My son and I had a much-needed eye appointment on Monday. At 4.5 years old, it was his first appointment, and he was super excited. Although the machinery was strange-looking and new to him, he was not afraid and in fact, asked Dr. Nguyen 1,000 questions along the way.
With it being his first appointment, I knew the family health questions would come. I also knew the answer I would give to every single one!
“Any family history of heart disease?“, the receptionist calls out as I’m helping Cesar into one of the exam chairs.
I don’t know.
“How about high blood pressure?”
I don’t know.
I’m sorry, I don’t know.
As Cesar finished his exam, Dr. Nguyen explained to Cesar that he was going to get his first pair of glasses to help his eyes while reading and using his tablet.
To encourage him, I said with a smile, “Glasses just like mama, bud!”
Dr. Nguyen turned to me and asked if there are many in my family who wear glasses and who are farsighted like Cesar.
“Yes, there are, but that would not impact Cesar as I am not his biological mom. I don’t know anything about his biological family health history.”
“That’s not a problem. Everything looks great, and we’re now tracking his history.”
Oh, Dr. Nguyen. If there was ever the perfect response from a medical professional, that was it.
For me… Cesar is just my son. There is no disclaimer that he’s my adopted son. In our hearts and our day-to-day lives, we are just a mom and a son like any other.
So, when we are in settings where biology matters, I often find it difficult to make the momentary transition into that mindset.
“Just like mama!” means something different to a medical professional than it does at home.
From my experience in these situations, I have learned a few tips for navigating doctor appointments as an adoptive parent.
Tip #1 – It’s Okay to not Know
It’s okay to not know your child’s family medical history. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Thinking back on my own appointments, there are several instances that I also don’t know my family medical history despite still having parents and grandparents around to share.
Yes, knowing one’s family medical history is SO helpful to medical professionals to understand what could occur and advise us on what to do. However, as Dr. Nguyen so graciously confirmed, it’s not the end all be all. The best we can do as parents is track our children’s own history, follow our instincts, and seek professional guidance as needed.
Tip #2 – Decide What You Are Comfortable Sharing
I’m very open about our adoption, but that does not mean you need to be. When Dr. Nguyen asked whether there were many in my family who were farsighted, I could likely have responded with “Yes, there are”, and left it at that.
Your story, journey, and status is just that… yours. It’s yours to share or not. It is yours to define. Knowing this, I do recommend deciding up front how you will approach questions, particularly those that you will receive from medical professionals who need as much information as possible to best treat and care for your children.
Tip #3 – Embrace the Opportunity to Educate Others
In my experience, not all medical professionals respond in the way Dr. Nguyen did yesterday. That was a welcomed and appreciated response!
During an appointment pre-adoption when my legal status was still foster mom, I had a nurse respond by saying, “So, do you have any information about their real mom?”
As the one who was caring for them everyday, loved them immediately, and was working toward making our forever together official, I surely felt like the “real mom.”
Our backgrounds, beliefs, and biases are going to spill over into our work… yes, even if we are medical professionals. Although it is so difficult to experience, my best advice is to embrace these small opportunities to educate others. Choosing our words and responses carefully. Not engaging with or repeating the hurtful, insensitive words and labels given by others. Steering away from “real mom” mindsets, and standing firm in what we know and feel to be right for our family.
In that instance, I simply responded with, “We do not have any biological family history.”
I know things will continue to evolve and change. I have committed to not feeling guilty about my “I don’t know” answers. I have also committed to sharing our adoption status to my sons’ medical professionals. I feel it is important context for them to have.
As you navigate doctor appointments as an adoptive parent, I encourage you to do the same. And please share any guidance or insights you have gained along the way. I would love to learn from you!