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Mind Your "B"s and Cues!

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Prospective adoptive parents should be forewarned that it is considered politically incorrect to refer to expectant mothers contemplating placement as "birthmothers" until or unless they have actually relinquished parental rights.

This issue came to a head two years ago at a New York adoption conference which Pamela and Elizabeth attended: A Problem With the B Word.

While this is not offensive to all, it is very important to some that we (as an adoption community) do not presuppose the outcome of any potential placement plan by labelling women in such a way that demeans their authority as the only verified parent during pregnancy.

Those who are pregnant cannot legally make any permanent commitment to adoption until their baby is at least 2 days old, and their right to change their mind, if need be, should never be denied through coercive use of post-adoption language.

Likewise, the child a prospective birthmom is carrying is not and should not be referred to "our baby" by prospective adopters until or unless the legal paperwork is completed that makes this possible.

The term "firstmother" is also coming into vogue lately, but again, wouldn't necessarily be appropriate until a subsequent mom has been recognized by the courts.

This also explains why Abrazo also seeks to refer to parents who are adopting as just that, in an effort to affirm that adopting isn't who or what you are, but rather, how our parents-in-waiting expect to achieve parenthood.

Abrazo's staff is split on this issue, as is much of the adoption community; for years, we've used "birthparent" and "adoptive parent" as terms of respect and those are hard habits to break? but we think it's important enough to make newcomers aware of these sensitivities, out of respect for all.

For more on this subject, and from the perspective of actual birthparents, click here.

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Gee, thanks, Stork! Here are a few more resources surrounding this topic:

A Third Mom's Perspective: Ms. Birthmother

Why "Birthmom" To Some Means "Breeders" To Others

A Mother By Any Other Name

From a personal perspective, I think every woman who births a child is a birthmother, while those who parent are the mothers and those who do it especially well get blessed with the treasured title of "Mommy"... but I do understand the trivializing function of labeling someone as "just the birthmom" and I do know of instances in which that term has been used derogatorily, to guilt expectant moms whose adoption plans hung in the balance into feeling someone else was "more entitled" to mother her child. :(

I also have a big problem with labeling kids who were once adopted as "adoptees" as I think this has stigmatized many once-adopted children well into adulthood.

And I long for a day when we don't feel a need to classify parents who once took placement as "adoptives". Because once the judge has signed that decree and dropped that gavel, they're all real parents, plain and simple.

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I cringe at this because I've been guilty of referring to expectant mothers as "birthmothers." I think our beloved Abrazo Chicks have done well in keeping us informed on appropriate language in the adoption community and this is no exception. I am confident that these terms are used to distinguish between the relationships to the child and not to insult or minimize. I prefer to use birth mother or biological mother to first mother, natural mother or *GASP* real mother. When needed, I don't mind being called adoptive mother. Afterall, in our house, I'm MAMA.

Edited by Mohlers

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Prospective adoptive parents should be forewarned that it is considered politically incorrect to refer to expectant mothers contemplating placement as "birthmothers" until or unless they have actually relinquished parental rights.

This issue came to a head two years ago at a New York adoption conference which Pamela and Elizabeth attended: A Problem With the B Word.

While this is not offensive to all, it is very important to some that we (as an adoption community) do not presuppose the outcome of any potential placement plan by labelling women in such a way that demeans their authority as the only verified parent during pregnancy.

Those who are pregnant cannot legally make any permanent commitment to adoption until their baby is at least 2 days old, and their right to change their mind, if need be, should never be denied through coercive use of post-adoption language.

Likewise, the child a prospective birthmom is carrying is not and should not be referred to "our baby" by prospective adopters until or unless the legal paperwork is completed that makes this possible.

The term "firstmother" is also coming into vogue lately, but again, wouldn't necessarily be appropriate until a subsequent mom has been recognized by the courts.

This also explains why Abrazo also seeks to refer to parents who are adopting as just that, in an effort to affirm that adopting isn't who or what you are, but rather, how our parents-in-waiting expect to achieve parenthood.

