Last week, while at the library with my 10-month-old daughter, Chloe, I began chatting with another mom. She asked me if I delivered Chloe at the nearby hospital. “No” I said. “We are an adoptive family. Chloe’s birth mom delivered her in Iowa and placed her for adoption with us that day.” I have learned in the past year the importance of adoption-friendly language which is why I did not say, “No. She’s adopted. Chloe’s real mom delivered her in Iowa and gave her up for adoption that day.” The differences in these sentences might not stand out to you, but to someone whose life has been touched by adoption, they have very different tones. So what are the appropriate terms and phrases to use when speaking about adoption?
- Say ‘adoptive family’ not ‘she’s adopted’
To say, “she’s adopted” I am separating Chloe out and insinuating there is something different about her. It is true that she is adopted and there is absolutely no shame in that; however, to say instead, “we are an adoptive family” I am including my husband and myself so that as Chloe grows and starts listening carefully, she will understand we are all part of an adoption journey, not her alone.
- Say ‘birth mom’ or ‘biological mom’ not ‘real mom’
Last I checked, neither Chloe’s birth mom nor I are imaginary. We both play critical roles in Chloe’s life, but one role is not more ‘real’ than the other. Using the term ‘real’ to describe the birth mom takes away legitimacy from the adoptive mother.
- Say ‘child’ not ‘adopted child’
Chloe is my child. It is really as simple as that. Yes, she is adopted and yes, she has an amazing birth mom who is now part of our family, too, but none of that changes the fact that Chloe is my child. I would not say to someone that she is my adopted child because that creates a distance between us. As she grows, I wouldn’t want her to refer to me as her “adoptive mom.” I am “mom,” she is my baby girl, regardless of the circumstances that brought us together.
- Say “placed for adoption” not “gave up”
The last thing birth mothers do is give up on their child. Birth moms struggle with their decision and ultimately break their own hearts so that their baby can be given a life they cannot provide themselves. The amount of selfless love that goes into this decision is second to none, and to sacrifice their own happiness for their child’s only to have society say they “gave up” is extremely hurtful, so be extra careful with this one.
Although these phrases at first glance don’t seem too different, I hope you now understand the big difference they make to people in the adoption community. There is a great deal of emotion involved in every adoption, and something as simple as choosing respectful words shows us you understand that our families aren’t so different than yours.