National Adoption Month

Thinking About Adoption? Read This First.

We don't know what we don't know until we know.

November is National Adoption Month. In honor of the month, we will be bringing attention to the thousands of people in foster care awaiting forever homes, as well as those who provide and advocate for them. These stories emphasize the idea that families are bound together by the love they share, rather than their biological roots.  

I wish someone had sat us down and given us Adoption 101: Positive Adoption Language before we signed the papers and announced to the world that we were adopting. But alas, we didn't educate ourselves in adoption language, and we didn't have anyone directly in our life who had adopted and were jumping to share with us, so we just launched into the journey and quickly realized how our words were hurting adoption and adoptive families.

Awhile ago, I read my very first We're Adopting post on my blog and my heart cringed when I read the sentence, that I had typed: "Why aren't we having our own kids?" It was quickly changed, but I wish I knew in those moments what my words were implying when I wrote them, how hurtful they were, what I was saying. I share this now, embarrassed and bummed, but to let you know that I recognize we are all learning and we all start somewhere.

In my extreme excitement, I didn't even realize I was using language that was detracting from the value and validity of adoption and adoptive families. I, of course, quickly realized how hurtful this term was, when someone asked me while I was holding my five pound new baby boy: "Why don't you want kids of your own?" 

We don't know what we don't know until we know. (And are ready and willing to know).

I can't tell you how many times people have introduced my boys as, "This is Sage, the baby they adopted and this is Ira, their real/own baby." Insert my gut wrenching, my heart cringing, and then my gracious but confident and necessary correction: "They are both my very real and own babies."

It's never about being "PC," it's always about loving each other well. You know?

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner
Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

So, are you thinking about adoption?

If you are, yay! I am a huge advocate of ethical adoption. There are well over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted out of foster care as well as countless expectant mamas making adoption plans. 

Before you dive into the process and signing papers and raising funds and announcing to the world, I hope you'll read through this and really take it to heart. Choosing to become an adoptive parent is a privilege and a responsibility. I believe that part of that responsibility is furthering other's education about adoption (when appropriate) and helping fight the stigmas around adoption — stigmas like: children who join our families via adoption aren't our "own." Why would I expect someone to use the most loving terms regarding adoption if I don't even use them?

Imagine hearing your parents refer to your sibling (their biological child) as their "own" but you as their "adopted"? Ouch.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner
Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Another term I have heard even prospective or current adoptive parents use is "put up for adoption."

"The term "put up for adoption" is actually from the orphan train era. During a period in America's history from 1854 to 1929 there was an estimated 200,000 children who were orphaned, abandoned, or abused and neglected. These children, many from New York, were placed on trains and sent to homes throughout the country. They were 'put up' on platforms for families needing able-bodied children to work on their farms, etc. This is noted as America's first attempt at a foster care system. You can see why the term 'put up for adoption' has negative connotations, to say the least," Susan Weston VanSyckle wrote on her blog, Grace Filled Mess

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner
Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Here are words/terms/phrases that are often misused and what terms we should use instead; the impact of their misuse can be detrimental on many levels. I hope you read these as grace, remembering that we all start somewhere, and we only know what we know until we know more.

1. Real / Natural Parents → Birth Or Biological Parents

2. Real Children / Children Of Your Own → Biological Children

3. Adopted Child/own Child → My Child

4. Adopted Child→ Child

5. Is Adopted → Was Adopted

6. Illegitamte → Born To Unmarried Parents

7. Give Up / Put Up For Adoption → Placed For Adoption/Made An Adoption Plan

8. Adopt Out → Adoption

9. Keep The Child → Choose To Parent

10. Foreign Adoption → International Adoption

11. Hard To Place → Waiting Children

12. Handicapped → Disabled/special Needs

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner
Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Any reference to your [future] child being a novelty, a commodity, a means to pregnancy, or anything other than an actual human is inappropriate.

I wish I would have read this post, "Why Humility Is An Essential Component in All Adoptions," carefully and with intention, along with interviews by [transracial] adoptees.

I hope this helps you further positive and healthy adoption language. I hope you share this with your friends and family, inviting them to love your future or current children well with their words. Words are powerful. Words are so, incredibly, powerful.

Courtesy of Natalie Brenner
Courtesy of Natalie Brenner

Grace is necessary, but grace doesn't negate the absolute necessity of speaking up and educating each other where we each fall short in what we know. It doesn't negate our responsibility to educate ourselves and our loved ones, do and share our research, and use the appropriate language.

It is necessary to work towards this positive and healthy adoption language, in order for the stigmas to be torn down and to continue validating the realness of families built by adoption. These terms serve and give value to: the adoptive family, the birth family, the adoptee.

Love makes a family.

This story originally appeared on Natalie Brenner's blog. Brenner is a wife, mom to virtual twins, and photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Like you, Natalie is a fierce believer in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she'd love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her grace-filled email community. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  

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