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Ask the Adoption Coach: Approaching Your Child’s Birth Mother About Prenatal Exposure to Substances

prenatal substance abuse
Reader: My 9-yo child is having difficulties, ADD, anger issues. I’m all over it – seeing specialists, started therapy. I was told he tested positive for marijuana at birth, hence his being removed and, thank God, placed with me first as a foster and within a year, my namesake! He had an abnormal EEG today and has to go for an MRI. I’m “friends” with bio-Mom on FB (Facebook), and feel he deserves answers like was it only marijuana? How do I approach it? Do I approach it at all? This is my child’s health.
Adoption Coach:
Dear Reader:
I’m sorry to hear that your son is struggling and that you are in a place of frustration. Certainly, it must be difficult to juggle all of the appointments and medical opinions coming your way, in addition to helping your son navigate the day-to-day challenges he is facing.
When we were waiting to adopt each time, we had to fill out a checklist-of-sorts: what medical situations we were and were not open to. I turned to a few medical professionals, including a NICU nurse, a pediatric nurse, and our family physician, for their opinions on each situation, and in particular, potential drug usage.
What I found through my communication is that there often is not a clear cause-and-effect. There are mothers who attend every prenatal appointment, take vitamins, live in serene environments, do not use any harmful medications or illegal substances, and eat all-organic diets and exercise throughout their entire pregnancies, and these women can have children with a myriad of issues. Yet there are some mothers who use drugs, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, live in chaotic environments, don’t exercise, don’t attend prenatal appointments, and eat whatever is available, and they have delivered healthy children. Of course, these are two extreme examples, and there are the moms who fall in-between.
Many factors play into the health of a child including genetics, environment, exposure, prenatal care, early disease and disability detection, the mother’s diet, the mother’s stress level, and so much more. Of course, factors that affect a child’s health not only matter while the child is in utero, but after the child is born. I share this to say that marijuana usage alone may not be the cause of any, some, or all of your child’s health issues.
If you decide to approach your son’s biological mother and ask about prenatal exposure to substances, I would do so in a respectful and honest matter. As a writer, I would suggest composing a message to her that states why you are contacting her (because the child is experiencing emotional and physical health issues, and you are deeply concerned about his well-being). Explain that you are seeking professional assistance with these issues. As part of the process, you are asked to fill out a lot of paperwork asking about the child’s health history. Then request that the biological mother provide you with any details that may be helpful. Ask what she used or took during pregnancy, be it a legal or illegal substance, if any, and how often and when during the pregnancy the substances were taken. Also, ask about family health history. If the medical professionals your son has visited thus far have questions about specific medical conditions in the child’s biological family, be sure to bring those up as well. End your message with appreciation for her time and any information she is willing to provide you with.
Now, when composing anything in writing, you risk the message coming off wrong: pushy, egotistical, accusatory, assuming, angry, etc. I would suggest asking a trusted friend or family member to offer you feedback on your message before you send it. Keeping your son at the heart of the message, and not your personal struggles with the situation, will likely render a more productive response. Remember, ultimately, you want answers to help your son.
I hope that in the coming weeks, you not only get a detailed response from your son’s biological mother, but that the professionals you have involved in your son’s care are able to arrive at clear diagnoses so that you are able to move forward with a specific and beneficial management and treatment plan. My heart goes out to you during this confusing and challenging time. Please keep us posted on how your son is doing and know that we at Adoption Network Law Center exist to support, educate, and empower parents just like you who fight for the well-being of your child.