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MarkLaurie

Positive Adoption Language

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Thanks for this! We all need to be reminded and in our case it has been difficult to get used to calling Victor and Julie's biological parents because it did not seem right. Like it denied them recognition of the time they had with them before they made an adoption plan.

On another note I feel that we all have a responsibility to our children to correct poor language. I clearly remember being with S and D and the kids at an preplacement appt and the receptionist stating "Oh you are the ones giving up your kids for adoption." Made my blood boil and I felt immediately protective of the kids and of S and D. What a punch in the stomach for them. Hear it and correct it...nicely ... but ignore it and you condone it ... and guarantee its continuance!

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Hear it and correct it...nicely ... but ignore it and you condone it ... and guarantee its continuance!

I couldn't agree more, Laura. It's easier to just let something slip past - especially if you hate confrontation - but correcting someone nicely hopefully makes the world a little better for our kids 1 person at a time.

I'd be interested in hearing what you have decided to call Julie and Victor's first parents. I can understand how "biological parents" in the sense that it denies them recognition of the time they had with them before they made the adoption plan. We call Oliver's B his first mama a LOT when we're talking about her, but I also find that term confuses some people... but 9 times out of 10, when someone says "what do you mean by first mother?" it sparks a good conversation.

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Thanks for posting this Elizabeth. I'm going to make copies of it and give it to friends and family. I think a lot of times people don't know WHAT to say and how to handle things. They end up saying the wrong thing most of the time :) It's always a good reminder. I even learned a few things! With Jack only being 7 weeks old, I am still new to this too.

Thanks again!

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Thanks, Elizabeth. I am going to share this.

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I must say as a "Birth Woman" I find this very disturbing. If you call this stuff positive adoption language it is positive toward adoptive families only and very negative towards "birth parents" or first parents. First off if anybody refers to me as a "Birth Woman" I may have to literally slap them. Sorry but that's how infuriated I was when I read that. Gee this is grandma and Grandpa,and Aunt Milly and by the way this is our "BIRTH WOMAN". Are you serious? To even tell somebody else to refer to us as that is down right degrading and makes me feel like I should crawl under a rock. And to say that a reunion is not a reuinion is something I don't understand. No matter if you want to accept it or not it is a REUNION. We were however briefly with our children and loved them. It is just like a family reunion. We love them and they are still a part of our family weather adoptive parents want to aknowledge it or not. And to say they are "making contact" what is that?? Please, are we aliens? You make contact with aliens not family members. his is one of the WORST pieces I ahve ever read as far as using positive adoption language. if this is what positive adoption language is coming to no wonder first parents are looked down upon so much still.

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Well said Jada. While I do agree with most of the points in the article, I too was taken aback by the very things you mentioned. Thanks for speaking out!

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I agree with Jada, this article did not seem to mesh with "positive adoption language Abrazo style." I did agree with some points (such as not continuing to call a child adopted internationally a "foreign child.") The sentence that bothered me the most, though, was calling a meeting between a person once adopted and his/her first parents as "making contact" and not a "reunion." You can "make contact" with someone by inadvertantly dialing a wrong number, for pete's sake.

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Well said, Jada. I was taken aback by those same statements. I can't imagine suggesting someone to be called a birth WOMAN - doesn't make any sense and certainly does not give the respect that birth/first mothers so rightly deserve. And to frown on saying reunion?!? I'd never heard that before and I can't imagine why that would be negative.

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I agree...Birth Woman sounds just plain wrong, but I think there were other points to the article that were worth thinking about. Maybe I'll share only parts of it with my loved ones :)

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This post was made in an open adoption group I belong to on Facebook today. They accept anonymous questions or comments and this one made me smile. I'm not a fan of hearing/saying, "my birthmom" or "our birthmom" because B isn't "my" or "our" birthmom... Oliver gets to own that piece of his history, but I loved the question from the birthmom below because there's such a sweetness to it:

"Fan Question: Lately in my head (until this post) I have been referring to my birth-daughters Adoptive parents as MY adoptive parents, not because they are in any way parenting ME but because I chose them and they are awesome parents, I am proud of them! It feels more accurate than calling them THE adoptive parents. To my friends/family I use their 1st names but secretly I feel they are mine lol Is that weird?"

