Missing Pieces: For Adoptees, Health History is Unclear

I’ve always known I was adopted.

I was still an infant when my family took me home and I’d never known anything or anyone different. When I was old enough to understand, they told me. I always felt loved and secure, but there were moments growing up that highlighted this difference.

I remember vividly a stranger at the grocery store remarking that my mom and I had the same blue eyes. Not having the heart to tell her that wasn’t possible, we gave each other knowing smiles and thanked her for her kind words.

Other instances weren’t so benign. In my memories, these were occasions that made my face burn and stomach drop. There were family tree projects that indicated adoption through a dashed line instead of solid – making it clear I wasn’t whole somehow. There were also Punnett square assignments in biology class that asked you to use your family as an example, which always made me squirm.

For a somewhat socially awkward kid, being “different” wasn’t desirable and it often made me wonder who my birth family was. Not to replace my adoptive family, but just to know the circumstances behind the adoption. What happened? Why did they give me up? Were they nice? Was my birth mom pretty? Was my birth dad fun?

Another time I wondered about my origins was at the doctor’s office. You can’t exactly fill out a comprehensive health history if you have no idea what that history holds. Any non-identifying history I had was compiled when I was a baby. There was no telling what family diseases or conditions had popped up between then and adulthood.

Fortunately, my birth dad located me through a confidential intermediary in my late 20s. He then put me in touch with my birth mom and I was relieved to find out that yes, they were both nice and that there were no particularly troublesome conditions in my biological family’s past. As more is understood about the impact genetics have on our health, I’m glad my children have their full health history to rely on when making medical decisions.

If you have gaps in your health history because of adoption, there are steps you can take to learn more. Regulations vary by state, and in Michigan, depending on when you were adopted. Michigan has a Central Adoption Registry (CAR) that allows birth parents and adult former siblings with a biological child or sibling relinquished through a closed adoption to either consent or deny having information about them released to an adult adopted person.

  • For people adopted prior to May 28, 1945, identifying information can be obtained if there is no denial form found in the CAR. This also clears the way to obtain a copy of the adult adoptee’s original birth certificate, which could help locate biological family to help fill in health history gaps.
  • For people born after May 28, 1945 but before Sept. 12, 1980, adoptees can obtain identifying information provided their birth parent has filed a statement of consent with CAR. Lack of consent serves as denial, although a confidential intermediary program can intervene on adoptees’ and birth parents’ behalf.
  • For people born Sept. 12, 1980 or after, identifying information can be shared with adoptees provided there is no denial statement in the CAR. This would also help the adoptee obtain their original birth certificate.

The adoptive parents of a minor child might also be able to obtain information from adoptions records under certain circumstances. Some adoptees are even turning to DNA test kits such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com’s offering to find biological relatives.

Are you adopted, or do you have gaps in your family’s health history? How do you handle the health history conversation with your doctor? Share your tips in the comments section.

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Photo credit: eclipse_images

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