Giving a Child Up For Adoption: 3 Reasons You’re Not

If you have done any research about adoption, you’ve probably heard the term “giving a child up for adoption.” In a world full of changing vernacular, this may or may not seem cringy to you. If it does, you’re not wrong. During this year, our world has seen the largest amount of change many of us will ever see in our lifetime. Between a global pandemic, a civil rights movement, and so much more that is happening, we are in a time that will be in the history books. The adoption community has also been experiencing change as the years have gone by. It is becoming more open-minded and accepting. So, after decades of using the same verbiage and following the same policies, I think we can all agree that it’s time for a change. 

No one is “giving a child up for adoption,” nor has anyone “given up” on anyone. As an expectant parent, you are making the choice that you feel is best for your child. You’ll see this a few more times throughout the article, just to make sure you don’t forget that your experience as an expectant parent is validated. No matter what that entails, I don’t know of anyone who truly is “given up a child for adoption.” The phrase is outdated and inappropriate. Now, let’s go through a few reasons why. 

1. “Giving up” doesn’t represent the adoption experience for anyone. 

Think about it, what first comes to mind when you think of giving up? For most people, it means totally relinquishing any effort put into something, abandoning it, and moving on. Now, put that into the context of placing your child for adoption. Do any of those things sound like what you would want to use to describe your adoption experience? Absolutely not. As an expectant parent, you are making a very difficult and personal decision. You are not abandoning your child or relinquishing any effort; you work just as hard as the adoptive parents in the situation. Adoption isn’t an easy cut and dry process. It’s complicated and it takes an immense amount of strength from an expectant parent. In a sense, using “giving up” diminishes the experience of everyone involved in the adoption triad. 

During an interview with a birth mother (who wished to remain anonymous), she recounts how deeply emotional placing her child for adoption was. She describes how she wrestled with the decision for months. When she made the to continue with the adoption process, she describes the guilt and shame she felt because of the stigma against and language used about placing your child for adoption. If more people had used positive adoption language, it would have been easier to put herself in a more realistic and stable mindset throughout her pregnancy and post-adoption experience. 

Caroline Ritenour, a birth mother from Ohio, wrote an article that contained beautifully worded advice meant for birth mothers navigating the adoption process. With this language, she engages with expectant and birth mothers on a very personal level. Repeatedly, she breaks down stereotypes placed on birth mothers who place their child for adoption and emphasizes how important it is for the adoption community, along with outsiders, to recognize the strength it takes to go through the adoption process. Ritenour also encourages birth mothers to remember that they have different options to choose for their pregnancy and that no matter what choice they make, to own it. It’s their story and their prerogative, not anyone else’s. 

From my experience as an adoptee, I’ve learned that perhaps one of the biggest challenges I will ever face will be being rejected by members of my birth family. The feeling of abandonment that comes with being told that the people that were supposed to love you and take care of you is immense and lifelong. It also reinforces the feelings of grief over the fact that society thinks we were “given away” like a used toy. When this type of language is used, it’s devastating. Whether it’s in reference to a biological child or any other adoptee in the world, it hurts. Plus, if it hurts us adoptees so bad, imagine what it does to birth families. The stigmas against birth mothers who place their child up for adoption, as mentioned, are horrible. Birth mothers are not terrible people, nor are they just whisking their child away to a random family. Can you see how this language creates this hateful and untrue picture of expectant parents? This language has to stop. Using terms like “given up” only tear people down at what might be the most vulnerable and challenging part of their lives. 

Most people these days do not mean any ill intent when they say they “gave up” their child for adoption; they’re just using outdated terminology. By educating people on the most appropriate thing to say and why saying terms like “given up,” “unwanted pregnancy,” and “real parents” is so offensive and unrepresentative of the expectant and birth parent experience. 

2. Using this phrase makes it seem okay to use even more harmful phrases. 

Going through the adoption process is no easy feat. It is one of the hardest decisions you will ever make as an expectant parent, not to mention the work that potential adoptive parents have. By changing the language we use, including that used to describe the expectant/birth parent experience, the quicker that the stereotypes and stigmas will slowly begin to fade away. It is important to remember that change does not happen overnight or by one person being concerned, it takes the determined few that really want to see a change in their community.

