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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Mental Health History in Adoption


Mental health history affects us all. It doesn't discriminate. In fact, you may have mental health history that you aren't aware of because the culture was so hush-hush decades ago. Within adoption, hopeful adoptive parents get any known mental health history of an expectant parent. 

The most common to see are depression, anxiety, and/or ADHD (which again, so many of us have in our own mental health history). The less common are bipolar, schizophrenia, OCD and/or autism. The big question that many hopeful adoptive parents ask when considering mental health history is: Is it hereditary? 

The question, while simple, is so complicated. Mental health disorders are all on a spectrum from mild to severe and many are triggered from trauma experienced or substance abuse. A child may be predisposed to a mental health disorder through their genes, but that doesn't mean it will develop. It's also important to note that many of these disorders are treatable with medications and therapy. Nonetheless, let's dive deeper into these disorders: 

DEPRESSION
We know that depression runs in families, which implies the influence of particular genes that may render an individual vulnerable to the illness. However, genes are just part of the picture. A child not only inherits genes; he or she inherits a family. Very often, families with mental or behavioral disorders are also families in which there exists a considerable amount of dysfunction. That implies the influence of environment as well as genes.

Population studies reveal that depression is more likely to occur in homes where abuse and conflict are persistent. Further research has shown that individuals who come from an environment with emotional conflict suffer more severe forms of depression and are less likely to respond to existing medications or treatments.

ANXIETY
A study sponsored by The National Institute of Mental Health has established that genetics do play a part in at least some portion of the population experiencing an anxiety disorder.

Where statistics are concerned, around half of all patients experiencing panic disorder have one or more relatives who have been diagnosed with it. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is slightly less hereditary with only 40% of patients having family members with a similar diagnosis. 

While heredity may be one of the reasons, other elements such as environmental influences like family issues, work pressure, or a traumatic event may cause someone with no family history to develop an anxiety disorder. 

ADHD
We know from the research that kids with ADHD are highly likely to have a parent and other blood relatives who also have ADHD.

It’s important for parents to understand that having a genetic risk doesn’t automatically mean kids will have ADHD. Many kids whose parent has ADHD do not develop ADHD themselves, and kids can have ADHD without having any family risk. Other non-genetic factors can be involved.

BIPOLAR DISORDER
Bipolar disorder seems to often run in families and there appears to be a genetic part to this mood disorder. There is also growing evidence that environment and lifestyle issues have an effect on the disorder's severity. 

Environmental stressors also play a role in triggering bipolar episodes in those who are genetically predisposed. For example, children growing up in bipolar families may live with a parent who lacks control of moods or emotions.

SCHIZOPHRENIA
Having a first degree relative (FDR) with schizophrenia is one of the greatest risks for the disorder.

While the risk is 1 percent in the general population, having an FDR such as a parent or sibling with schizophrenia increases the risk to 10 percent.

Along with genetics, other potential causes of schizophrenia include:

  • The environment - Being exposed to viruses or toxins, or experiencing malnutrition before birth, can increase the risk of schizophrenia.
  • Brain chemistry - Issues with brain chemicals, such as the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, may contribute to schizophrenia.
  • Substance use - Teen and young adult use of mind-altering (psychoactive or psychotropic) drugs may increase the risk of schizophrenia.
  • Immune system activation - Schizophrenia can also be connected to autoimmune diseases or inflammation.

OCD
A 2000 study aimed to solidify OCD’s hereditary nature and put the matter to bed once and for all. The research, published in the Archive of General Psychiatry, investigated nearly 350 relatives of 80 people with OCD and compared them with 73 controls. They found that people who have first-degree relatives with OCD are five times more likely to have it themselves.

But, in consideration of the above, doctors are quick to warn of two things. First, a genetic predisposition to OCD does not mean that someone will get it; conversely, most people won’t become obsessive compulsive, not even with a strong genetic link (just as the absence of a genetic link does not guarantee freedom from the disorder). Secondly, genetic components do not absolve the environmental ones.

OCD may require certain environmental triggers in order to fully activate. For example, a child who grows up with an obsessive-compulsive mother will not only have a genetic predisposition but will likely observe their parent’s rituals (such as compulsive hand washing) as well. It’s likely this plays a role.

AUTISM
In short, autism is hereditary. But there are other risk factors that can play into its development, such as biology and environmental factors. These causes merely factor into the cause of ASD — they are not the primary reason a person might develop autism. 

Some of the most common risk factors for autism, in conjunction with genetics, include: 

  • A child born to older parents
  • Serious infections during gestation 
  • Birth difficulties/complications
  • Genetic disorders such as fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and Down Syndrome 
  • Males are four times more likely to develop autism than females. 