Abrazo's staff is split on this issue, as is much of the adoption community; for years, we've used "birthparent" and "adoptive parent" as terms of respect and those are hard habits to break? but we think it's important enough to make newcomers aware of these sensitivities, out of respect for all.

For more on this subject, and from the perspective of actual birthparents, click here.

I really don't want to sound silly......but here's the thing.

I just completed my profile, (10 minutes ago HORAAAY, i think so anyway) which begins dear birthparent believe me, and as I'm sure all of you understand this-I have done this over and over again (the profile) should I be paranoid about my cover letter?

Let the obsessing begin :(

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I really don't want to sound silly......but here's the thing.

I just completed my profile, (10 minutes ago HORAAAY, i think so anyway) which begins dear birthparent believe me, and as I'm sure all of you understand this-I have done this over and over again (the profile) should I be paranoid about my cover letter?

Let the obsessing begin :(

Several of the ones in the gallery have Dear Birthparent. Some start with Hello!

Whenever I talk about the girls' birthmothers, most of the time I just use mom. Maybe because I called my stepparents mom and dad as well, I don't know. I justs think that they have the same love that I have for the girls because they did what they thought was best, and that is what Dale and I work to do every day.

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I also have a big problem with labeling kids who were once adopted as "adoptees" as I think this has stigmatized many once-adopted children well into adulthood.

I love the term 'once adopted' because I don't know that our children need to be defined thier entire lives by an act that occurred once when they were little. This isn't intended to diminish the relevance of the triad members of course, but rather allow our kids to be more than adopted.

Thanks Stork, and Elizabeth, for this wonderful, gentle reminder!

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That's a really good question Waiting for a miracle. Most of the profiles I've seen all said, Dear Birthmother. THere is a book by that title, too. Dear Expectant Mother.........Dear Friend.......................Dear ??? Any ideas?

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From a personal perspective, I think every woman who births a child is a birthmother, while those who parent are the mothers and those who do it especially well get blessed with the treasured title of "Mommy"... but I do understand the trivializing function of labeling someone as "just the birthmom" and I do know of instances in which that term has been used derogatorily, to guilt expectant moms whose adoption plans hung in the balance into feeling someone else was "more entitled" to mother her child. :(

See and I think thats it, when almost everyone outside of this community uses the term birthmother its not in such a postive way. It is kind of a "You're just the birthmother, why do you care?" Most people still have the motives wrong, some people tell me I shouldn't have an open relationship. I didn't place because I wanted Colby to go away, but it seems a lot of people think thats the reason a woman would place. Most people think adoption is still some dark secret thing, and I think the term birthmother perpetuates that. As more and more celebrities adopt it seems adopting isn't such a "weird" thing to society, but placing still is.

The way I see it, and I've brought this up before, is the term birthmother should only be used when it must be to describe the relationship. "I placed my Colby for adoption" versus "I am Colby's birthmother" and "Kristal is Colby's birthmother" should only be used once, maybe twice when explaining the situation. I feel no need to be labeled "birthmother." It can be very demeaning. I placed a son for adoption. I am not legally his mother but I still love him the same way. I don't distance myself from him or his family by using those labels.

I placed a son for adoption. That does not define me. Kristal is blonde, Kristal is tall, Kristal has a son she placed for adoption.

The same for his family. They adopted Colby in the past, its not an event that defines their parenting. "Wade and Angie are Colby's parents" "I thought they couldn't have any more children?" "They adopted him."

It is kinda like not using the term adoptive child when speaking of the child. Yes, it might need to be clarified, but who really would refer to their baby that way? "This is my adopted son, Colby" Those labels ostracize.

It really is different when used by Angie or Mike as opposed to someone I'm not close to. I'm sure you can all think of other terms that people are fine with used by close friends but not others. Terms that can be construed as derogatory are safest only on the lips of those you know mean well by it.

