Adopting Hope for Orphans Everywhere– the Russian Chapter

I just put my son down for a nap and have a million household chores to complete during his slumber, but my heart is heavy with the thoughts of the 650,000 Russian orphans (120,000 of them available for adoption) who will fall asleep today without being rocked, read to, and kissed as sweetly as my son was before his nap.  Yesterday, Vladimir  Putin signed the Yakovlev Act, which bans intercountry adoption between Russia and the US, limiting the possibility of those orphans, many with complex medical conditions, finding a loving forever family and 1,500 of them who have already had the promise of a family given to them now with an uncertain future. Image

Thirteen years ago, my parents traveled to China to bring home my sister.  Despite that she was born in a region of the world that I have never seen and a family I can only imagine, she has always been my sister.  She was young enough at the time that she doesn’t remember the loss of her birth family, but I assure you that as she enters her adolescence that loss is palpable.  A recent documentary film, Somewhere Between, does an amazing job of exploring the coming-of-age of adoptees from China, so I won’t attempt to duplicate it here but rather refer you to this beautiful film.  While the loss of her birth family and culture is something that my sister will have to grapple with in finding her own identity, she now has a family who will always be there to help and support her along her journey.   I can’t help but think of the Russian orphans who will someday be facing these issues alone, without the unconditional and profuse love of parents or siblings to provide a secure base from which to explore the splendor and sadness of the world.

I am also reminded of the orphans in our own country.  Fifty-three years ago, my father was one of them until adopted into a family of his maternal aunt and six cousins.  His aunt, my Nana, did not see him as a commodity or political statement, but as an innocent child looking for the love of a family, which she could provide.  Without this adoption, he may have ended up in the US foster care system, where 423,000 other orphans experience the transient affection of semi-permanent families, with repeated loss and disruption, and 30,000 of them come-of-age without a forever family.

In my work as an adoption medicine specialist, I am often counseling families about the risk of adopting a particular child, based on their medical, developmental, and emotional needs.  We have never discussed the risk though that the child whom they fall in love with and becomes their own will be prohibited from joining their family due to retaliatory political laws.  We do not discuss that they may have to parent their children across an ocean, for years, or a lifetime.   We do not discuss that while they have a warm bed, plush toys, and endless affection waiting for their child that a crowded, cold, silent room will be their home indefinitely.   My heart breaks for these broken families and the children, who already orphaned by a family are now orphaned by a country.

For more information about the above topics, check out:

If you are already in the process of adopting from Russia, the U.S. Department of State requests that you email the Department of State at and state the stage and status of your adoption.  Use “Intercountry Adoption in Russia – Family Update” in the subject line of the email.

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New Year, New Mom

Back Camera

A year ago was my second ever blog post: Resolutions.  At that time, I was still writing for myself and had not yet shared publicly my 2012 resolution to use my experiences doctoring to be a better mom.  A year later I can say that I have honored that resolution and use my daily experiences in the office to inspire and guide my parenting decisions and reactions.  I am definitely a better mom as a result.

This year I have been thinking a lot about what my resolution should be, and now I have a much broader audience to hold me to it.

Parenting a toddler makes you feel powerless.  It’s hard to predict when the next tantrum will strike, what food will end up in his mouth or on the floor, and how quickly he will learn new skills (like jumping off the stairs).  Our parenting approach is often a tag-team effort, meant to give one of us a break while the other keeps our toddler alive.  While we each get quality time with our son, we end up seeing less of each other.

On vacation with family for the holidays, my husband turned to me on day 3 and said, “Oh hey, how are you?  I feel like I haven’t seen you.”  This is representative of our lives currently, where we see each other all the time, but we aren’t actually connecting due to the many interruptions of life.   In the process of becoming better employees, homeowners, and parents, we have become worse spouses.  So it became obvious that my 2013 resolution should be to work as hard at being a wife as I do at being a mom.  These roles should be complimentary and not contradictory.   Reflecting back to the lessons learned in 2012, I’ll listen to the advice I’ve given many parents: a cohesive team of loving parents will lead to a happier toddler and teach him valuable lessons about relationships as he begins to navigate his own.

What’s your 2013 resolution?

The game of Life

Back CameraI’m a working mom, but being a mom doesn’t define my career goals.  Long before I ever thought about having children, I had decided that I wanted to be a primary care physician.  In fact, I went to medical school to become a primary care pediatrician and felt so strongly that this was my path that I would have switched professions rather than settle for another specialty.  It’s true that primary care affords me many luxuries as a working mom though, including no overnight calls in the hospital, office hours that allow me to do daycare pick-up and drop-off, and flexibility in scheduling.  These are just added benefits to a job that I love.  These lifestyle factors are increasingly becoming more important to women in medicine and are why so many more women end up in general pediatrics and primary care, whereas fields like cardiology and critical care are predominantly men.  It makes me feel bad for the women in these fields who have to make significant family planning decisions based on their career interests.

