Positive Vs. Honest Adoption Language

Did you know there are different ways to address adoption language?

Sarah M. Baker July 14, 2014
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In this crazy journey through life, we are in a constant frenzy of education in how the ways of the world work. Adoption language receives no escape in this evolution. Adoption has been a part of history from the earliest days. Adoption of family members through death or other reasons was common. In tribes, parenting as a village was normal. As adoption became a more formal practice, guardianship took on new roles. From the recent history of closed adoptions being the norm, we have now replaced it with open adoptions. Open adoptions favor the child and have had many studies showing the benefits in helping birth parents and people who were adopted gain insight, healing, and acceptance.

One thing that also evolves in adoption is the language used. Phrases like “put up for adoption” are now replaced with “created an adoption plan” or “placed for adoption,” which are deemed to be Positive Adoption Language. Positive Adoption Language may or may not be a term you are familiar with. It is a delicate dance of words that are used to help create an environment to not shame anyone in the adoption triad, but also to show the love that the members share for each other. By using positive adoption language as an adoptive parent, it shows respect for how our children entered our family, for our children and most of all, respect for the people who gave our children life.

In today’s climate of immediate information, thanks to the Internet, Positive Adoption Language is easy to learn. But since people are in many stages of their adoption journey, not everyone learns the lay of the land at the same time. People become terrified to ask questions in their online adoption forums for fear of saying the wrong thing. People have become so passionate about the subject, that often the original question goes unanswered as commenters attack the wording. While some people may not mean to come across harsh, the passion and emotional response to such a confusing topic can leave people hurt and afraid to ask questions that could only prove to further their education in the future. I have been guilty of correcting people, but I try so very hard to give the advice in the gentlest way while also addressing the original topic in the post. People are quick to judge and prompt to deliver finger lashings through their keyboard.

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It doesn’t stop there. Positive Adoption Language is just one side of the story. There are people who find adoption to be a barbaric practice. They feel that by creating this new vocabulary, we are actually trying to sell adoption more by putting a positive spin on things instead of trying to respect the members of the triad. People who use Positive Adoption Language are sometimes met with anger from these protesters, who often combat it by using another type of wording that can be referred to as Honest Adoption Language.

Honest Adoption Language basically takes the terms that we historically used one step further. They deliver the situation with raw “truth.” While I do not try to discredit all of the terms because some of them make a lot of sense to me, there is still hurt in the words and some people are uncomfortable using them. For instance, women who are happy with their decision to place a child, I feel, should not be forced to use different terminology for her situation if she prefers the words and phrases in Positive Adoption Language. And since I would not take that away from her, I would also not try to ask a woman who feels negative about her adoption experience to use the positive words that she feels sugarcoat her situation. The people who use Honest Adoption Language because they are fighting a battle to end adoption should not be allowed to project their words on my situation. Just like every person is different, every adoption is also different. Adoptive parents should stick with Positive Adoption Language while taking the lead of their children and the birth parents in the triad if any terms make them uncomfortable.

Some adoptive parents are greatly offended by the use of Honest Adoption Language. I am not. While some of the terms I don’t feel apply to my situation, others I feel are just truthfully descriptive. There are many ways to address or title the woman who nurtured, loved and birthed my son. Birth mother is one. But I also have no problem in calling her his first mother or natural mother. Those terms are accurate. She did not just give birth to him; she loved him. She was the only mother he knew for those first nine months. Being his “second” mother does not make me second-best. I feel the same way about the natural mother term. I am not unnatural. . . but I am also not his biological mother, therefore nature did not play a part in our bond. Our bond is one of nurture.

Titles are just descriptors. I don’t go around saying “Hi, Birth Mother! It’s so great to see you.” I call her by her name. She is not defined by an adoption title. My son’s birth parents are loving and beautiful people. They are not just birth parents, though. They are my friends. They are my family.

I firmly believe that while Honest Adoption Language can help people learn about the pain and sometimes unethical adoptions that take place, it should not devalue what we have worked so hard for with creating Positive Adoption Language. Some people may feel that adoption in general is unethical, but change doesn’t happen overnight. Positive Adoption Language is one step in creating more ethical adoptions, in my opinion. It is about respect, not trying to blind myself and others to the truths of adoption. I empathize with the pain and loss in adoption. I will raise my son in an open and loving adoption and understand that he will always be someone else’s son too. . . not just their “birth son.”

Adoption Language
What adoption language situations have you found yourself uncomfortable in?

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Sarah M. Baker

Sarah is a Staff Storyteller for Adoption.com and passionate about teaching others the power of open adoption. She is very active in the adoption community, where she spends a lot of time advocating as the founder of Heart For Open Adoption. She is the mom of two boys in addition to parenting her niece. She is a mother biologically and through domestic infant open adoption. Sarah promotes adoption education and ethical adoptions. She and her husband were featured on Season 2 of Oxygen’s “I’m Having Their Baby,” which tells the story of their first adoption match failing. Sarah hopes to bring her personal experience to you and help anyone who wants more information about adoption to find it with ease. Though it was once a taboo subject, Sarah hopes to make adoption something people are no longer afraid to talk about. You can learn more about Sarah and her family on her blog.


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