Author Topic: The Language of Adoption  (Read 1281 times)

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AnaMaria

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The Language of Adoption
« on: July 06, 2014, 11:08:12 PM »
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:

"Real" Parents
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!!

MommyPenguin

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2014, 11:22:39 PM »
You make a lot of great points!

Have you seen this video?  http://www.today.com/parents/pastor-creates-boob-job-rule-questions-about-adopted-kids-1D79579660  A friend of mine with several children adopted (and it's obvious to others because they are of a different race) posted it and I thought it was pretty funny.  Probably not safe for work or in front of small children (it's not truly inappropriate, it's just that it compares comments on adopting to comments on a personal augmentation and you may not want to have people overhear and get the wrong idea).  It's really, really funny, but it's also very much stuff that I've heard adoptive parents hear a lot and are tired of.

AnaMaria

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2014, 11:48:19 PM »
OMGOODNESS!!!!  Hilarious and so true!!  That guy hits the nail on the head!!

Library Dragon

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2014, 02:33:21 AM »
What a great video!

I will admit that any phrase with the word "real" relating to families sends me up the wall.

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mime

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2014, 10:30:18 AM »
Like many people of my generation, I have friends and family in all different roles in adoption. It is odd-- and it seems to be a product of the generations before me-- that the need to point out adoption is so strong. How many times I've heard "they have 3 biological kids and 2 adopted kids"... because somehow that is relevant ::)?

My godmother/cousin "Wendy" was adopted by my great aunt & uncle. When Wendy had troublesome years in early-adulthood, Aunt & Uncle's sibs took this as a sign that they were never supposed to be parents  >:( (A&U were absolutely wonderful people, BTW). Their generation is weird about it. At my wedding, as MOH took some pics of me and Wendy, MOH commented on how much we look alike. Wendy and I just smiled and thanked her, knowing there was no biological relationship (and in my eyes, Wendy was always so beautiful, it was a great compliment to me to be likened to her). My grandmother went on super-defensive mode: "of course they look alike! They're cousins! Why wouldn't they look alike? They're related!"  :o 

From the other side of adoption: my dear friend (the MOH in the story above), "Crystal", placed one of her babies with another family. Around that time I had heard someone who is an adoptive mom insisting that the proper and non-offensive way to mention this is to say "she terminated her parental status". That phrase would make Crystal cry. I use the phrase "placed her baby with the Smiths" because that's how Crystal says it, and it seems to recognize the great care and pain with which she made that decision.

I was there when that baby was born, and was at her 1st birthday party. I remember holding her as we looked at different cameras for photos, and as I pointed to her mom, I said "smile for Mommy!", and then pointing at Crystal and saying "now smile for Crystal!", and feeling bad for my friend. She's had trouble letting go.

Side note: DH and I were well into the process of adoption several years ago, but ended up separated for 2 years (due to issues unrelated to kids). I haven't had the heart to start it all over again, and question our suitability due to DH's mental illness struggles. I worry that it will always be a thing I regret.


Betelnut

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #5 on: July 07, 2014, 12:18:00 PM »
I'm an adoptive Mom so thanks for this great post!

We (me and my daughter) actually call her biological Mom her "first Mommy."
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TootsNYC

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #6 on: July 07, 2014, 12:24:10 PM »
Quote
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."


I don't actually understand why anybody ever needs to ask these questions.

If I know someone well enough, I'll find out if they know their birth parents. Eventually. When it's actually relevant (like, their birth mom is actually going to attend their wedding, and so I'll meet her; or my friend is going to drop in to visit her birth father on a trip to his city, and she mentions it to me).

And their family planning is not my business, even if they're my own child!


Oh Joy

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #7 on: July 07, 2014, 02:48:00 PM »
Let's also not forget that, while there are preferred and politically-correct terms in every topic, that playing 'word police' with other adults is impolite in itself.  When someone appears to be genuinely attempting pleasant small talk or to get better acquaintance, don't let a difference in terminology overshadow the spirit of the conversation.

The most graceful response is often to use the preferred term yourself, just as an experienced server won't correct a patron's mispronunciation of a menu item but will say it correctly when delivering the dish.

TurtleDove

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #8 on: July 07, 2014, 04:48:03 PM »
Let's also not forget that, while there are preferred and politically-correct terms in every topic, that playing 'word police' with other adults is impolite in itself.  When someone appears to be genuinely attempting pleasant small talk or to get better acquaintance, don't let a difference in terminology overshadow the spirit of the conversation.

The most graceful response is often to use the preferred term yourself, just as an experienced server won't correct a patron's mispronunciation of a menu item but will say it correctly when delivering the dish.

I think this is wise advice. I am not adopted, but my husband and his three siblings were, as is one of my nieces.  I think there has been some great advice in this thread, especially in the OP.

