Adoption Lingo (What NOT to Say)

Diane –
I am quickly learning about all of the acceptable and not acceptable words and phrases used when discussing adoption, and I’m going to try my best to share some of them here. First off, if you have used any of the “non-preferred” or “bad” phrases, please don’t feel bad. I myself have used all of these at some point. When you know different, you do different – I am a firm believer in that, and as evidenced by my experience today, I am still learning.

Birth parents do not “give their child up” for adoption. They “place” their child or “choose adoption” for their child or “make an adoption plan” for their child. Giving up implies an unconscious or bad choice. It implies taking the easy way out. It implies that the birth parent does not value their child. To “place” a child for adoption implies a conscious choice that has been made with the child’s best interest in mind. It is made out of selfless love.

Referring to a child’s biological parent as their “natural parent” or “real parent” is hurtful, as adoptive parents are REAL in every sense of the word. Birth parent and biological parent are the accepted terms.

When a birth parent chooses to keep the baby, this is called a “change of heart” or a “failed match.” I have used the term “failed adoption” before (on this blog), in my real life, and today in an online Facebook “support” group. Words are VERY triggering for people, and I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I did not experience a “failed adoption.” A “failed adoption” does not exist. Ouch. This one HURT. I was told that there was no adoption. There was no failure. The birth parent chose to parent her child. I was also told by several people that I should be happy – one person used the word “ecstatic” that the birth mother chose to parent and that at least the child will not have to endure the trauma of being an adopted person. Woah – was not emotionally prepared for that one! Yes, of course these are online strangers who don’t know the circumstances, but still – it stung. And yes, I broke down in tears when I read those comments. It hurt to see my words and pain twisted around like that. The point of posting something online was to receive some advice and support from others who had experienced the same thing that we had experienced.

I will say that Google and professionals we work with have used the term “failed adoption” so I had never thought twice about it, but now I know that this phrase is not acceptable in many adoption circles. Birth parents and adoptive parents, especially ones who have been at this for a long time, are extremely passionate people. (Seriously, people who argue politics on the Internet have NOTHING on these mamas). Who knew?

2 thoughts on “Adoption Lingo (What NOT to Say)”

  1. I am a big believer in know better, do better. I haven’t been involved in adoption, and am not an expert in anything. That said, NO ONE GETS TO TELL YOU HOW TO FEEL! If that person had a similar experience and felt ecstatic about it, good for them. You are entitled to your own feelings. My feeling is that I want to punch that person in the face for making you feel bad about having, what seems to this non-expert, to be a totally human reaction to trauma and loss. Also, in my NON-expert opinion, while your adoption process never completed, it certainly happened. Maybe there are good reasons for saying that it never happened, but I can’t think of them. I think it should be acknowledged that you went through this process, this journey—technically, legally, financially, practically, physically, and emotionally—but the birth mom chose to end the adoption before it was complete. In my mind, and if this is hurtful to you or others, please tell me and I will shut up, you are Brian are adoptive parents in an adoption that was never fully completed. To say that this whole experience never happened negates your experience and your feelings. I’m not ok with that. This happened. You have feelings about it. All of this is real and deserves to be recognized. Again, I have no right to be on a soap box about any of this, except that you are my friend, and feel a little powerless to help you, so I feel obliged to be a little protective of your heart. (Therefore I’m really sorry if anything I have said here makes anything worse.)


  2. Oh trust me, I’m with you. I jumped into the middle of something and everyone else has been there for 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 years and I was the newbie…fresh meat. The whole thing caught me so off guard. I definitely know that all of our feelings are valid, and the desire to punch faces was strong. But to protect my heart, I will definitely choose my words more carefully in certain groups in the future, because arguing with strangers on the Internet is no bueno. Brian tries to remind me of that regularly…he’s smart like that. 😉 Thank you for being awesome, Bethany. I know we have an army of amazing supporters out there who will never stop standing up for us, even when the world tries to bring us down. Much love.


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