And on those profiles, I think its expected you call her something. If all those placing wrote letters to those adopting what do you think they'd title it? What would you feel is most appropriate?

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And reading the artilce on Dr. Lifton deciding against speaking at the conference instead of being sensitive; it reminds me of those really old ladies I see sometimes who forgot there was a civil right's moment. Its doesn't matter if you think that term is right, if a group has said "This term oppresses us," its flat out inappropriate to use it.

The first reply on the thirdmom blog was pretty accurate:

"Lisa V August 10, 2007 11:50 AM

I think you can look at race and ethnicity for changes in language too.

Negro, Colored, Black, African American

Oriental, Asian

Indian, Native American"

I wish I could say "Here's a label that will make everyone comfortable!!" But there isn't yet. Honestly, its not really necessary when you explain the situation. Angie is the mother raising Colby, Kristal placed him with Wade and Angie. Kristal is his mother also. It just sounds to me like he's a lucky guy.

Edited by kristal

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Angie is the mother raising Colby, Kristal placed him with Wade and Angie. Kristal is his mother also. It just sounds to me like he's a lucky guy.

Exactly!

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All very well said, Kristal! Girl, we need to get you on Oprah! ;)

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All of us here understand the language part so well and the associated sensitivities.

I have a co worker... when I say we drove up to see Kathy this weekend... says "Oh, how is Amanda's Mom?" I am sensitive to it everytime, I just want to say, I am fine thank you for asking. :) (I know that's immature).

Yet, I have no problem acknowledging Kathy as Amanda's first Mom or as her other Mom, but people talk in terms of there can only be one Mother. I just want to say "so who am I?"

I am the one nurturing my daughter's relationship with her first Mom.

I am the one worrying every minute about my daughter.

I am the one with my heart so full of love for my children.

I am the one who wants everyone to understand how much we love our children's birthfamily, not to be confused with replacing them or being a stand-in parent.

Karen

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My personal hot button is adoption language, I have made lots of waves around here in the past over using the term birthmother to refer to an expectant woman..I apperciate the continuing conversation.

Kristal - I love your perspective on the issue -thanks so much for sharing

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Karen not to diminish your feelings or to say that you are not your daughter's mother because you most certainly are. I hope this doesn't come out the wrong way or offend anybody but,your post seems to hit me the wrong way. I understand completely you being upset at your co-workers comment. But to say "you" are the one who worries about your daughter every minute,"you" are the one nurturing the relationship with your daughter's birthmother etc...makes it sound like you think we as birth mothers or first mothers don't worry every minute about our children we placed. Now that I am in contact with my children I worry even more because I see the trouble they may have or that something is upsetting them and yet I can do nothing. So I worry that I am not there and that I can't do anything. I know they have parents to handle that but it doesn't make it any easier on me. I worry if they would handle it like me,or if it was my child I was parenting if I would approve etc... SO I worry every single day about them just as much and even more than my kids I am parenting. The nurturing of the relationship I think goes both ways to some extent. It is hard on your part I am sure but it has to be 10 times harder for your birthmother to be around,and leave and be around and leave etc.... And like I said I did not in any way want to offend or anything it just struck me as if you don't think we also worry just as much and the relationships aren't just as hard on us etc.... And our hearts are definitely full of love for our children also. I copied these adoption quotes from somewhere else and think they are very true.

Joyce M. Pavao says: "A child, after all, clearly understands that there can be many mothers and fathers. People may have multiple grandmothers and grandfathers, a godmother, and godfather, a stepmother or stepfather--and they may also have a birthmother and birth father. In all adoptions, legal and emotional, it is the roles, not the labels, that must be most carefully defined for the child." -- From the book, The Family of Adoption

Jim Gritter says: "If we carry out a system that delights adoptive parents and works for most of the children, but in the process destroys birthparents--where is the joy? Who can call that sort of outcome satisfactory? When will we learn that we are all in this together and that diminishing any one of us diminishes us all? We are never made larger by permitting others to be made smaller. The effort to elevate the status of birthparents need not in any way detract from the importance of adoptive parents."

