What Is a Birth Injury?
A birth injury is a physical injury that an infant sustains shortly before, during, or after the birthing process. Birth injuries usually occur as the baby passes through the birth canal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 7 out of every 1,000 babies born in the United States have birth injuries.
While some injuries are minor and heal on their own, others are more serious and can result in permanent disability.
If you and your partner are thinking about adopting or providing foster care to a child with a birth injury but are not sure what that might involve, a doctor may be able to help you evaluate whether the child is a good fit for your family.
Try to learn as much as possible about the child’s health condition and care before starting your adoption journey or taking in a child from the foster care system.
Prospective adopters can also reach out to parents of children with similar conditions before and after the adoption process. Parents who have completed this process already can provide vital information and support.
What Causes Birth Injuries?
If your adopted child has been diagnosed with a birth injury, you might wonder how the injury happened.
Generally speaking, there are three main causes of birth injuries:
The size and shape of the birth mother’s pelvis or birth canal can cause complications. In addition, individuals who are obese or have a blood pressure condition known as preeclampsia are more likely to give birth to infants with birth injuries.
Babies who are premature (born before 37 weeks) or large (more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces) are more likely to experience a difficult birth and end up with a birth injury. Babies who present feet first (breech) or in another abnormal birthing position also face a higher risk.
Doctors and other medical professionals can cause birth injuries through medical negligence or malpractice. For example, obstetricians who fail to recognize fetal distress or spot signs of infection could cause permanent harm to a vulnerable infant.
Assisted Reproductive Technology & Birth Injuries
It is worth mentioning that some studies have found that Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) increases the risk that a child will be born with a birth injury. ART procedures include all fertility treatments involving the handling of eggs or embryos.
This increased risk is connected to preterm delivery and multiple births, which are more likely to occur when children are conceived through ART.
One study found that children conceived using assisted reproductive technology are twice as likely to have cerebral palsy.
Many LGBT couples use a type of ART known as in vitro fertilization (IVF) to have children. Sometimes one of the parents may need to adopt the child through a second-parent adoption, depending on their state’s adoption laws.
Unfortunately, there are no preventative steps that adoptive parents can take to protect their children from birth injuries. However, they can learn the symptoms of common birth injuries and check that their kids are hitting their developmental milestones. Parents should follow up with a doctor if they have any concerns.
What Are Common Birth Injuries?
Although there are many different birth injuries, here is a look at the ones that tend to happen most frequently.
One of the most common causes of birth injuries is oxygen deprivation leading to brain damage. An anoxic brain injury is caused by a complete lack of oxygen to the brain, while a reduced oxygen supply causes a hypoxic brain injury. The severity of symptoms depends on how long the child went without oxygen and the degree of damage.
Doctors can also cause brain damage by improper use of delivery equipment such as forceps and vacuum extractors.
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of neurological disorders that impact a person’s movement, balance, and posture. It is the most common cause of childhood motor disabilities.
A CDC study found that CP affects about 3 in 1,000 children in the United States.
Cerebral palsy can be caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the brain while it is developing.
Erb’s palsy, also known as brachial plexus palsy, occurs when the group of nerves supplying the arms and hands is injured. It usually happens when the infant’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone during delivery. As a result, children with Erb’s palsy have problems flexing and rotating the affected arm.
Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
HIE is a type of brain damage from a lack of oxygen or blood flow to the brain. Some children with HIE have mild health issues, but others have severe impairments such as cerebral palsy, cognitive problems, and organ damage.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Birth Injuries?
While some gay parents may know that the child they are adding to their family has a birth injury, others may not. Sometimes signs of a birth injury do not appear until months or even years after a child is born. Therefore, a birth injury diagnosis is likely to be delayed, especially when symptoms are mild.
Infants with head and brain injuries may experience symptoms such as:
- Apnea (a pause in breathing)
- Behavioral issues
- Poor feeding
- Seizures (epilepsy)
- Vision and hearing problems
Children with cerebral palsy and other birth injuries may show these signs:
- Developmental delays
- Failure to thrive
- Feeding problems
- Learning disabilities
- Movement problems
- Muscle weakness
- Slow growth
- Speech delay
Of course, these are not complete lists of symptoms. There are many birth injuries, each with different signs and symptoms.
