Christine Rhyner

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An Adoptive Mom's Message to Those in the Healthcare and Education Professions
9/25/2013 12:00:01 AM by: Christine

My heart was in my throat as I let my ten year-old son walk the fifty feet to the bus stop himself yesterday morning.  He'd been asking since school began last week and I'd been stalling with giving him an answer.

You see it's something he's never done before and our relatively quiet, dead end street intersected at the top of the hill where the kids wait for the bus with a rather busy road.  Anything could happen.  A trip into the road.  A stranger pulling up in a car and trying to coax him into it.  Horsing around with another kid and getting hurt.  My mind was spinning with all sorts of unpleasant scenarios and I really had to fight the urge to get into the car or pad up the hill in my slippers to safely see him off.

Lots of times I wonder if I'm being overprotective because I fought like crazy to bring him home from Vietnam and because I waited what seemed an eternity to become a mom.  My worries and frustrations have been going on for years.  I have to say that doctors and educators only seem to exacerbate them.

I've been bringing my kids to the same medical group for years.  Yet each time I take them for their annual check-ups, I get asked about their family history.  I've told the doctors since my children were babies that I don't have any information to give.  As each year passes I get more frustrated with having to hear yet again, "Family history?" and giving that "I don't know" answer in front of my kids.  I have to wonder why they don't just make a really big note of it in their files and quit asking the question.

But I do wish I had some information.  It might prove extremely helpful to us to know what, if any significant conditions or illnesses, either physical or psychiatric, run in their biological families.  If we knew of one having a family history of say, alcoholism, we might prepare him or her at a very young age to avoid drinking because chances are high that he or she might have a predisposition towards such an illness.

As an adoptive parent I monitor my children's health and behavior carefully perhaps because there are so many "unknowns" in their genes.

As far as their education is concerned, I like to be very informed of my children's behavior, how they interact with other children, what their strengths and weaknesses are.  It may be just the same with many parents of biological children, but I get the impression sometimes that doctors and school teachers may think I'm a tad overprotective.

Frustration with the education system prevails for me as well.  Access to my children during a routine school day is denied.  I can't just drop in and see how they're doing.  The explanation this writer who writes at home has been given is that, "It's unfair to the other children's parents who WORK, and cannot just stop in and see them during the day."  Mind you, they had no idea if I worked a graveyard shift, from home or was on a lunch break from a job.

Notes to teachers expressing concerns sometimes go unanswered.  Scheduled meetings with them only happen a few times per year.

When I committed my life to my children, I promised an entire country that I would always do everything possible to love and care for them in every way.  I did not take this commitment lightly.

As a Christian, the Bible tells me I have a responsibility to my God to "raise them in the ways they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it."

To me this means that I must do everything I can to discover who they are, such as how best they learn, what makes them most upset, how they respond to teaching and discipline and love.  I need to know their strengths, weaknesses, sensitivities and passions.  And most importantly, I need to provide for them a knowledge of the Lord, His Word, His sacrifice to mankind, His love for them and train them to learn Christ-like principles and behaviors.

I waited years to have these special little gifts in my life from the Lord.  I fought hard to bring my son home in ways that would rival any difficult pregnancy and birthing process.

Any adoptive parent knows that you are required to measure up as a good citizen and potentially wonderful parent before you can become a mother or father.  Your home is inspected.  The local police run a fingerprint and criminal background check on you.  The county gives you an HIV test, but not before you answer questions about your sexual history.

In my husband and my case, we went through months of cancelled flights before we could get our son.  The Vietnamese government didn't want to allow him to be released to us after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks because we live in New York.  I had to overcome a terrible fear of flying.  Even after arriving in Vietnam we were put off day after day with an adoption that didn't seem likely to happen.  We were at times mistreated by representatives of our adoption agency.  Our son had been sick and almost died.  And on and on.

Maybe it's the combination of all my years of struggling through the trials endured through infertility and adoption in combination with the unknowns concerning my children's histories and my commitments to the Lord and their birthplaces to do my best to raise them that causes me to be the mother I am.  You know, the mom who seems a bit overly protective and concerned with my kids' wellbeing.

But how can you doctors and teachers be expected to know any of this?  After all, protocol and rules must be adhered to and I respect that.  You can't know how hard some adoptive parents have fought to earn the privilege of raising children.  How would you know that some adoptive parents can struggle with fears that their child may develop any number of issues from learning disabilities to health issues to behavioral problems due to a lack of pre-natal care or genetic predisposition?

Why would it enter your mind that an adoptive parent may have traveled an arduous, tear-filled and seemingly endless uphill climb to become a parent?  How could you be privy to another's commitment before God and other nations to always do right by your child?  Has anyone informed you that even after an adoptive parent brings home a child, they must fill out progress reports, sometimes for years on end regarding that child's well being?  And what about the absent, unknown biological parents of that child?  How could you know that an adoptive parent never wants the biological parent of his or her child to imagine that child wanting for anything?

You deserve grace and patience for your lack of understanding, but give us some slack.

Doctors, whether you are with a practice that includes a number of others in your group, or if you practice alone, please try to understand the adoptive parent.  Make it clear in your charts that if a parent tells you they do not have "family history" to provide to you regarding her child that you will not repetitively ask.

Make sure, when you take factors into consideration like weight and height and head circumference charts, that you take into account a child's ethnicity.

Some adoptive parents are put through unnecessary anxiety over their children's health because doctors routinely go by standards determined normal for American children.  In fact, one adoptive mother I know had to take her infant son for numerous expensive, gut-wrenching brain scans only to find out that her Asian son has a small head.  Well, Asian children frequently do.  My own son's head did not even make the standard American charts for head circumference for a long time.

Doctors, be sensitive to the possibility that adoptive parents many seem overly concerned with their child's troublesome behavioral or developmental issues.  An uncommon illness their child develops or a propensity toward a certain kind of condition may be taken more seriously by them than by non-adoptive parents.  After all, adoptive parents will often raise their kids with the mystery of their genetic backgrounds.

Educators, recognize that some adoptive parents may have a need to closely monitor their kids' learning and social skills.  We have the added concern of addressing their questions and concerns associated with adoption as they grow.  Other children in their classes may be curious as to why little Joey looks different than his parents and ask about it.  Or, other kids may say mean things about being adopted that offend our children.  After all, you spend more time with them from Monday through Friday that we do.  We should have frequent communication and work together to assure that the school is doing its best to meet not just the educational needs of our children, but their emotional and social wellbeing too.  And I would say that goes for any children, whether adopted or biological.  We as parents will do whatever we can to assist our children in all these areas outside of school.  It's our responsibility.  But when we send them off to school in September we want more than a quarterly report card and "Meet the Teacher" session.  We want your sensitivity to our concerns and your willingness to keep a steady flow of communication going.

Some of us have children abandoned at birth.  They will always have to live with this knowledge.  Our hearts have reached out to them with the message that they are completely wanted and accepted by us.  For some of us watching them experience any form of rejection is really tough.  Maybe our protective mechanisms operate in higher gear than that of parents who have given birth.  We don't mean to come across as the force to be reckoned with that is the proverbial mother bear defending her cub.  But some of us found our kids all alone in the world but for a few "caretakers," undernourished, under stimulated, and spending long hours flat on their backs looking at bare walls.  They had not a blanket or a simple stuffed bear to give them comfort and security.  We vowed to embrace them and meet all their needs.  We told ourselves they would never experience lack again. Some of us can't help ourselves.  It's just the heart of an adoptive parent.

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