Adoption and medical histories


“Physician”, from Holbein’s Dance of Death

I went for a checkup for the first time in a very long time, now that I have this thing called “health insurance” because I’m living and working in Canada. Honestly I was extremely worried; I hadn’t had a proper checkup in ages. There came the moment we all know and dread when my doctor asked me about family history. “I know a half-brother recently passed away from lung cancer”, I said. And although there was a bit of comfort in being able to say this as opposed to “I have no idea, I’m adopted”, it really didn’t come as any kind of relief.

Later when my bloodwork came back, I was told I have marginally high cholesterol, which I can work on with diet and exercise. I stared at the doctor for a minute and then said, “You’re kidding me, right?” I said: “I mean, I was vegetarian for 23 years from the age of 15; I’ve been on a more or less Mediterranean diet for the last 15. You’re telling my I have an issue with cholesterol after all that?” He was sympathetic, and related a battle of his own with a cancer that “came out of nowhere”. He said: “It’s genetics. Think what it would be if you hadn’t done all that.”

Again, small comfort. Also small comfort is the fact that my a-siblings, with a variety of such illnesses, are endlessly able to share information about treatments, diets, approaches, feedback from medical professionals, etc. The government has a whole section of a web site devoted to the topic [link]:

Families have many factors in common, including their genes, environment, and lifestyle. Together, these factors can give clues to medical conditions that may run in a family. By noticing patterns of disorders among relatives, healthcare professionals can determine whether an individual, other family members, or future generations may be at an increased risk of developing a particular condition.

This is not news to us, of course. My questions here are:

  1. How has knowing/not knowing your medical history affected your physical and mental well-being?
  2. How has the very stress of adoption and/or not knowing this information affected your health?
  3. If I shift my focus from a putative salvation via adoption to a genocidal act that continues even after the adoption is completed (the topic of a presentation I’ll be giving at the ASAC/AI Conference in Oakland in October [link]), what sense does it make to argue about what is “due” us along these lines?
  4. How then do we really challenge the class of adoptive parents, their profiteers and enablers, as to the criminality of depriving someone of this knowledge—of “medical dispossession” as it were?

Feel free to elaborate at will.

4 thoughts on “Adoption and medical histories

  1. Hi Daniel, I don’t know much of my medical history either, though I’ve met my birth relatives in Taiwan. They are not very forthcoming about our family medical hx or about our family hx in general because of the painful memories they have of our family while growing up. I was told by my sisters that our mother had two types of cancer, but I’m still unsure as to which ones. I think the language barrier makes it difficult for them to tell me exactly the types of cancer she had, or they just don’t want to worry me. Our mother also had some mental health issues – I’m guessing depression. Additionally, my eldest sister had a pituitary adenoma that caused tremendous health issues. She is mostly recovered now, nearly six years later. Like you, I too, have high cholesterol and have for most of my life. My ND tells me that it’s not a huge concern, as there are other factors that play into elevated cholesterol, like chronic stress. I think I’ve lived my entire life in a state of chronic stress and anxiety due to being adopted, although I am able to manage at least the outward symptoms through mindfulness and playing lots of loud rock music. I kinda live on the edge of hypervigilance. I am able to hide it very well, however. I don’t ask my sisters very much about our past because I know it’s a sensitive subject for them, and I totally respect their pasts. They have answered some of my questions, but I have so many more…It’s a big blank in my life, which doesn’t bother me everyday, but I carry it with me always. There are some days, though, where it sweeps over me, and I’m overwhelmed with feeling such a disconnect from my past. It hits right in the middle of my chest. I wish I knew more about my my birthparents, our family medical hx, and could just step into even a chapter of my birthfamily’s life.

  2. I never cared about a medical history, and still don’t, even though I have a good idea of bio-family history, Until recently I didn’t do doctors. In fact, the last time I went to a doctor until this May was 1994. I just don’t get sick.

    Then I collapsed at work, spent 6 days in the hospital, and ended up with a pacemaker and outta-sight high blood pressure.. Who knew? Then I had medicine problems and ended up with another 5 days in the hospital 3 1/2 weeks later,

    So, now I am forced to go to the doctor for checkups.

    Medical history and medical care are pretty irrelevant to me.I hate doctors (except for the cool woman I had from Ukraine). . I consider them over-educated, overpaid shysters sadists, and perverts. I admit though that Medicare and a supplement (not the best, but not the worst) are a huge help.

    • First, I wish you good health Marley! I too share your disdain for the medical profession; so many more negative experiences than positive ones over the years. I wonder if the importance of regaining medical history is more functional to our being able to pretend we are seen as human beings in adoptive society? Of course it is important to know that such and such runs in the family as it were. But there is this other side to it, the site of failure of “being like”, and how painful that is….as well as the knowledge that society perhaps doesn’t care that we don’t know; a sign of its intentional genocide that just takes a really really long time….

  3. When I was eight I was diagnosed with a congenital condition called a tarsal coalition. It doesn’t manifest until pre-puberty when the bones start ossifying so hadn’t been known about when I was adopted. It is such a rare condition I’m the only person I know in the world who has it.

    The original prognosis was that I’d be in a wheelchair by age 13. To avoid that I started having orthopedic surgeries at age nine; with other medical problems I had nine surgeries by age 21.

    Obviously as an adoptee I had zero family medical history. It infuriated me. With my medical problems why did I have to suffer the consequences of genes I was otherwise allowed to know nothing about? Why did I have to be denied this crucial information because everyone else signed a contract? I’m having *nine surgeries* – can I have my family medical history *now*?

    When I applied for a search at age 18 I tried to classify it as a medical necessity search. But since my condition wasn’t life-threatening it wasn’t allowed.

    What infuriates me the most is that in reunion at age 26 my bio parents were happy to provide me with medical info. My father hadn’t known about me, and once he did, he bent over backwards to provide me with anything I asked. There was *no reason* for me to undergo nine surgeries being ignorant of my family medical history. Once it was learned I had this condition couldn’t someone have just asked my bio parents? As evidenced in reunion they would have provided.

    The worst thing I remember is when I was 16, and meeting with my family doctor with my amom for a pre-op session for my fourth surgery. The doctor asked for my family medical history. My amom replied, “We don’t know. Jill’s adopted.” I was so furious I just stared at the floor. The doctor asked my amom to leave the room. I know she could see how angry I was at the unfairness of being denied medical history. I thought she’d be sympathetic. Instead, she told me about patients of hers who’d recently given up their baby for adoption, and wasn’t that wonderful, and shouldn’t I be grateful I was given away for a better life? This is a doctor FFS. All I could do was cross my arms and stare at the floor. I felt murderous rage. But of course I said nothing.

    One of the first things my bio dad told me was that he has type 2 diabetes, so when I was diagnosed with it last month at least it wasn’t unexpected. After growing up in a hospital it’s nice to finally know something.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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