The comments she received (22 in the past hour) gave different perspectives, and while I still call B "Ollie's birthmama," she is still "our" family and I do call her that. I don't say she's a member of "his" family because there is no doubt we're all intertwined and belong to one another now, though I do still believe the title of "my birthmother" is Oliver's alone.

As an adoptive parent, there is something so validating about any hint from your child's birthparent that you are doing a good job or that they are proud of you, which makes me look at the message behind saying "my" or "our" a little more positively, wondering if birthparents feel the same way.

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Thoughts? [birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Positive Adoption Language

Pasted below in case the link goes bad.

'Positive' Adoption Language?
By Lorraine Dusky © 2011
Shortly after my daughter, Jane—whom I had given up for adoption but had reunited with a quarter of a century earlier—died my husband and a friend of ours were talking about the circumstances of her death at a cocktail party I had chosen not to attend.
If you are an adoptive parent reading this blog, do I have your attention yet? I’ve used words that adoptive parents recoil from: gave up, daughter without modifiers, and though you may be thinking, birth mother, I avoid the use of the term whenever possible. Women who relinquished their children are not having the same negative reaction to my choice of words.
To continue: both my husband and our friend simply spoke of my daughter as they talked. An adoptive mother walked up midway in the conversation. The second time she heard “her daughter,” the adoptive mother interjected, birth daughter.
I have never been able to see this woman since and not be reminded of that incident; actually my reaction is much more visceral: I want to scream at her and pointedly ask about her “adopted daughter’s” migraines.
To do so would be such a social faux pas—and it would hurt her to the quick. Yet she felt no compunction refining my friend’s language, and neither did another adoptive mother, and a friend, I thought, hold back when she interrupted me to insist that I not refer to my daughter’s adopters as her adoptive parents. “They are her parents,” she said willfully while I stood there, bewildered and diminished. Where is it writ, I wondered, that adoptive mothers and fathers are merely mothers and fathers, but we women who bore the children, who are, in fact, mothers, must always be reduced to someone with a modifier?
'PREFERRED' ADOPTION LANGUAGE IS FAVORED BY WHOM?
The “preferred adoptive language” that agencies and adoptive parents have promoted since the Seventies has made adopters—a term in common usage around the world--more comfortable with the situation of adoption, but this has been at the expense of the realities and feelings of the mothers who bore the children. The tough language of the past has been smoothed over to sooth the sensibilities of those who take the children, but in doing so increased the defensiveness and animosity towards those who raise them.
Once we were natural mothers, defining our role as conceived by nature; the term, to us, indicated exactly who we were and how we fit into the scheme of our children’s lives. It also signaled we were not raising the child, because mothers are mothers, no modifiers necessary. But as adoption became big business in the Sixties and Seventies, the clients—those who pay the fees, and thus the keep agencies in business— conveyed their discomfort at what the word, to them, implied: that they were the unnatural parents. So articles about “preferred adoption language” were written, charts of good and bad language drawn up and circulated, and the new, less harsh lingo was soon common currency among social workers, adoptive parents, and the media. But what was cleansed out of the equation was that every adoption begins with someone else’s catastrophe.
Along with the introduction of terms such as birth or biological mother were a whole passel of others: give up or surrender (which is how we mothers feel) was to be replaced by placed for adoption or the ever more noxious, make an adoption plan; mothers did not keep their children; they chose to parent them; mother and child reunions did not occur; they were meetings, or make contact. The rationale for that one goes into lala land, as it signifies that since mother and child never were never together, thus a reunion could not take place. Excuse me? After a squealing, live infant painfully emerges from one’s womb you two have definitely been together, and a meeting is absolutely a reunion. The concept of make contact or a meeting also implies it is a one-time occurrence.
WHEN DROWNING, SWIM DIRECTLY TO LIFE PRESERVER
The most toxic “preferred” term of all is make an adoption plan. Is someone who falls off an ocean liner and then thrown a life saver “making a plan” as she swims to it? Or is she just doing what she must to save her life? If I can make an adoption plan, certainly I am able to rationally weighing various options, and have the resources to make an alternative plan. My social worker at the time of relinquishment may have been “making an adoption plan” but I was drowning in a sea of shame and societal mindset that all pointed one way: Give up your daughter. Give her a good life, better than anything you can provide. She needs two parents, not one. Et cetera. Indeed, I was giving up. For the vast majority of us most of us, even today, that is the reality of relinquishing a child to be someone else’s.
This preferred adoption language calls we mothers up short and diminishes our connection to the children we bore; it is meant to lessen the calamity of losing our children due to circumstances typically beyond our control, such as youth and poverty, and turns a devastating experience into someone else’s “miracle of adoption,” a phrase commonly used on adoption websites. Our reaction is sometimes mere perplexity as we hear this language in common currency, on television, from acquaintances, not comprehending why the words make us uncomfortable. Yet we feel denigrated and react more negatively than we would if our true connection to the child, and the outright disaster that a surrender is, were acknowledged by everyone. And thus the divisions that separate us—mother/adoptee/adoptive mother—become intensified tenfold.
