What Every Healthcare Provider Needs to Know About Adoption

Here's how to show sensitivity and respect when working with families formed by adoption.

Caroline Bailey October 03, 2017
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Recently, at my daughter’s first appointment with a new doctor, the nurse walked in and the first thing she said was, “So, are you the biological mom?” My daughter looked at me and I said, “No. We are an adoptive family.” In the corner of my eyes, I saw my daughter whispering the word “biological.”

Next up, the doctor. Sure enough, he said, “I read you’re an adoptive family. Is she aware she’s adopted?” He asked this question RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY DAUGHTER. I said, “Yes, she knows that she’s adopted.”

Our kids are very aware they are adopted. We do not hide it, but we also do not talk about it every day. It is just a natural part of our life and when questions come up, we address them. If for whatever reason, we had chosen not to tell our daughter that she was adopted, then this question from the doctor would have caused a tremendous amount of strife and confusion. (By the way, I do think it is incredibly important for families to be open and honest with their children about adoption.)

Through the years, it has been interesting for me to see how different medical professionals react to the knowledge that we are an adoptive family. I must say that most have been very gracious and understanding; however, the few that have been less than gracious, stand out in my mind.

If you are a healthcare provider, here are a few tips that you need to know from this adoptive Momma:

1) When we fill out the paperwork and write on it: “Child is adopted. Do not know genetic history,” we mean it. Please don’t ask us in front of our kiddos. Most of us are very open about being an adoptive family, but that does not mean that it is super comfortable to talk about possible genetic history in the presence of our kids.

2) Just because our children may have biological parents with a mental health diagnosis or some other kind of medical issue does not mean that our children will end up with the same diagnosis. Here’s the deal: you get to think about this for about an hour or so of our appointment, but we dwell on it. We worry about it. Give us solid answers – not just flippant responses to our questions, and please do not refer to our children as a diagnosis (yes, this has happened).

3) Don’t remind us that we are an adoptive family at every visit. Listen. We get it. We know that medical histories with adopted children can be complex and very much a guessing game, but at the end of the day, we are just a family trying our best to navigate the issues we are dealing with.

4) If you can, please spare a few minutes with us minus the kids. There may be some very serious issues going on that we need to talk about but we will not do this in front of our children. We know better. We need for you to have a listening ear throughout the appointment, but there are times when we need to talk just adult-to-adult.

5) Understand that if we are foster parents or adoptive parents, we are motivated by one thing: love. Don’t assume the negative stereotypes about foster families. Sure, there are some foster families out there that are not the best, but in the case of foster and adoptive families, one bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch. Treat us with respect – just like you desire to be treated.

I have been navigating life as an adoptive parent for many years now. Before that, I fostered for several years. It was a shock to me when medical professionals treated my family as though we were second-class citizens. Now, I am finding myself still amazed at what some medical professionals choose to say during appointments. While we have been very blessed by some awesome and understanding doctors and medical staff, I still find myself uneasy when meeting new ones.

The bottom line is that despite our family being formed by adoption, we are very much a “real” family. We do not know all the answers to your questions, but we are trying our best to seek them. When it comes to discussing all of it in front of our children, we find ourselves backed into a corner in defense of the kiddos that we love with all our hearts.

Medical professionals – we don’t expect you to know all the answers and we know that you will need to ask questions that might make us uncomfortable, but for the sake of our children, please do so in a way that respects our children and the complex issues that we face.

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Caroline Bailey

Caroline is a mother of three children through adoption and a strong advocate for the needs of children and families involved in the child welfare system in the United States. At the age of eleven (1983), she underwent an emergency hysterectomy in order to save her life. Caroline is the youngest person to have a hysterectomy. Her life has been profoundly affected by infertility. In 2006, Caroline and her husband, Bruce, became licensed foster parents. They were blessed to adopt two of their children through foster care in 2008 and 2010. Their youngest child is a relative of Caroline, and they celebrated his adoption in 2013. Caroline works for a Christian child welfare agency in Missouri. She has been a guest speaker at churches and conferences regarding adoption and is currently working on a memoir about the impact of illness, faith, foster care, and adoption in her life. Caroline is also an avid cyclist and enjoys cheering her children on in their various sporting activities. She shares her experience about foster care, adoption, barrenness, parenting, and faith on her blog. She would love to hear from you! Contact her at barrentoblessed@gmail.com.

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