Why Proper Adoption Language Matters
If you are just starting out in your journey to considering adoption, you might not know that saying certain terms and phrases can be extremely hurtful to birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees alike. These words are often said not out of malice, but simply because people lack the proper education on why these words hurt and are unsure of what to say instead. Proper adoption language is one of the most powerful things anyone can do to show respect for the adoption community. The weight we place behind words affects people in such a tremendous way and we are especially learning the repercussions of that as a society today. The words we use when speaking to each other can subconsciously reveal our true feelings about many issues, without us intending to. Even someone with the best intentions can unknowingly cause pain by using negative adoption language. We must start utilizing the correct terminology when speaking about adoption instead of allowing the negative phrases that have been circulating for so long to continue to cause hurt and misunderstanding.
One of the most commonly used phrases when speaking about making an adoption plan is that birth parents are “giving baby up for adoption”. Not only is this term ridiculously outdated but it is incorrect in many ways. We give things away all the time in life. You can give away old clothes to a donation center, give away free ice cream to celebrate a grand opening of a new store, or even give away advice to those seeking it on something you have experience in. When you make an adoption plan, there is so much thought, time, preparation and intention put into it, it is almost insulting to use the same phrase one would use to reference old clothes, that you would for a child placed for adoption. There are many positive word choices to use to explain this process that is not tainted with the negativity of how adoption was once viewed in the past before we embraced how beautiful it is. Take the time to educate yourself on four different phrases you can use instead of “giving baby up for adoption”.
1. Choose Adoption
I am a birth mother myself and when I was considering my options for when I found myself pregnant at a young age and unable to provide for my child, I began to research the resources available to me. Personally, abortion was not something I was considering. I wanted to be able to parent my child very much and struggled to figure out if I would be able to do so for a long time. The other option that was presented to me by a family member was adoption. I did not know at the time what that could even look like. After educating myself by making contact with The Gladney Center for Adoption, the agency I eventually choose to work with, I really took the time to think about the best course of action for me and my child. I thoughtfully and purposely envisioned what the two choices I had would look like as my child grew up. At no point did I think I was “giving baby up for adoption”, I was thinking about giving her a life that I was unable to provide. I fought to give my child the best life she could possibly have, even when I realized that life would not include me parenting her. Even for a birth mother that does not begin considering adoption as an option until closer to, or even after delivery, it is not a heedless decision. Every birth parent makes the conscious decision to choose adoption for their child. Labeling that decision with words such as abandoned, unwanted, or surrendered takes away from the amount of love, bravery and selflessness put into that decision by the birth parents.
2. Make an Adoption Plan
Once I made the decision that I was choosing adoption for my child, I began to make my adoption plan. This involves selecting adoptive parents that best match what you are looking for in an adoptive family. Some details to consider are the amount of post-placement contact you desire, the type of home you are looking for your child to be raised in, and what is important to you in regards to the type of life you desire for your child. These are all examples of the amount of effort and thought that goes into making an adoption plan. When making that plan, the birth parent must spend time thinking about their child growing up in the arms and home of another family. That can be extremely painful to conceptualize, especially for a birth mother as she feels her child growing inside of her. Remembering to be compassionate and respectful starts with making sure to use the proper terms when speaking to anyone about adoption. Saying things like “not keeping your baby” can be replaced with “the decision to make an adoption plan” to be more empathetic to the birth parent’s feelings. “Giving baby up for adoption” evokes the feeling that one has given up on a child when the truth of the matter is that choosing to make an adoption plan is a thoughtful choice, made with the truest intentions to provide that child with the best life imaginable. Even the slightest change in vocabulary can make a world of difference. I vividly remember a conversation about one year after I placed my child for adoption with a friend who stated I “had” a child; I did not “have” a child because I did not choose to parent. She did not intentionally mean to hurt me with those words but she was not educated enough to understand that even though I placed my child for adoption, it does not take away from the fact that I am, and will always be her birth mother. Unless you have walked in those birth parent shoes personally, you cannot understand the complicated depth of emotions that come along with that journey. Every step someone takes to help better understand how to use positive language to respect that makes an exponential difference.