A particularly noxious practice is calling women who are considering relinquishing their children “birth mothers” well before a child is born. Designating her as such establishes a mindset—in the social worker, in the adoptive parents, and in the pregnant woman herself—that she is on a track to relinquishment of her child—and changing her mind, and keeping her child, then appears to be some sort of chicanery on her part. Until she signs the surrender papers, she is no more a “birth mother” than a person who wishes to adopt is an “adoptive parent” until someone brings a child home. Those designations need to come after, not before, any birth, or signing of the surrender papers.
But “birth” and “first” and “natural” are genteel compared to what we are sometimes called on various adoptive parent blogs. female dog, reproductive agent, uterus of origin, womb, source material, egg layer, and egg donor are some that I’m aware of. In a collection of essays titled Wanting a Child, writer Jill Bialosky could not bring herself to use any “mother” term at all, but called her son’s natural mother “the woman who labored him.” She goes on to say that this woman is her definition of a Messiah. I would like to see her reaction if this Messiah ever came to talk to her and the son who was “born from other sperm and egg.”
Does what we call the same thing make a difference in how we perceive it, in how we experience the world? Until very recently, thinkers assumed that the human experience was universal and language diversity could not modify that. However, new research from a Stanford University psychologist is demonstrating that indeed language shapes thought, so much so that the private mental lives of speakers of different languages may differ dramatically, even so far as to include basic sensory perception. While the work of Lera Boroditsky is with people who speak different languages, it is not a great leap to see how the words we use to describe the adoption experience shapes how people feel and think about it. Today the preferred language, or agency-speak, has been so thoroughly imbedded in English that the pain and suffering every adoption represents is all but obliterated in the public mind. Darn straight we’re pissed off about it.
ORIGINS OF 'BIRTH MOTHER'
The use of birth mother became common in the Seventies, and was even promoted by women who lost children to adoption when Concerned United Birthparents was formed, but it is little different from biological mother and I have never felt comfortable with either term: “They call me ‘biological mother.’ I hate those words,” I wrote in the Seventies. “They make me sound like a baby machine, a conduit, without emotions. They tell me to forget and go out and make a new life. I had a baby and I gave her away. But I am a mother.”
First mother? That too is stilted and unsatisfactory, and irritates adoptive mothers because it makes them second mothers. They are, in a sense, but they are also the fulltime mothers who pulled all-nighters when fevers were high and made countless PB&J sandwiches, and did the hard work of raising a child. After I found my daughter and developed a relationship with her other mother, that is what how I generally referred to her. Jane’s other mother. In conversation with me, she referred to Jane as our daughter. Small concessions on each part led to a relaxing of barriers. Of course, she probably referred to me as Jane’s birth mother when I wasn’t there, just as I refer to her as my daughter’s adoptive mother. But not every situation is so personal and allows for the kind of leeway that Jane’s other mother and I enjoyed.
When I was deciding what to call my blog, I chose First Mother Forum because I liked the alliteration and thought that would make it easy to remember, and that became the URL (www.firstmotherforum.com); however because birth mother is so inculcated into the language, I reluctantly added [birth Mother]—now in parentheses—to the title so that people searching for the subject matter of the blog would be found by the greatest number of people. The numbers of visitors immediately shot up. Now I have to admit that in many circumstances, I do not flinch when I’m called a birth mother; first mother may be less offensive to some, but to me the degree is negligible, and should not be a dividing issue among us.
Yet it is. The American Adoption Congress has a petition of “birth parents” in support of adoptees’ right to their original birth certificates, but many mothers will not add their names because of that distinction. This is sad. This is an intermural skirmish among us working for the same goal, but letting this fracture us as we try to change legislators minds and votes ultimately weakens us and drags down the movement. My hope that any parent—mother or father—involved in a relinquishment will sign the petition so that we can, together, be a greater force for change than we are if we are splintered into many factions. (See sidebar for link.)
Some young mothers, evangelicals and Mormons, particularly, call themselves “proud birth mothers,” but that comes out of being so thoroughly inculcated into the ethos of their religion. We shall see how they feel in ten, twenty years, or when what they expected to be an open adoption slams shut, with no forwarding address.
Yet I am sadly aware that some natural mothers refuse contact when reached through intermediaries, or even by the adoptee herself. These women have been able to shunt their grief and turn away from their children's need for a complete identity. I don’t know what to say to these women. I can understand what they do--years of lying by the sin of omission and telling their spouses or other children is a difficult hurdle to overcome--but I do not think they understand the additional pain they inflict on their children. If they do, they are without mercy for others, they are simply cruel.
CONTEXT IS ALL
scan0001.jpg 4 Generations: My mother, Jane, Granddaughter Kim, and Lorraine At my daughter’s wake, it was clear that some members of Jane’s extended family were not happy with the studio portrait picture of Jane, my mother, Jane’s daughter and me that was on display, or even with the fact that I was there, and so were my husband and a nephew, a cousin of Jane's. So be it, I thought. I'm here. Jane's friends were all friendly, but there were lots of time during the long couple of hours when I sat with Tony, or my nephew. At some point, a woman approached me with a couple of other people and I sensed immediately she was friendly. “Are you Jane’s biological mother?” she asked expectantly. "I knew Jane from Toastmasters."

