal problems.
Insist that the baby you plan to adopt at least has a simple newborn screen of blood tests, which spot 40 inherited rare diseases and everything from anemia to hepatitis to syphilis and tuberculosis. This is a requirement in the United States.
Bring an Expert
This can be especially helpful in deciphering medical terms in foreign adoptions. The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) has a directory of pediatricians who have a special interest in adoption. Many of them perform pre-adoption and post-adoption exams.
Embrace the Positive
Realize that most adopted children develop beautifully and make amazing progress once they get good nutrition, medical care and (of course) your attention and love.
Can adoptive parents get the "baby blues" too?
There's a name for what you're feeling. It's called Post Adoption Depression Syndrome, or PADS, and it's common.
In fact, it happens about half the time. Feeling depressed is a normal reaction to stress, and the whole adoption process provides plenty of that, and not just for parents. Adopted children often grieve over the loss of their caretakers. Bonding takes time. So don't expect perfection from yourself or the situation.
If either parent has to return to work quickly, make extra allowances there too. Juggling new parenthood with a job and not being there full time also ups the stress. Talking to other adoptive parents often helps. But if the sadness doesn't go away, see a healthcare professional.
Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg—or Dr. Jen—is RealAge's pediatric expert and the author of The Smart Parent's Guide to Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents and Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children. Get more of her advice at RealAge.com.
Are you a parent of an adopted child, or are you considering adoption? Share your comments below.
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