With all of this said, do any of these mental health disorders lessen our ability to love? No. These children who are given to us are worthy of love; no matter what their mental health history may predispose them to. In fact, as you can see, environmental factors are to be considered in each of these disorders. Breaking the cycle of mental health history and/or substance abuse can start with an adoption plan, which is part of the reason an adoption plan is so courageous. The expectant parent is seeing beyond themselves and oftentimes wanting to break family patterns by placing their child into a different environment. 



Resources:
https://sequencing.com/blog/post/autism-hereditary-explaining-autism-genetics
https://impulsetherapy.com/ocd-and-genetics-the-hereditary-habit/#OCD%E2%80%99s_Hereditary_Proof
https://www.healthline.com/health/is-schizophrenia-hereditary#other-causes
https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder
https://www.understood.org/en/articles/is-adhd-hereditary
https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/anxiety/is-anxiety-hereditary/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-through-research/201509/is-depression-hereditary

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Freya

Adoption has always been something very important to us. After years of fertility treatments and medications, we felt that our path to having our forever family was through adoption. In 2019, we started doing research on different types of adoption and different agencies. There are so many out there that we had no idea where to even begin. We decided to try to navigate adoption on own. After almost 2 1/2 years and praying on the decision we decided to sign with Christian Adoption Consultants. When we talked with Meg at CAC, we felt that she was the answer to our prayers. She was so understanding, encouraging, open, and helped us with all our questions. It is truly an amazing feeling to know someone is praying with you and for you. 

Although we signed with CAC in June of 2021, we had no idea what to expect after waiting years already. We prayed every night that we were on the right path. To our surprise, we were matched in September 2021! We started praying for the parents who chose us for their daughter and began building a relationship with them. We discussed the openness we all wanted right away because Alex and I felt strongly about keeping the lines of communication open. We truly felt that we were not only adopting a child, but we were extending our family to include them. We knew that openness would simply mean more people would love this baby and be in her life. It was a blessing to have this time before the baby was born to get to know them!

Although an induction date was set, Mama A's water broke naturally the night before and a healthy baby girl was born on December 30th in the wee hours of the morning. We got on the road as soon as we could that morning and it was for sure an adventure! We drove through icy roads, freezing temperatures, fog and lots of construction. We are so thankful that the birth parents stayed in contact with us the whole time with pictures and updates. This was something they certainly did not have to do, but we really appreciated it! Meeting our little girl, Freya, for the first time was very emotional for us all. Her birth parents handed her over to us and there are honestly no words to describe it. Although it was one of the happiest moments in our lives, it was one of the most devastating for them. 

Our journey to adoption has been full of surprises and challenges, but we would not change it for anything in the world. Our faith is what truly kept us strong throughout the years of waiting and Freya is certainly worth it all!

Monday, January 17, 2022

Knitted in My Soul

You were not knitted in my womb,
But you were knitted in my soul.

You did not come to me through contractions,
But you came to me through prayer.

You do not have my blood running through your veins, 
But you have my love in the kisses all over your face.

You do not look much like me,
But you still fit perfectly in my arms.

You are not flesh of my flesh, 
But I love you with every fiber of my being.

You may not have all the answers to your questions, 
But you will always have my support in your quest. 

You are not lucky to be adopted, 
But we cannot imagine life without you.

You may not always feel it,
But you, my soul baby, are an overcomer. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

Michael Joseph

We discussed adoption early in our relationship and knew it was something we always wanted to do.  It took us almost two years to complete our home study due to multiple factors.  We were home study ready in March 2021.  We signed our contract with CAC in April 2021 and began working with Meg.  We cannot express how incredible it has been working with her.  She is caring, compassionate, and quick to respond to any questions.  Her knowledge of the adoption process is so helpful, and we include her when sharing our son's adoption story. We are forever grateful for her!

While on vacation celebrating James' birthday this past July, we found out about a baby boy needing a forever family.  This was a unique case where his birth mother chose to allow the attorney to choose a family for her baby boy as the decision was too overwhelming for her.  He reviewed the criteria she was looking for in an adoptive family and ultimately, he chose us.  We were overjoyed! We drove to Florida and met our son, Michael. Our finalization court date was November 29, 2021, officially welcoming Michael to our family!

While it only took us three months to get matched after signing with CAC, the process of becoming parents was a long, hard road.  There were many times we felt like it would never happen but were reminded of some advice from Megan's father: Whenever I feel alone, I believe God is paying a visit.  Take that time to pray to Him and give Him all of your needs.  Even though we felt like giving up multiple times, it was the first time in our lives that we left our plan to God while believing in him.  We pray for current families in the wait that you turn to God often and experience this blessing of solely relying on Him.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Trusting His Provision

Photo taken by McIlhany Media 

As an adoption consultant, lots of conversations with hopeful adoptive parents revolve around how they will be able to do this. "This" meaning the finances, presenting to so many unknowns, the travel, and all the emotions. I always try to encourage them with my own experience and how God moved mountains, but it's simply one of those things you don't fully believe until you experience it yourself. One of the families that I had the honor to walk alongside recently posted on Facebook and it's clear they have experienced the same provision and faithfulness for themselves within the adoption journey. My hope is that Maria's words will serve as just one more example of what God can do for the current hopeful adoptive parents:

Anyone else feel like they’re still processing 2020 and realizing, “Oops, 2021 just passed by also?"

