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From Russia, With Love

By Pamela Stone, DC

Adopting a child is enriching and rewarding…and brings with it a variety of health challenges

If you’re like most women, you dream of getting pregnant one day and having a little baby. I certainly did. When the time was right, my husband and I discussed getting pregnant and went over all the details. I had my home birth planned, I knew who I wanted as my doula, and I planned on getting adjusted throughout my entire pregnancy. I was eating extremely healthfully and preparing my body for conceiving a child. We knew that when our baby was born, we weren’t going to give him or her any vaccinations; I planned to breastfeed immediately and for at least a year.

But Mother Nature had other ideas for us: I couldn’t get pregnant. Now what? It certainly was frustrating. Here we were, both healthy, both chiropractors. We ate well, we got adjusted, we were fit—everything should have just fallen into place, right? I was a little older than the average mother, but I wanted to believe that since I was healthy, it should have worked out. It didn’t.

Thousands of women experience this situation every year, and while many pursue infertility treatment, other families choose adoption. Infertility treatments were not in line with our philosophical beliefs, mainly because of all the drugs involved, so my husband and I chose adoption. While adoption didn’t require that we take medication, we found that it brought a world of many other unknowns and health challenges for our adopted child.

We chose to adopt a child from Russia. After about 18 months of paperwork and many delays, we were assigned Alex, a 10-month-old baby boy. We flew to Russia to meet him but, in accordance with international adoption laws, we were not allowed to bring him home right away. After a week, we returned to the United States without him. Four months later, after completing many more documents, we flew back to Russia to finalize the adoption and finally bring our son home. Our dream of an ideal pregnancy and birth never happened, yet we finally had our child. We suddenly faced a whole series of new challenges, including the fact that we didn’t know very much about Alex’s birth mother, and knew nothing of his birth father. This meant we had no idea how healthy or unhealthy the birth mother was, or how she lived, ate and cared for herself during pregnancy.

Some of the diseases and issues that are common among adopted children include fetal alcohol syndrome, HIV, syphilis, gastroenteritis, cleft palate, club foot, perinatal encephalopathy and scabies. Children in orphanages receive routine medical screenings, and adoptive parents are given a general health history of their child before finalizing the adoption. We were relieved to learn that Alex didn’t have any major health issues.

When we first saw Alex at 10 months old, he acted more like a 7-month-old. He couldn’t sit on his own or crawl, since no one had spent time alone with him. Alex hadn’t been breastfed, so he missed out on the important nutrients and antibodies obtained from breast milk. He received routine vaccinations during his first year of life, so his immune system was challenged from the start.

When we returned with Alex to the U.S., our quest began to create the healthiest, most nurturing environment for him. When a newborn is adopted, the adoptive mother and newborn can sometimes work together to stimulate breastfeeding. We’d missed that window of opportunity with Alex, so we supplemented his diet with IgG, an important antibody present in breast milk.

Adopted toddlers and older children, particularly from foreign countries, often have gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, lactose intolerance and parasites. For this reason, it’s very important to give the child probiotics and avoid dairy. We did both for Alex, and added a whole-food supplement, vitamin B12, calcium and omega-3 fish oil. We learned that while these natural products helped, we had to turn to medicine to take care of his persistent diarrhea. As much as we wanted to rely exclusively on holistic solutions, we realized that sometimes medicine is necessary. It was the only thing that eventually cleared up his problem.

Any parents adopting newborns have the option of not vaccinating, but when you adopt an older child, you don’t have that choice. Alex came to us with his vaccinations up to date, which was something we had hoped to avoid. My husband and I are currently working with a naturopath to cleanse him and remove the toxins from his body.

We began Alex’s chiropractic adjustments right away, in order to remove interference from his nervous system and help his body to heal and maximize his health. He enjoys his adjustments, and loves being touched and held while he lies on the table in my office. The adjustments provide one more opportunity for us to bond.

Alex loves our attention and looks deeply into our eyes when we talk to him. Though he spent his first 14 months listening to and learning the Russian language, he now had to start all over to learn English—which he’s done willingly. From the start, Alex loved being held and hugged, but never really fully hugged us back until being home with us for about 5 months. In the orphanage, he had grown accustomed to so many different people taking care of him. Now, finally, he was bonding with us.

Yes, we wanted that ideal pregnancy and birth in order to give our baby the best possible health at the start of life. But just as a healthy child isn’t guaranteed when you give birth, neither can you predetermine all the characteristics of your adopted child. All we could do was give our son the best opportunity to develop. We’ve learned ways to create a healthier environment for him, since he missed out on it during his first year of life.

We are now creating a loving, healthy and stable home for our son. The journey was not fast, nor was it easy, but we know everything happened the way it was supposed to. Had things gone differently, we wouldn’t have Alex in our lives, and we cannot imagine having anyone but him.