What Should I Do If I Think My Adopted Child Has a Birth Injury?
If you are worried about your child’s health or development, you should schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. Early treatment can be crucial to treating a birth injury.
Prepare for the appointment by listing your child’s symptoms and when they started. Bring any information about their birth parent’s pregnancy as well as your child’s delivery and medical history. Finally, make a list of questions to ask the doctor.
Even if your child appears to be in good health, you should visit a doctor after you bring your child home. A checkup could reveal undetected medical problems.
Birth Injury Diagnosis
If a doctor suspects your child has cerebral palsy or another birth injury, they will monitor your child’s symptoms and development. Additionally, they will perform an exam and review your child’s medical history.
Sometimes, a medical professional will refer a family to specialists like pediatric neurologists, rehabilitation specialists, or child development specialists.
Your doctor may also order tests like these to either make a diagnosis or rule out other potential causes:
- Brain scans: These tests look for abnormal development or damage in the brain. MRIs and cranial ultrasounds are two types of brain scans.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): EEGs record the electrical activity of the brain. Doctors often order an EEG if a child is having seizures.
- Laboratory tests: Blood and urine tests can reveal various health conditions.
- Other tests: Vision, hearing, speech, and development tests may indicate conditions related to various disorders.
Dealing With Missing Medical Information
Adoptive parents often have to deal with the fact that their child does not have complete medical records to help with a birth injury diagnosis. LGBTQ parents who have an open or semi-open adoption should have access to significant medical information from the birth parents and birth family that can help with a diagnosis.
Additionally, you may be able to request your child’s health records from the adoption agency or attorney who arranged the adoption.
LGBTQ foster parents may face these same difficulties when seeking medical care for the foster children in their care.
Further, a complete health record may not be available in an international adoption.
Adoption medicine doctors are available to review adoption records and connect adoptive families with needed resources. They also have experience interpreting international medical records and knowledge about health risks from different countries.
Birth Injury Treatments
While raising and nurturing a child with a birth injury can be daunting, the good news is that many birth injury treatments are available to help children with special needs live a full, vibrant life.
Your child’s doctor may prescribe medications to treat your child’s pain and help control symptoms. If a medical professional recommends medication, ask about the benefits, risks, and potential side effects.
In addition, a doctor may suggest different therapies, including:
- Physical therapy: Muscle training and exercises can help your child build strength and improve balance, flexibility, and motor control.
- Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can help your child do everyday home and school activities like play, learn, and brush their teeth.
- Speech and language therapy: Speech pathologists can help children speak clearly or communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). They also teach kids to use communication devices.
- Recreational therapy: Some children benefit from recreational therapies such as swimming or horseback riding. This type of therapy can help with a child’s motor skills and mental and emotional health.
In some cases, children with birth injuries need surgery. For example, children with cerebral palsy may require orthopedic surgery to lengthen muscles or correct bone abnormalities.
Additionally, parents may seek out alternative treatments for their children. Acupuncture, for example, may help with a child’s pain symptoms and massage therapy with flexibility and mobility.
If you are considering an alternative or supplemental treatment for your child, you should talk to your doctor about any potential risks.
Diversity and Inclusion in Health Care
It is not unusual for LGBTQ parents to worry about facing discrimination when they seek medical care for their children.
Generally speaking, larger health care systems have diversity and inclusion initiatives to help create a welcoming atmosphere for same-sex couples and others in the LGBTQ community.
For example, you are likely to see workers wearing rainbow buttons or name badges indicating their preferred pronouns. Additionally, frontline staff has been trained to represent LGBTQ family members using preferred names, pronouns, and gender identity in medical documents.
When looking for a health care provider for your family, the Human Rights Campaign’s Healthcare Equality Index 2022 is a helpful resource. The HEI is a national benchmarking tool that looks at health care facilities’ policies and practices based on the inclusion and equity of LGBTQ patients, visitors, and employees.
In 2022, nearly 500 facilities earned a perfect score of 100 and were deemed a “LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader.”
