As an adoptee, and as an adoption advocate, this is an issue that is very real to me. I have been asked so many times if I know my "real" parents, or if I hope to adopt before or after I have "children of my own." This language sounds so innocent, but it is SO marginalizing to children and parents in adoptive families. These are a few things I think the world needs to know:
The woman who carries and gives birth to a child is the "birth mother" or "biological mother," and the man who conceived the child with her is the birth or biological father- this is NOT synonymous with "real" mother and father. I find it extremely offensive when people look at my mom and dad, who raised me since I was three days old, and say, "Where are your real parents?" Of course, circumstances vary from one person to another- a child who lost a parent tragically and is now stuck in a less-than-loving foster situation may prefer to call their birth parents "real." Unless you know the family's circumstances, it is best to refer to the parents as "birth/biological" parents and "adoptive" parents- but, if it is clear that the child claims the adoptive parents as Mom and Dad without hesitation, then it's probably safe to refer to the adoptive parents as the "real" parents.
"Children of Their Own"
A family close to my heart has two boys (biological) and a little girl adopted from Ethiopia. They hate hate HATE it when people refer to the boys as "their own" and then add, "but the girl is adopted." That little girl is no more or less a member of the family than her brothers! Again, the proper terms here are "biological" and "adopted." Quite frankly, it is very rarely even necessary to identify children as biological or adopted, unless you are discussing medical or family history. The same holds true for people who are unable to have biological children and choose to adopt- it is never acceptable to point to them and say, "They don't have any chldren of their own; the kids are adopted." Yes, they DO have children of their own BECAUSE they adopted those children!
"She gave up her baby"
I have had people assume that I must hate my biological parents because they "gave me away." I have also seen frightened teenage girls dealing with an unplanned pregnancy being told, "You can't give your baby away!" This might blow some people's minds, but adoption is NOT listing your baby for sale on Craigslist! The adoption process is long, complicated, and emotional for both the birth parents and the adoptive parents, and it means that the birth mother must go through the agony of giving birth, instinctively bonding with the baby, and then handing the baby over to the adoptive parents so the baby can have a better life. It is a tremendous sacrifice on the birth parents' part! It is important to discuss "Making an adoption plan," rather than "giving up the baby"- many birth parents experience irrational but very extreme guilt after the adoption is complete, and using "giving up" can add to their emotional burden.
Of course, their may be other circumstances. Perhaps someone WAS literally abandoned before being adopted, especially in international adoptions- but, if the child has forgiven the birth mother, or if the child understands that the birth mother had no other choice (if she were trying to protect the baby from an abusive grandparent or father, or if she lived in a country where the baby could be killed or sold into slavery), there is no need to open old wounds. If the child talks about feelings of abandonment, it's a different story, but NEVER assume that the birth parents are the child's enemy.
Product of Rape
Rape and sexual assault are horrible, heinous crimes that no one deserves to experience- but, they happen, and some women do become pregnant after being assaulted. However, it is never, never justifiable to point to a child and say they are the "product" or "result" of something so horrible as rape. If it is absolutely necessary to clarify a child's genetic history, then use words that separate the miracle of life from the horror of sexual assault: "Her mother/birth mother was assaulted and became pregnant," not, "Her birth mother was raped and she's the result."
"It takes a special person to adopt!"
This one is more "careful of the context" than "don't ever say it!" Yes, it does take a special person or couple to wade through mounds of paperwork, expenses, and emotional rollercoasters to give a child a family. On the other hand, it feels extremely condescending when I casually mention that I was adopted, and someone immediately says this line- like I'm some sort of horrible burden that my courageous, self-sacrificing parents took on.
If any other adoptees or adoptive parents out there have questions or anything to add, I'd love to see some good discussion about this!!