Recently though, two physicians have asked me if I was only doing this job for a few years or when I was going on for my fellowship.  The assumption here being that a former CHOP chief resident wouldn’t do primary care except for the lifestyle factors and that motherhood must have contributed to this decision.  I doubt that this question is asked to men in primary care.  I resent that there are still pediatricians who look down upon the important work that primary care physicians do and view my career as a loss of potential.  I am also saddened that while being a working mom in primary care is viewed as a “good choice” for raising children that the opposite is then thought of the working moms who follow their passion to the PICU/NICU/Onco [insert your favorite fellowship].  These moms face different work-life balance challenges than I do, but this doesn’t mean they love their children less or are less committed to motherhood.  I don’t think we should judge working moms based on how competitive we think their careers are, or aren’t.  I have many great mommy role models who work 30-hour shifts, weeks of nights, and 9-to-5.  We all do the best we can as mothers and doctors within the construct of what our specialty allows and in the more inspirational cases, we change the definition of what is allowed.

So the answer to your question is, I’m doing this forever.

All Better

Image“This is the doctor, she’s going to make you feel all better,” countless moms have told their children as I try to examine them.  As a new attending physician, this statement weighs heavily on me.  Will I actually be able to make them feel better?  Our hospital’s latest marketing slogan is “All Better,” which suggests that it is my job to make this come true.  The last mom who promised her child this came in with a viral syndrome.  I was able to make the diagnosis, but unfortunately there was no treatment to be doled out and the only promise I could fulfill was that I expected him to improve in 3-5 days.  While I felt bad for the child, I think I felt worse for the mom because I had failed holding up her promise to her child.  Fortunately, there are many more cases where I am able to provide an answer and remedy, proving a mom right that the doctor really can make you feel well again.

The first time that my son fell and looked to me for comfort, I felt the magical power of being a mom.  Without any special skills or tools, other than hugs and kisses, I am able to soothe bruises, mend abrasions, and rejuvenate the spirit.  When I know his injury is minor, I am overjoyed to scoop him up give him hugs, and let him dry his tears and sniffles on my shoulder.  I am mom.  I am the one person who has the birthright of this role, but I work daily to maintain this privilege. There are few other roles in life other than mother that give you such an entitlement.  I have the fortune though of filling this role at home and at work.  The same way that my son looks to me for comfort, relief, and cure, children coming into my office have the same expectations.  However, when a recent fall landed us in the Emergency Department for stitches, I had to focus on my role as mom and not doctor, and like all the moms who come to see me, I promised my son that the doctor would fix it.  While I knew I could have done the procedure myself, I enjoyed being the one who wasn’t causing him to cry but rather letting him know he was safe and loved.  When the doctor was done and I kissed the salty tears off his face, I found myself saying, “now you are all better.”  And we both were.

Portrait of a young artist

Moving into a new house makes you imagine the future.  I’ve pictured how my son’s new room will look, where he will ride his first bike, and where he will do his homework.  However, packing to move into this new house forces you to confront the past.  Instead of throwing everything into boxes, I’m trying to pack wisely and eliminate the clutter that accompanies us.  While it may be easy to part with my medical school review books and clothes collecting dust in the back of my closet, any memorabilia relating to my son is much more difficult to spare.  Sorting through each construction paper scribble project makes me nostalgic and since he’s only been scribbling for a few months, they aren’t even very old yet!

Years ago, I went through this with my younger sister.  Since I’ve lived outside my parents’ house for her entire life, my mom has mailed me pieces of her artwork over the years and I saved every one of them.  During this time period, I moved many times and each time packed up her artwork and filed it in another desk/dresser/bookshelf.  Eventually, I came up with the idea to scan each item and make a photo book, which not only organizes the pieces in a tidy format but preserves them through each move and over time.  Now that I am mother to my own little artist, I need to start scanning again so that I can save each project electronically and save the most special pieces for display.

In addition to packing for our move, Hurricane Sandy has made me think about what items in my home I value most.  The mayor and governor talk about taking your “most valuable possessions” with you in the case of an emergency evacuation.  Besides the people and pets in my home, what would I take?  Years ago, I would have said my photo albums, but now most photos are digital.  So many of the things that are precious to me are the little reminders of the good and bad times over the years, because after thirteen years with my husband, six years of marriage, and 19 months of being a parent, I know how quickly it all goes and I want to cherish it all.  As I’ve seen through my sister’s art, children’s drawings are a great way to see their perspective and development over time, which is why these projects are so special to me.  While N’s current art consists of scribbles and glued tissue paper, I am excited to see his progression and add each new masterpiece to his portfolio.

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