In trying to slow down for a few moments and process what has happened since late 2019 when we started the adoption process, one theme that has been so clear is that God showed me His provision and faithfulness to provide. My trust in Him has grown through the things He’s brought me through. He called us to adopt, He gave us three children to parent, and He chose Tyler and I for this covenant of marriage to do life together. The past two years of waiting for Zion and then having a newborn, then infant and now one year old have been trying and busy at times. We persevered through feelings of doubt, of confusion, of fear that turned into trust of where God has led us. There were days when I truly came to the end of my ability; emotionally and physically. But God sustained me.

We are grateful to share the story He’s writing for us and looking forward to all that 2022 holds!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Noelle + Evers

“God knows your baby.”
“Once you hold your baby, it will all be worth it.”
“God’s timing is perfect.”

We heard these phrases (and many more like them) for years, and nothing seemed to help ease the pain of a decade-long journey of adoption. When we started our process, we were trying to adopt internationally, but the country we were waiting with slowed their system down so much that we spent four and a half years praying for a child who never came. After grieving that dream, we decided to try domestic adoption, but the agency we chose stopped processing adoptions after two and a half years of waiting for our turn to start our home study. We found a new agency, but after a year as an active family combined with a year of waiting for our turn to wait, we were so extremely discouraged. It had been ten years of delays, heartbreak, and platitudes that made us question if God was in this process with us. We had given ourselves a deadline: We did not want a newborn and a newly licensed driver in the house. When we started, our kids were three and ten months. In January of 2021, they were 14 and 11. As a family, our cut off point was quickly approaching, and our hope of becoming a family of five was fading away.

It was at that point we decided to consider an adoption consultant. We didn’t know anyone who had signed up with one, and we didn’t know much about how they worked, but our research took us to Christian Adoption Consultants, and Meg in particular. She was so warm, supportive, and encouraging, and assured us that if we weren’t ready to be done with adoption, she would stay the course with us until we added another child to our family.

After just four months of working with Meg, we got a text that a birth mom, who was expecting twin baby girls, wanted to meet us over Zoom. We connected with her and her sister instantly, and knew in our hearts that this was it. She wanted an extremely open adoption, and so did we, so a few weeks later, we flew down to spend the week with her and her family. That time together was such a huge gift to us all, and we began forming the foundation for a deep and beautiful relationship.

When we started this process a decade ago, we prayed specifically for twin baby girls. We didn’t know why at the time; it just felt like the perfect situation for our family. After so much loss, that prayer fell by the wayside, and we hadn’t thought about it for years. When we saw the profile for twin baby girls, God reminded us of that prayer that God had placed in our hearts from the start. God knew our babies. Once we held our babies, it was all worth it.

God’s timing is perfect. If you are feeling discouraged, if you are struggling to find someone who understands, you are not alone. Trust your ability to know when someone is absent from your family, and stay the course to bring them home. We welcomed our daughters, Noelle and Evers, into our hearts and home on September 8th, 2021. God knew for us, and God knows for you.

-Andie & Jeremy

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Haven

Annie and Jeremy signed on with CAC feeling defeated from their long journey of waiting. Throughout their journey with me, I witnessed first hand Annie and Jeremy's heart for open adoption. I appreciated that they saw adoption as not only as a way to build their family with a baby but also building their family with the birth family. God used this heart posture to connect Annie and Jeremy with an expectant mother who was making an adoption plan and wanted it to be very open. I'll let Annie tell the rest of the story:

Our adoption story is like so many others you hear, but also totally different and unique to us. In 2016 we were blessed to adopt our oldest daughter. It was very quick and our relationship with her birth mom remains open and has been an amazing experience. When we started the journey to adopt again we knew it would be different and take longer, but we had no idea of the journey ahead of us. Almost 4 years has passed since we began our journey to grow our family again. In that time we had 3 heartbreaking disrupted adoptions. Several times we almost gave up completely. Each time we were ready to give up and be done, God would whisper "not yet." And so we waited and waited on the Lord. How grateful we are for a God who knows us personally and guides our journey!

We were contacted by an amazing expectant mom and were able to start building a relationship with her. Now as our newest daughter, Haven, sleeps in our arms I can see how God was working behind the scenes.  It was a long road to grow our family again, but Haven and the relationship we have with her birth family is worth every curve and bump in the road. 

We are so grateful for His sight and for the love and support we received along the way. We have loved working with Meg and she has been such an amazing support and cheerleader for our journey. We have felt her prayers for us and our family and she understood our journey in ways others around us didn't.