When a mother brings home her first child from the hospital, she may feel like she's swimming in a sea of ignorance. She may feel she knows nothing about her baby, nothing about how to care for him, or even how he came to be. But just because of the simple, yet monumental fact that she is the baby’s biological mother, she actually has a wealth of information at her disposal. And that very valuable information—ranging from the family's history, the relatives’ height and weight, to hereditary conditions that could affect the baby—will be a window to her child's medical and emotional health as he grows.
Parents who bring home their child from a foreign country, rather than from a hospital maternity ward, share that same helpless, new-parent feeling. Theirs, however, stems from a true lack of information about their child. Adoptive parents of a foreign-born child frequently don't have the luxury of knowing much, if anything, about their child's family background. Nor may they completely understand, or even know about, some of the medical conditions that are common in their child´s country of birth.
In 2002, there were more than 21,000 children adopted from other countries, according to statistics from the Immigration and Naturalization Services. That's a 186 percent increase in international adoptions from 1993, and a 13 percent increase from just the previous year.
No doubt, those children became part of loving families in the United States, after having started life in cultures and environments that were very different from America. For that reason it's helpful for parents to find a doctor who is attuned to the birth country's environment, language, culture, and medical risks. “Some of these children have problems not commonly seen in the United States, so it helps to have experience with the special medical needs of adopted children,” says John Kim, M.D., a pediatrician at the International Adoption Clinic at the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital. "You have to know the right questions to ask in order to recognize and address issues early, when there is a greater chance of correcting a problem."
The First Glimpse
By "early," Dr. Kim means even before the parents meet the child. Typically, when parents receive word from the adoption agency that their child has been chosen, the family also receives a package that includes medical information and photos of their baby.