Let me preface this post by saying that I am not the expert on all things adoption. The more I learn and talk with other adoptive parents, the more I see how vastly different adoption experiences can be. So what I share, I share from my own experience.
I also don’t assume that most people are outright trying to offend when they make certain comments or ask what some might consider inappropriate or invasive questions. Heck, when my little family is all together, it’s pretty obvious that we are not blood related.
I choose to believe that curiosity gets the better of many an inquirer, and they don’t really take time to filter or think through what’s about to come out of their mouth. In moments like that, I can choose to be indignant and retort with a snarky comment (though frankly, I’m not quick on my feet with stuff like that), or I can see it as an opportunity to help educate people about adoption.
So with that being said, I want to touch on some phrases and terms that often get tossed out around adoptive families, and offer some alternatives that more positively label or depict the situation and adoption in general.
“give(n) up” – As in, “Why was he given up?” or “I don’t know how someone can give up their baby.” If you look up that phrase in the dictionary, “give up” is often defined as things akin to surrender, definitions like “cease making an effort; resign oneself to failure.” So what’s a better term?
“placed” – The last thing a birth mother is doing when she makes the decision to place her baby for adoption is giving up. In this day and age, there are any number of easily accessible options for terminating a pregnancy. But when a woman instead chooses to carry a baby for 9 months, possibly face ridicule or shame from friends and family, go through labor and delivery, and then hand over her baby to someone else to raise, wanting things for that baby that maybe she feels she can’t give him or her – that is anything but “giving up.” She is very much willfully choosing to give that baby life, and offer a better life than perhaps she feels she can provide.
“real parents” or “real mom” or “real dad” – As in, “Can his real parents take him back?” or “Do you still talk to his real mom?” Let’s be clear here, my husband and I are absolutely the “real” parents of any children we have, adopted or otherwise. At our son’s finalization hearing, we swore under oath our understanding that adoption is a permanent, lifelong commitment, and we agreed to be responsible for our child in all the same ways we would for a biological one. Our son was given our family name and declared a member “with all the rights and responsibilities attached thereto.” And we have a birth certificate naming us as his natural parents.
“birth parents” or “bio(logical) parents” – In the above examples, I understand that most people are referring to the parents with a blood relationship to the child. A better choice of terms for them would be “birth” or “bio” parents/mom/dad/siblings/etc.
“how lucky” or “what a gift” – As in, “How lucky your son is to have you.” Or “What a gift you are giving this child.” Or anything along those lines. Please don’t ever tell an adoptee how lucky or blessed they are or what a gift they’ve been given. The long and the short of it is we are the lucky ones to be raising these children, to be entrusted with their life and care. Being separated from biological family – no matter the reasons for it, willful or not – is hardly “lucky.” And I certainly don’t ever want my children to feel indebted to me or like they owe us something. I want them to feel comfortable being open, honest, asking all the tough questions, and speaking whatever is on their mind.
“raise someone else’s child” – This isn’t always outright stated, but it can easily be implied. I have friends who have struggled with infertility like we did, and their spouses are not at all open to adoption as an alternative to growing their family because they feel like they would be raising someone else’s child. See my above comments on what happens in court. This is permanent, this is lifelong, and these children have all the rights as part of our family as any biological child would. They are every bit our own.
A sweet friend recently admitted to her insecurities about what is and is not appropriate to bring up with me, or anyone who might be adopting. Like what are the right things to say or ask, are there parts or topics that are off limits, what are the best ways to reach out and show support, how best to celebrate and be excited while also acknowledging the uncertainty and not causing pain if things fall through.
Frankly, admitting everything that she did up front is a great place to start; or prefacing any comment or question with something like, “I hope it’s okay to ask this…” or “I’m not quite sure how to say this…” And then be open to hearing and learning.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t assume anyone is setting out to be offensive, so to me there is no stupid question or right or wrong way to approach me. Is it possible to catch me on a bad day and get a short retort or quizzical look? If my toddler woke me up four times the night before… yes, it’s entirely possible. But let’s bear with one another and keep the dialogue open.
Adoption is a beautiful thing, and I want the world to know more about it. That’s why I started this blog, after all.
So if you have any questions, feel free to seek me out and ask away!