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Your right Jada, my post sounded strange to me too. Why can't I say to my co-worker, "she is fine, thanks for asking".

Sorry about the way my post hit you, I certainly was not trying to say those feelings are not felt by first Moms too, because I know first hand they surely are.

It's just that, there are times I am boldly reminded I am not my child's birthmother (as there is only one) and it hurts.

Thanks Jada for letting me clarify a bit.

Karen

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Karen, those two posts of yours make me sad. You are your child's mom. Being the woman raising your daughter is MUCH more enviable than the woman who loves but can't be there for her the way she wants. I know its hard for you to cope with adopting, just as it is for me to cope with placing. Yes, its a good role, but its not the way I ever imagined my role in my son's life. You have been blessed with getting to be the one there for you daughter, Kathy only has the relationship with you to funnel her relationship with her daughter through.

To me, being acknowledged as "mom" too is like a hug every time I hear it. A confirmation that I will never be forgotten for the role I have in Colby's life. A commendation from the woman I admire most that she too admires me. I had a baby, I love my son, but unfortunately I'm not raising him. Its many things, but for this I'll use respectful- Its respectful when a woman puts her heart on the line to let strangers raise her baby. She respects you, and you obviously respect her to continue to nurture your open adoption commitment. You guys know each other now, but can you imagine the faith in you that Kathy had, and I'm sure still has, as a mother, as a friend to let her tiny little angel go home with you?

Kathy made a heart wrenching decision to try and give Amanda the best that she could. You were a part of that. Trust fully in your title as Mom, as you have proven to be Amanda's mom that in ways Kathy only dreams of.

Edited by kristal
  • Upvote 1

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Kristal, your post is so sweet. I know deep inside all the things you say...but even knowing that doesn't insulate me from hurt.

Thanks to you and Jada for caring enough to respond to my post(s). I needed that.

Karen

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Big hugs to all of you-- I hope your posts remind ALL of our prospective adopters and expectant moms why the communication between both parties matters so much to all the children involved!

As I drove up to Temple today to see the only father I've ever known, I was thinking of this thread and of Karen's post, and I was thinking about her special relationship with her mom's husband, the man we've all come to know and love as "Grandpa Bruce"... I was struck by the fact that Karen has never qualified her children's relationship with him by having them refer to him as "Step-Grandpa"... and it occurred to me: if children can be expected to love equally the Grandma(s) and Grandpa(s) who come into their lives on both sides of their families (and by marriage, also), then why do we not trust children once adopted to be able to equally love all the Moms and Dads in their lives?

I appreciate the perspectives that each of you have shared, as I think they all have value and may all do much to help remind ALL within our community why the language we use really does have a lasting impact in the lives of each of us and the children we love so!?

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I was at my daughters school yesterday having lunch. I ran into another Mom, who is pregnant, due in December. I know this lady pretty well and really like her. Our children are in the same class and good friends. I know how long she's been trying to have a second child. Her first is 8 years old, so they've had lots of years of patience and praying. I secretly always thought they would be a great adopting family. But God had another plan for them, another home grown miracle.

I told her how glad I was that God had answered their prayers and how I know it's been a long road for them and then I boldly told her my secret. She thanked me and said, my husband is not open to adoption, all the kids he knew growing up who were adopted were the type that ran over the cat with a lawnmower. :o

After I picked up my jaw, I was glad we do not have a cat or a lawnmower. :P

Anyway, I have thought and thought about our conversation. I felt insulted when she first said it because is that how she sees my child? I know she did not mean anything personally because she really is a nice person, in spite of what she said so casually.

So I wonder how our childhood experiences with peers who were once adopted affect our attitude toward adoption and/or wanting to adopt (or not) as an adult?

