My best piece of advice, which is not often talked about, is to educate yourself about teratogens, and search your heart to make the best decision about what you are willing and able to accept for your family.

We decided to build our family through adoption after learning that biological children weren’t an option for us. We never thought that part of the process would be sitting down to complete a very lengthy questionnaire asking over and over, “Are you willing to accept an infant who has been exposed to _______? If yes, how much and how often?” Those blanks were filled in with things like alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines…you get the idea. The thought of a baby, possibly our baby, being exposed to any of those things was stressful, but we had to be very honest with ourselves when answering those questions and making the tough decision about what we were willing and able to accept.

We had never even heard the word “teratogen” until we were presented with some basic information at the orientation for the adoption agency we were working with. A teratogen is basically any substance that can cause birth defects. Everything from over-the-counter drugs to heroin is a teratogen, and they each have different effects on the fetus depending on how much and when during the pregnancy they are taken. Teratogens can cause physical deformities, failure to thrive, mental retardation, and learning disabilities, among others. While I found this information interesting, it was very concerning to me. How were we supposed to decide which possible birth defects we could handle? After all, if we had the ability to have biological children and we found out either before or after the birth that there was some kind of medical or mental problem we wouldn’t say, “Well, we don’t want that one then.” So, we considered how the impact of adopting a child with a birth defect caused by teratogens would affect us financially, as well as emotionally.

The roller coaster of emotions felt during the adoption process is something that can’t justly be explained.

Adoption is expensive, and if you’re like us it took a lot of financial planning to cover the adoption expenses. Considering the range of medical and mental needs a child who has been exposed to drugs and alcohol could have, we had to make careful decisions about what we could financially take on. From the moment that baby is placed in your arms, you become responsible for everything about him or her, and the responsibility of care for a child who might have special medical or mental needs is even greater. While some medical needs might arise in a child exposed to teratogens are not major and can be corrected easily, others are a lifelong commitment to medical treatments and even the possibility of a shorter life span.

The roller coaster of emotions felt during the adoption process is something that can’t justly be explained. Only those who have experienced it can understand it. The what-ifs and fear of what the future holds can take over your life if you let it. Being in an open adoption, it is important to be able to leave the past in the past, and not judge the birth mother for decisions she made when she was pregnant. There would be nothing more toxic, in my opinion, than holding the past over your child’s beautiful birth mother’s head. Being able to let go of any negative feelings you have towards your child’s birth mother takes an emotionally mature person, and is essential in nurturing a healthy open adoption. Searching your heart and being very honest about what you can handle is a very difficult and personal process.

We decided to accept a moderate amount of exposure to most teratogens, and would consider any match that was presented. Only a few days after we were officially “waiting,” we received the call we thought we would be waiting a year to receive. There was going to be a baby girl born in only three days, and we had been chosen by the agency at the birth mother’s request to adopt her. We received information about the birth mother, and that there had been exposure to drugs. My heart jumped into my throat as I started thinking about everything we had learned about teratogens. We had only two hours to make a decision because we weren’t the first family they had called. They would need to call the next waiting family if we chose to decline. We immediately went to our resources to look at the birth defects the baby might have. They all seemed very mild to nothing at all, but to be sure I made a call to the Texas Teratogen Information Service. I was reassured to speak with someone who knew how I was feeling because she was also an adoptive mom. She took the time to listen to what we knew, and give us her best educated advice. “This is good,” she said. That’s all we needed to hear; just a little reassurance. Our daughter was born healthy only a few days later, and has been thriving ever since.

We are so blessed to have had the information and resources available to us, so we could make the best decision for our family. Had we not taken the time to educate ourselves about teratogens and their effects, we would have been fearful of the match we received, and probably would have declined. Now we have a beautiful daughter and a wonderful open adoption with her birth mother and grandmother. Being painfully honest with yourself is never easy, but usually things that are worth something rarely are easy.

So, where can you find resources about teratogens and their effects on an unborn baby? The best resource is This is a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), and they provide fact sheets, lists of resources, and even a toll free phone number where you can get your questions answered.

Read more like it by downloading our FREE ebook, Adopting a Baby in the US. Get it here.