You know, I liked her calling me that: biological mother. It was direct, honest and as accurate as natural mother. I liked that she didn’t know she should be using PC language--aka birth mother--that she was asking, Did Jane and I share DNA? Before I could answer, I saw that she was with a few other of Jane’s acquaintances from Toastmasters who were waiting for my response.
Yes, I said, wondering what would come next. “She talked about you all the time,” the woman said, pleased to be telling me this. In that instant, I didn’t care how Jane referred to me with her friends.

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Yesterday we were at a gathering with some of Philip's extended family and I was very surprised when Philip's cousin said "Mitchell looks so much like you, it is hard to tell that he is not your real son." I quickly stated that he IS my REAL son. After 5 years why is this so hard for some people. I know that it is harder to tell that Mitchell is not biologically related to us than in other blended families. I don't think Mitchell heard or it nor would he understand it yet but someday he will and it might bother him.

It made me think of Pinocchio.... look its a "real boy".

Anyway, it did bug me especially from someone who should know better and in front of other people we didn't really know.

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Yesterday we were at a gathering with some of Philip's extended family and I was very surprised when Philip's cousin said "Mitchell looks so much like you, it is hard to tell that he is not your real son." I quickly stated that he IS my REAL son. After 5 years why is this so hard for some people. I know that it is harder to tell that Mitchell is not biologically related to us than in other blended families. I don't think Mitchell heard or it nor would he understand it yet but someday he will and it might bother him.

It made me think of Pinocchio.... look its a "real boy".

Anyway, it did bug me especially from someone who should know better and in front of other people we didn't really know.

Maybe the approach next time is to say "How do you think Mitchell would feel if he thought you said he wasn't real?" Maybe a different way of saying something will get people to realize their choice of words and be more careful in the future.

I have this same issue with my dad, he's more than once asked if we've talked to Landon or Micah's real mom. Oh, I guess I'm "make-believe" now too. :wacko: I'm still working on ways to get him to use better language. Sometimes I correct and sometimes I don't, it's tough. I think, though, as Landon gets older and definitely hears everything that I'll be more apt to correct and point out that those words could make him feel bad and like he doesn't fit when I know our family is striving for the opposite.

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I think I was so caught off guard and I really don't know her very well. I think asking about how what they say might effect Mitchell is a good way of putting it into perspective. Maybe makes me sound a little less female dogy. :wacko:

I don't always correct either but I really felt the need this time.

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I love Jocelyn's advice.

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