Growing up, my best friend was adopted. I heard all the secret questions/fantasies about her adoption she could not talk to her Mom about. I felt her intense curiousity about her birthfamily. Her parents were a little different but wasn't everyone's. Basically she was just a normal friend with normal parents. She never ran over the cat with a lawnmower. :huh:

So my childhood experience with learning about adoption was fairly positive.

Does anyone have other circumstances as a child which has possibly affected your attitude/expectations towards adoption?

Karen

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We're guessing there are some Good Buddies out there who can tell you a thing or two about lesbian truckdrivers... ;)

There is a long-standing perception in our society about children who are available for adoption being "damaged goods", unfortunately. It's painful even to repeat it here, but most adults who were once adopted can recall the sting of thiking they had been adopted because their birthparents were somehow inadequate or because they themselves had been unloveable babies-- and not knowing who to ask about it, since they knew their parents didn't want the topic of adoption being ever brought up.

Sadly, that's not far off the mark from what adoptees in closed adoptions were traditionally told, until (and even after) the advent of the "Chosen Baby" storybook.

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I love that....the "Chosen Child". I feel like we were chosen by 'A' and she was chosen by us. 'A' along with her baby will be part of our family and we will be part of hers. I think taking adoption out of the "closet" and making it postive rather than negative effects adoptive families, first families and adopted children in a positive way. It is not that dirty little secret that everybody knows but nobody talks about. We are very open about our plans to adopt and that we are expecting to be parents in December. So far, most people are truely happy for us and are supporting our decision to live the open adoption experience.

I hope over time people won't see adopted kids as the ones that run over the cat with the lawnmower. We have cats and and a lawnmower. :blink:

I just recalled while typing this that my bestfriend in junior high was adopted and didn't look like his parents. At the time I don't remember thinking twice about it. He was my friend and they were his parents. Maybe I just wasn't a deep thinker at thirteen. ;)

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I'll let another Good Buddy share about that! tongue.gif

I didn't know anyone that was adopted when I was growing up, but Matthew's perception of adoption was definitely affected what he grew up knowing about it. His mother, was adopted as an infant, and sadly she just didn't have the best of parents...well mostly her mom. Her father passed away when she was 8 or 9, and all the stories I have heard her tell involve her mother. She never remembers being introduced to anyone by just her name. It was always, "this is Darlene, she's adopted." She said when she was 10 she remembers trying to ask her mother where she born, where she came from, and he mother said she knew nothing and for her never to bring it up again. She was always treated differently by extended family. She said she never really felt like anyone thought of her as their family. She said her whole life she just felt like she fell out of the sky. That she had no beginning and was just a "nothing." I'm just getting all teary eyed typing this. Breaks my heart.

Needless to say, Matthew's perception of adoption was not good. He feared our family would not treat our child or children as family, and that our child would suffer as his mom did. Also I think he feared, although I can't remember now if he actually verbalized this that he would not be able to love an adopted child the same as one that was biological. I told him to look at our families and give me one reason why he thought they would not accept our child, and he couldn't come up with anything except for what he knew about his mom. And I knew the only reason he was doubting himself about the love he would have was because his mom never felt loved by her parents. I was ready for adoption way before him because anytime adoption was mentioned his thoughts and feelings were negative because of what he knew about his mom and how it affected her. Adoption = Bad for him. A few years passed, and one day when he came home from helping for the third summer in a row at youth camp, he said he was ready and for us to get started right away. That was July 05 and we went to orientation in September! God really worked on his heart I have no doubt. I have never seen someone fall in love as fast as watching him see Avery for the first time.

Ok, so I am rambling here. Matthew's mom did look for her birthfamily about 7 or 8 years ago, and she found out alot. Her parents had known her birthmother. She had lived with them for awhile while she was pregnant. Darlene's grandparents (adoptive) had arranged the whole thing...her birthmother was their maid (which is way she thinks she was always looked down upon and never accepted). She doesn't think her parents ever wanted children, but her grandparents wanted them to have children so this was arranged. The entire family knew everything...aunts, uncles, cousins, and although it was well publicized that she was adopted, everything about her birthfamily was the big family secret. One of the biggest examples of how not to raise your children I can think of.

