Author’s note: Always discuss health concerns with the appropriate health care practitioner.
Like many who were placed in closed adoptions, knowing my ancestral health history was something that I had placed great importance on. I became even more important after I found out what that history contained.
Though my reunion experience seven years ago was somewhat less than ideal on the surface, I was able to maintain contact with some members of my birth family. This was important because nine months ago, my birth mother called to tell me that her younger sister, the supposed picture of health, suddenly collapsed from an aneurysm at 52. In addition, one of my younger half-sisters had recently had open heart surgery to correct a congenitally heart issue, which may have been contributing to aneurysm formation. More information revealed a pattern of “holes in the heart” in other family members.
As an exercise specialist who “grew up” in the field of cardiology I became somewhat frustrated due to information about this issue not being widely spread in the medical world. On a more personal level, the timing in receiving this information was surreal in that I, too, was undergoing testing that revealed a hole in the heart.
Subsequent testing did not reveal any aneurysms. The hole in the heart was not large enough to be surgically sealed, but it did reveal symbolic holes that needed to be investigated in terms of how I dealt with doctors.
Though nobody’s experience is a one-size-fits-all when dealing with a sudden health crisis, I’d like to share some ideas that may shed light, from an adoption and reunion perspective, on being empowered and keeping oneself grounded:
Expect the unexpected. Receiving family health history news often brings up feelings of loss that you may not know how to cope with. At the advice of a psychologist who was a reunited adoptee, I decided to “let my mind run wild” by conjuring all sorts of scenarios involving this information. I was reluctant, but I found that doing just that released unconscious fears via journaling and artwork. Your emotions may also not be what you think. For example, the root of my anger was frustration at being too self-reliant while feeling like I wasn’t receiving the help I needed. I had to relinquish any judgment and embrace compassion.
Create your own unique health history form. For starters, remember that health is about whole person vitality, not merely the absence of physical disease. No time like the present to take the reins and create a form that speaks to ALL aspects of your health history (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual). And we all know that many patient intake forms don’t have places for certain members of the adoption triad or for those created via reproductive technologies, so include them.
Look for the silver lining. Although difficult, a health crisis is often a catalyst for change. This might be a good time to ask yourself what really is important. What are you putting off that you really desire to accomplish/create? For those of us with innate nurturing abilities, are you balancing nurturing yourself with nurturing others, and proactively speaking up when you feel out of balance?
Take the reins of your health by engaging with your intuition. Medicine, like many life experiences, is rife with ambiguity and shifts continually. While genetics are important, it has now been discovered that the environment, both internal and external, may have more of an effect on genetic expression than originally thought. In short, we intuitively know our bodies better than we have allowed ourselves to realize. Nonetheless, it is important to ask yourselves these questions: Are those involved with your health care really “getting” you and your concerns? Do they understand and embody the notion that being healthy is not a “one size fits all” scenario and that looking good on paper (i.e. labs/procedures) does not always equal a healthy person?
Why is this so important? Early life experiences can alter the physiology of the body, which might mean that your “normal” is not necessarily the standard normal. It is important to trust your gut when working with health care practitioners. Someone who the whole person rather than just “body parts” is the ideal. While this may not always be possible, finding someone who respects you as a person and is at least open to looking outside of convention will serve you well.
Surround yourself with uplifting people and places. Words have energy behind them, and when it comes to your health care, words have the power to heal or harm. When facing an unexpected health crisis, it is vital to surround yourself with people who will enhance your energy rather than drain it. You will need all of your strength to stay grounded when working with the health care system, which can be challenging by itself.
Practice balance. Unless it’s a bona fide emergency, give yourself time to research the information. At the same time, practice restraint. Overload is a big energy drainer. This is the time to either start or continue a healthy lifestyle. Yoga and meditation are just two ways of remaining centered during this time. Another energy drainer is trying to force emotions (namely grief) to appear before it is fully ready. Nurturance is key here.
Shortly after receiving my heart test results, I received an autopsy report of my aunt’s heart, which I was not ready to look at. Nonetheless, I picked up the phone to call the cardiologist who did my tests to let him know what I had received. As the right hand started to dial, the left pulled it back from dialing twice. Why did I hesitate?
My cardiologist would get the results eventually, but in that moment, I had to do some deep healing and grieving. There was no longer any urgency. No more poking and prodding for the time being. It was just time to be and let myself heal. This was the wisdom of discernment and also remembering that the human body has its own healing abilities, which work best in a relaxed state.
In the grander scheme of things, none of what happened was an accident, and the reality that this occurred not only while in the midst of testing myself but while in the beginnings of perimenopause has a significance as well. Perhaps the biggest lesson involves both celebrating and mourning the lives of all of the female ancestors who have lived before me.