3. Place Baby for Adoption
Placing your baby or child for adoption is one of the most appropriate phrases to use when speaking to anyone about their decision to do so. “Giving baby up for adoption” or “put up for adoption” are outdated terms. These terms originate from the 1850s and reflect a much different time and face of adoption. Most children “put up” for adoption during this time were orphaned children who were homeless or their parents had died from various diseases prevalent during that time. They were “put up” on platforms to be selected for adoption, hence where the term comes from. This is a stark contrast from what adoption looks like today therefore, the same terminology absolutely cannot be used to describe it. Going through the process of placing your child for adoption is already an excruciating experience for the birth parent and to demoralize their carefully thought out actions is beyond cruel. It is also insulting to the adoptee to have to imagine their birth parent “giving them away”. Adoptions are full of ups and downs and as an adoptee processes their birth parent’s decision to place them for adoption, using negative terms just adds pain to that journey and makes it more difficult for them. An adoptive parent can easily be offended by the uneducated uses of these phrases. Adoptive parents also fight hard to ensure the adoptive child has all the support necessary to fully thrive in their lives, sometimes at the expense of their hearts. Adoptive parents often go through their pain and loss in making the choice to adopt a child and taking the time to learn the proper adoption language to use when speaking about their path is just one way to fully support them in that. It is also important to remember that if someone is adopted, has adopted or placed a child for adoption, that is not the subject matter that needs to be addressed unless that person brings it up themselves. This is one tiny particle of information about their lives and does not define them in any way so respecting their right to privacy is vital.
4. Terminate parental rights
This one is my least favorite to bring up but the fact is, parental rights must be terminated by both birth parents before a child can be legally adopted. Incorrect adoption wording would be to say the birth parent relinquished or released their rights. Although it is a small difference, the power behind making sure you are using the proper language shows the level of respect you have for the birth parent’s decision to place their child for adoption. The paperwork that is involved in this process is brutal in only the way legal paperwork can be. No words are minced and the finality of the situation can hit you like a slap in the face. At no time did I cry harder during the day I placed my child for adoption than I did while signing the paperwork. It was not because I was regretting my decision, but because the truth hurts. Understanding how final it is to terminate your parental rights brings all the pain and loss of choosing to place your child for adoption to the surface with no way to avoid it. Any birth parent will be able to recall the gut-wrenching feeling of signing their name on those documents. The very least we can do to honor their courageous ability to do that for the better of their child is to make sure to utilize the proper adoption language when speaking about any adoption.
Because there are multiple terms that we need to avoid using when speaking about adoption, here is an easy visual to help you remember some of the key terms and phrases mentioned, as well as some additional negative adoption language and the positive replacements for them:
Positive VS Negative
Make an adoption plan
Place baby for adoption
Terminate parental rights
Born to unmarried parents
A child placed for adoption
Instead of this:
Abandon or surrender child
Give up or give away
Put up for adoption
Relinquish or release
Anytime you speak about adoption, whether it be to a birth parent, adoptee or adoptive parent, making sure to use the proper adoption language is the best thing you can do to show support for that person. My ability to place my child for adoption is something I am enormously proud of and when the people in my life show their support by learning the proper terms and phrases, it shows me how much they care. One thing anyone can do to practice making sure you are using positive adoption language is to start by correcting the language in your head when you even think about certain terms. By taking the time to change your thoughts, you will be able to avoid saying something offensive unintentionally. Education is the key to making sure these negative phrases are something we consider derogatory to all members of the adoption triad. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you come across negative language. I recently saw a post online where a friend used the term “giving baby up for adoption” and I was able to respectfully and kindly suggest the positive replacement. I was nervous to say something but was rewarded with not only gratitude from the person who posted it, but they also took the time to edit the post with the correct term. Most people simply lack the education on why proper adoption language matters and are receptive to learning what they can do to make a change in not only themselves but society as a whole. Together, we can work side to side to use our platforms to educate on the power of proper positive adoption language.