AnaMaria

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #9 on: July 07, 2014, 09:05:27 PM »

From the other side of adoption: my dear friend (the MOH in the story above), "Crystal", placed one of her babies with another family. Around that time I had heard someone who is an adoptive mom insisting that the proper and non-offensive way to mention this is to say "she terminated her parental status". That phrase would make Crystal cry. I use the phrase "placed her baby with the Smiths" because that's how Crystal says it, and it seems to recognize the great care and pain with which she made that decision.


My biological parents were 15 and 16 when I was born, and I tracked them down and met them (married to other people but still living in the same town) when I was 22.  My birth father had done everything in his power to support my birth mother while she was pregnant with me, even though his own dad was urging him to either talk her into an abortion or deny she had ever been his girlfriend because she was "shaming" the family.  However, from the moment he signed the adoption papers, he had been overwhelmed with guilt for "abandoning" me.  There was absolutely nothing for him to feel guilty about- he was 16, neither he nor my birth mother had the support of their parents, and neither of them were doing well in school at the time.  There was absolutely no way they could have raised me, and, meanwhile, my mom and dad were dealing with infertility and begging God for another chance to adopt (they had already adopted my brother, but really wanted a second child).  But, reality is that most birth parents DO feel extreme guilt and grief after the adoption is finalized- human beings are wired to instinctively bond with and protect their offspring, and those instincts aren't magically shut off by signing a legal document.  It is so, so important that birth parents receive SUPPORT from friends and family; they shouldn't have to hear things like "She terminated her parental rights," or "He gave the baby away."  There is an infinite difference between a parent who is so selfish that they leave their own children, and a parent who is selfless enough to go through with an adoption.

AnaMaria

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #10 on: July 07, 2014, 11:28:57 PM »
Let's also not forget that, while there are preferred and politically-correct terms in every topic, that playing 'word police' with other adults is impolite in itself.  When someone appears to be genuinely attempting pleasant small talk or to get better acquaintance, don't let a difference in terminology overshadow the spirit of the conversation.

The most graceful response is often to use the preferred term yourself, just as an experienced server won't correct a patron's mispronunciation of a menu item but will say it correctly when delivering the dish.

Very true; you don't fix anything by offending the offender.  At the same time, though, I'd say it's fine to have a polite spine- I would never go all Real Housewives on someone who asked if I knew my "real" parents...but I will also never, NEVER dishonor my mom and dad by allowing someone to imply that they are not my real parents, and I would be insulted if my parents allowed someone to imply that I wasn't their real daughter.  A dish at a restaurant won't have it's feelings hurt or feel marginalized if a patron doesn't pronounce it's name correctly.  I usually DO try to use the preferred term, or playfully look confused, point to my mom and dad and say, "Yeah, my real parents are right there!- but, yes, I met my birth parents when I was 22." 

However, I've encountered a few hotheads who will persist and say, "No, your REAL mom and dad; those are just your adoptive parents."  I usually go the silence route at that point; I understand that some people don't know the PC adoption lingo, but I will not allow anyone to insult my parents that way!

JennJenn68

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2014, 11:38:18 PM »
We do our best.  I am one of those women who gave her child up for adoption.  Twenty-odd years ago, the term for it was "natural mother".  Since then, I have cringed at the fact that the letter I wrote to my child used that term.  "Birth mother" seems the least offensive way of referring to it.  I could never have raised my child; the circumstances just made that impossible.  (And you would not believe the number of people that accused me of "selling" my child when I was foolish enough to tell them about the decision that had been forced on me!)

Language changes.  Times change.  People need not to be offended by this, and need to understand that it marks one for life.  It doesn't mean that we gleefully gave our babies away.  (And no, I don't think that's what the OP was saying.  I just wanted to show the opposite perspective on the matter.  I'll never forget some of the probably well-meant but hateful things I had to hear.)

AnaMaria

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2014, 12:24:27 AM »
  (And you would not believe the number of people that accused me of "selling" my child when I was foolish enough to tell them about the decision that had been forced on me!)



Wow, I cannot believe how CLUELESS some people can be!  I know not everyone understands the adoption process or the emotions that come with it, but "selling" your child????

By the way, in the US and most other developed countries, it is ILLEGAL for adoptive or birth parents to exchange money in the process, other than reimbursement for the birth mother's medical care or expenses she obtains in the adoption process (such as travel to complete paperwork).

Bottlecaps

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Re: The Language of Adoption
« Reply #13 on: July 14, 2014, 10:35:34 AM »

There is an infinite difference between a parent who is so selfish that they leave their own children, and a parent who is selfless enough to go through with an adoption.

I couldn't agree more. :) My cousin adopted a baby last fall - to whom I refer as her daughter, because she IS my cousin's daughter! At the baby shower that was held for her, my cousin spoke of how much respect she has for her daughter's birth parents, for doing what they did in order to give her a better life. As for my cousin's daughter, her birth parents didn't "give her up" or "give her away," they gave her the life that they knew they couldn't, which is an incredible, selfless act of love.
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