Many of the phrases that are also viewed as common language by most people. Because they have been said repeatedly and accepted as the adoption vernacular, it’s hard for some to see the reasoning as to why they should be changed. Some might say they’re just words or that it’s too much work to try and say the politically correct thing. However, if enough people would put in the effort to think before they use a term like “giving up your child for adoption,” it would make a significant impact on the adoption community and serve as education for the general public. This article summarizes the most frequently used adoption terms that are harmful. They are listed below:

  • Real parents
  • Adoptive parents
  • Adopted child
  • Is adopted
  • Keeping the baby 
  • Illegitimate
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Child taken away
  • “It’s so amazing that you have adopted a child in need.” 
  • “Your child is so lucky that he/she was adopted by you.” 
  • “Your son/daughter is so much better off with you than with the birth parents.” 
  • “I could never raise someone else’s child.” 
  • “I could never give my baby away.”

As you can see by reading through these terms and phrases, it’s pretty obvious for the majority of them why they could be construed as controversial. A general rule to follow is that if it doesn’t sound right or is something you would take offense to, don’t say it. Moreover, follow the golden rule: treat others how you would want to be treated. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics also has some do’s and don’ts when talking about adoption; their goal is to provide parents with knowledge on how to keep kids healthy and happy. Similar to the list above, the website provides examples of what to and what not to say when talking about adoption, as well as examples of positive talk. 

If you’re ever in doubt about if something you’ve said could be construed as inappropriate or offensive, consider browsing any of the following resources: the National Council for Adoption or Parents magazine. The Child Welfare Information Getaway ran by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is also a great resource to use. On their website, they have several different handouts that you can print out or send to people. They are also good to keep on hand throughout your adoption journey, either for your own personal mental health and reminder or to help those around you learn the correct terminology. 

3. Adoption has the potential to be a positive experience for all involved. 

As the mindset of the adoption community has switched to a more realistic and friendly one, the issues that these outdated terms have been coming to surface. As we mentioned earlier, using negative adoption language opens the door for stereotypes and other negative terminology to be used. It also creates a one-sided view of the adoption experience that does not recognize the struggles and emotions that are dealt with expectant or birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees during the process. More importantly, every expectant parent’s journey through adoption is different. So, why continue to use phrases that do this? What’s the point? If there’s any chance at all that by stopping the use of them the adoption community could become a much safer space for everyone, why are we not rushing to change things? 

When interviewing the (anonymous) birth mother featured above, she commented on how rigid and detached she became when describing what it was like placing her child up for adoption. Although she was in “one of the darkest places of her life,” as she described it, it was still one of the hardest things she ever had to do. Although she wanted to raise her child, the pressure from the professionals she was working with to “give up her kid to a better family” began to get to her. This is a clear example of how damaging and traumatizing this can be to an expectant parent, especially if people in positions of authority are saying these things. Too often, expectant parents can be swayed one way or another during the adoption process by those who they are depending on to guide them in the right way. It is troubling to think that this could happen because of the wrong wording, especially because if they would have known to change what they said, she would have been able to make her decision on her own. No matter what her decision ended up being, positive language could have made it a less traumatic experience. This experience shows that the more we look to the future with hope and positivity, the less worry and trauma that will be present in future adoption journeys. 

Adoption is a process rooted in corruption and secrets, to be frank. To overcome the negative culture that has perpetuated for generations, we have to change the way that we think about adoption. While acknowledging the trauma and difficult emotions that come with the adoption process, we must make a shift toward a more positive mindset. Only then will we be able to create a ubiquitous harmony for birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents. When you get to the core of what adoption truly means, you find that once all the technicalities and logistics are put on the back burner, it all boils down to two families that love a child and want the best for it. Although love can be complicated in some situations, there are positive sides to every adoption. Bringing that positivity back into the light is necessary for creating a more positive adoption outcome. 

In conclusion, my challenge to you, whether you are an expectant parent, a birth parent, an adoptee, an adoptive parent, or someone who just happened to stumble upon this article is to spend the next few weeks listening to how you talk about adoption. Do you use any of the phrases listed above? Do you already make an effort to use positive adoption language? If you find that you can answer “yes” to the first question, try to make a concerted effort to be conscious of the language you use. If you can answer “yes” to the second question, try to spread awareness about using positive adoption language in their everyday conversations. 

We are sending you best wishes on your adoption journey and hope that using and encouraging others to use positive language only makes it better.