If you encounter any problems, hospital social workers are available to help. You also have the right to file a complaint if a health care facility or provider discriminates against you. You can remain anonymous but must provide a description of the incident and the date it occurred.
Under federal law, hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs must have a patient grievance process. You can learn more in the hospital’s Patient Bill of Rights.
Most hospitals are accredited by the Joint Commission, which prohibits facilities from discriminating against a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. You can file a complaint with the Joint Commission online or by mail.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and many state health departments also accept complaints against health care providers.
Financial Support for Birth Injuries
When an adopted child is diagnosed with a birth injury, the joy of adding to your family can quickly turn to worry. You may wonder how you will be able to afford quality care for your child, especially if you have emptied your bank account paying for assisted reproductive technology or adoption fees.
According to the CDC, the lifetime cost of caring for a child with cerebral palsy is $1 million.
Depending on your child’s birth injury, they may need:
- Assistive devices
- Mobility aids
- Physical therapy
- Prescription medication
- Special education
- Speech therapy
Fortunately, your family might qualify for birth injury financial support to help your family pay for these expenses.
For example, the federal Title IV-E adoption assistance program offers monthly maintenance payments, medical aid, and other care services for eligible children with special needs.
Certain grants can help families pay for medical treatment, adaptive gear, and living expenses. Government assistance is also available for families who need to modify their homes to make them accessible for children with disabilities.
Low-income families may qualify for health insurance through Medicaid. Medicare is a federal health insurance program for older adults and younger people with disabilities.
If your adopted child suffered a preventable birth injury, you might be entitled to financial compensation through a birth injury lawsuit. However, you must act quickly since state laws limit the time you have to file a claim.
Learn if you qualify for legal assistance through a free case review.
Dealing With Discrimination
As mentioned above, it is not unusual for LGBTQ adoptive parents to feel fear and anxiety when dealing with health care, government, or child welfare agencies because of current or past discrimination.
Sadly, LGBTQ individuals still face interpersonal and institutional discrimination. This is especially true when an LGBTQ person belongs to another marginalized group because of their race, gender, disability, or some other trait.
According to one report, more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced some type of discrimination in 2020, including more than 3 in 5 transgender people.
LGBTQ adoptive parents may feel stressed having to come out multiple times to different agency workers. Again, this can be incredibly taxing if the worker or agency is not LGBTQ-friendly.
If you feel that an agency worker is asking inappropriate questions or mistreating you because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you should tell the worker and their supervisor about your concerns. If you continue to have problems, you should continue to go up the chain of command.
Your local human rights commission may be able to help. These groups operate at a city, county, and regional level to promote equity and inclusion. If necessary, you can contact a lawyer who handles discrimination cases or a group that advocates for LGBTQ rights.
Birth Injury Support Groups
The entire family faces challenges when a child is diagnosed with a birth injury. Therefore, it is crucial that you focus on your child’s well-being and mental health as well as your own.
Here are some tips from Mayo Clinic on doing just that:
- Access education services. Early intervention and special education resources are available to children under 21. Your health care providers should be able to provide you with information on how to find local programs and services.
- Be an advocate. Sometimes parents can be intimidated when dealing with doctors. Don’t be afraid to speak up or ask your child’s doctors and therapists questions. Remember, you are not only a caregiver but an essential part of your child’s health care team.
- Encourage your child’s independence. Any effort in social, educational, and recreational activities should be cheered on.
- Find support. A support system can help your family manage daily life with a child who has special needs.
Many birth injury support groups help families access health care and navigate the challenges of parenting a child with a birth injury.
Depending on your child’s birth injury, you may be able to find support from one or more of these groups:
- Cerebral Palsy Foundation
- Federation for Children with Special Needs
- March of Dimes
- United Brachial Plexus Network
- United Cerebral Palsy
In addition, you may be able to find resources by connecting with other LGBTQ parents. Support from families like yours is important, especially if you or your partner lack support from your own family.
Some groups that advocate for LGBTQ parents and their children include:
- Family Equality Council
- Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
- National Center for Transgender Equality
- The LGBTQ Center
The Birth Injury Justice Center can also connect you with support resources. Contact us at (800) 914-1562 to get help today.