When thinking about starting a family, one usually runs down the checklist of typical concerns: Do we make enough money to support another life? Do we have enough space? Is there emotional support? Are we able to make the necessary sacrifices to raise a child? But when you have diabetes, other factors, like physical well-being, can weigh in on just how that family might start.
In the last couple of months, two of our long-time D-community members have either adopted or are planning to do so (for the second time!). Art-Sweet, who blogs anonymously under that pseudonym, adopted her son, P'ito, in 2007 from Guatemala. She is gearing up for a second adoption domestically. Elizabeth, a new blogger on the block, just brought home her baby girl in April. With these two success stories creating a lot of D-community buzz, I wanted to find out more about their personal experiences and get a sense of how the diabetes played a role — if any — in the process.
Art-Sweet and her partner, Pili (also female), had much heartache in starting their family. After many rounds of infertility treatments for Pili and the decision that pregnancy was not in the cards for Art-Sweet, who has been living with type 1 diabetes for much of her life, they came around to considering adoption.
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"Although I know lots of type 1 ladies manage it just fine, I was just too anxious about what could wrong for me or the baby and how I would feel if anything happened as a result of my diabetes control or lack thereof," Art-Sweet explains.
For the first adoption, Art-Sweet's partner adopted as a "single woman," mainly due to Pili's steady employment and benefits, which meant the homestudy conducted by social workers and application process was focused on her. In the upcoming adoption, Art-Sweet and Pili are adopting as a couple, which means there are many more questions about diabetes involved in the homestudy.
"I had to get a letter from my endo in addition to the letter from my primary care doc saying that my diabetes would not impair my ability to parent and that he did not anticipate it resulting in my untimely death any time soon," Art-Sweet says. "I think it helped that when we did the homestudy, I was using a CGMS, which I hadn't been when we met with her earlier, so I was able to say: look, I have this shiny new toy, nothing to worry about. In general she was pretty ignorant about diabetes, but it was more irritating than a serious roadblock."
Elizabeth and her husband faced similar requirements when adopting their daughter domestically. Elizabeth explained that her decision to adopt came from not wanting to put her body through a difficult pregnancy after living with diabetes for 35 years. Like Art-Sweet, Elizabeth had to submit a letter from her endocrinologist stating that she was fit to be a parent (if only a letter from a doctor was all it took!). "I don't think anyone outside of our adoption social worker ever even knew, and they certainly didn't seem to consider it an obstacle in any way," Elizabeth recalls.
To adopt, disclosing your diabetes is required. But what about your child's birth parents? For P'ito's adoption, Art-Sweet chose to say nothing. She says, "I think that they would perceive it as much more frightening and immediately life-threatening than it is to us here." With her current adoption process taking place in the United States, Art-Sweet is planning on taking a different route.
"If I was asked about my health directly by No. 2's family, I would certainly answer honestly, and, if they were concerned, I'd let them know that my doctor was comfortable writing a letter that said that he thought my diabetes was not going to be a problem for me."
Elizabeth also didn't disclose her diabetes to her daughter's birth mother, saying that it simply never came up. "I don't think it would've affected her decision to place her baby with us, but I'm definitely not proud of having kept it from her — it felt like a lie, and we've always been very truthful with her about everything. But for now it seems besides the point, the least important part of my bond with her and my daughter."
For those thinking about adopting overseas, it turns out having any type of chronic illness makes qualifying for adoption more challenging. Elizabeth explained that initially, they were planning to adopt internationally after hearing horror stories about adopting in the U.S. (issues such as birth parents changing their minds). They did try adopting from Vietnam, but after being on the waiting list for over two years, Vietnam closed adoptions to the U.S. They also learned that several countries, such as Ethiopia, Russia, Korea and Kazakhstan, do not allow people with chronic illnesses to adopt — so if you're thinking about any of those countries, you may need to reconsider.
For those of you hoping to start your journey and looking for a place to begin, Elizabeth used American Adoptions, and while Art-Sweet's old agency is out of business, she is happy to discuss their current agency in private emails.
While the adoption process can be long and frustrating for anyone, Elizabeth has some advice for parents with diabetes embarking on this challenging yet rewarding journey: "This is exactly the kind of advice that irritated me while I was waiting, but with hindsight I know it's the absolute truth. So try to take this as sincere, not preachy: I wasted an awful lot of time fretting and telling myself we'd never have our child. If I could talk to the me that was so miserable four years ago, I'd say to use this time wisely, and enjoy the freedom of childlessness, trusting that soon you'll be happily tied down with the responsibilities and joys of parenting."
Thank you for your candor, and Mazel Tov to my new-parent D-friends!