After relaxing on the sofa with my four-year-old son on a pretty typical Friday evening I heard my doorbell ring. I had no idea that every parent’s worst nightmare was waiting on the other side of the door. The person at the door identified herself as a Department of Children’s Services (DCS) worker with the state of Tennessee. I was confused and a bit stunned at her presence at my home—but I decided to do the civilized thing and invite her into my home. After all, I knew that I had nothing to hide and was confident that whatever the reason for her visit had to have some type of logical rationale behind it. I must admit that the very presence of a DCS worker (with a file in hand) at your home makes you a bit uneasy. I think we have all seen the “Lifetime TV Movies” where some poor child has been mistakenly and needlessly ripped from their parent’s home by some case worker with bad or misinformed information.
Emotions aside, I carefully listened to the DCS worker (who seemed nice enough) and responded to her questions. Eventually the reason for her visit came to light and I became relieved and terrified all at the same time. “Apparent bruising on the back” was the implied accusation that our family was facing.
My son was born with Mongolian Spots on his buttocks and back. The deep bluish green spots have been there so long that I rarely notice them anymore. I also don’t notice how closely they do resemble a bruise … that is, until an accusation was made.
Mongolian spots are often times more prevalent in darker-skinned babies. They are very prevalent among Native American babies as well as Hispanic and Black babies. They vary in size and shape and range from the size of a small pinhead to as large as six or so inches across. Some babies only have one while others may have many. Mongolian spots are most commonly seen on the lower back and on the buttocks but can also appear on the upper portion of the back as well as on the legs, sides, and shoulders. They do not predispose a person to cancer and are simply dense collections of melanocytes (skin cells that contain melanin.)
Because my son is only around his immediate family most of the time I can only guess that this accusation came from school. While I don’t harbor many ill feelings regarding the investigation, I do have to once again question the knowledge base and experience level of our teachers. The teacher eventually admitted that she called and was stupefied once I explained to her what they were. My experience with the principal was also unproductive. He quickly took offense and acted as though he were offended by my concern about his teacher’s lack of knowledge. He even went as far as to say that he worked with “African-American” children for a number of years and had never heard of this condition. His implication was that this was so rare that I had no right to be upset by the situation.
Adoptive Families Magazine is a national magazine that provides a wealth of information for potential adoptive families. They even have a section of their website dedicated to Mongolian Spots. Interestingly enough at the top of the page they recommend that you have your child’s pediatrician document the presence of Mongolian Spots.
“According to the American Journal of Dermatology, at least 90 percent of people of African heritage have these marks, as do over 80 percent of Asians. Despite the name, Mongolian spots have no known anthropologic significance, except for being more common in darker-skinned infants. (Although 10 percent of Caucasians also have Mongolian spots.)” Source: www.adoptivefamilies.com
Thankfully my son’s pediatrician documented his Mongolian Spots very early in his record and eventually the investigation of our family was closed (I hope since they never confirm this with you) and we are now at ease with the situation. The biggest lesson that I have learned from all of this is to not assume that people who encounter my child will always make the best assumptions nor will they always include you in the dialogue. This school year I will be sure to point out the spots on his back and explain what they are so there are no misunderstandings.