Like Elizabeth said, it was like she was "damaged goods" because she was not biologically related to them, but to the maid.

Recently also I had a friend of mine tell me about a little girl who is having lots of behavorial issues. She was adopted and she was asking me if I thought it could be because of that. I told her when I taught, I had plenty of children with behavorial problems and they were not adopted!!! So yes, I think that perception is alive and well sadly.

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...Many more months went by and Mr. & Mrs. Brown kept saying to each other: "I wonder when our baby will be coming." And Mrs. Brown would call up Mrs. White and say: "We are still waiting for our baby. Please don't forget about us." And she would be told to be patient because their baby would be coming some day... One day suddenly the telephone bell rang and it was Mrs. White, and she said "I have good news fr you! We have a baby boy for you to see. Can you come tomorrow?" So the very next morning, the Browns hurried to Mrs. White's office. First Mrs. White told them all about the baby boy and then she said: "Now go into the next room and see the baby. If you find that he is not just the right baby for you, tell me so and we shall try and find another." And there in the next room asleep in a crib lay a rosy, fat baby boy. He opened his big brown eyes and smiled. Mrs. Brown picked him up and sat him on her lap and said: "This is our Chosen Baby. We don't need to look any further." --THE CHOSEN BABY, Valentina Wasson

The "Chosen Baby" was first published by Lippincott in 1939, and it was the first adoption story book to present adoption in a positive light (although, of course, it included no discussion whatsover of where those "just the right babies" came from or why.) I have a well-worn copy here at the office, that I picked up at a secondhand book store years ago... I figure this is probably where most of Abrazo's random callers get the odd idea that they can call us up and come "look over" our babies, as so many folks have asked to do, over the years? :rolleyes:

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A great reading (by a birthmom and an adoptive mom) about the things that we all HATE to hear adoptive parents say about birthparents and the choices they make: Make a PACT: Don't Say These Things! I know I've shared this link on the Forum elsewhere, but I'm taking the liberty of adding the text, below, in case the link goes bad:

Speaking Of Birth Parents

by Marta Barton and Beth Hall

Five years ago, our lives changed forever. We both became mothers. Our sons, born only one month a part, are both adopted. One of us, Marta, is a birth mother; the other, Beth, is an adoptive mother. Throughout the past five years, we have been able to share our different experiences and concerns without the pressure of being the adoptive parent and the birth parent to the same son. This has given us the freedom to be honest with and supportive of one another without having to worry about boundaries. We share more similarities than differences with regard to our own losses and those we anticipate our sons will experience.

From of our discussions, we have developed this list of things we hate to hear adoptive families say about birth parents.

I could never place a child for adoption, but anyone who does is a real a real saint. (Marta)

As a birth parent, I certainly do not feel like a saint for not parenting my own flesh and blood. After placing a child for adoption, many of us struggle to get back on track. We don't plan an adoption until we are pregnant. It's easy to say "I would never do it." But once you are faced with an unplanned pregnancy, there are few choices and adoption may seem like a very attractive option.

"Our" birth parent... (Beth)

Adopted people must bear the burden of losing one family to gain another, experiencing a loss of control and self-determination. It essential for adoptive parents not to take over their children's story as if it were their own.

Fundamental damage can be inflicted upon children when they are not given the opportunity to learn, to make decisions, or to speak for themselves as they grow older. Don't make it harder by claiming their story as your own.

African American women don't place children for adoption. (Marta)

As an African American birth parent and adoption counselor, I can attest that African American women do place children for adoption. The truth remains, however, that many African American women have limited places to go for adoption assistance or support. The majority of available adoption services do not facilitate women of color because of the intense secrecy they may require. Loss of secrecy is a primary barrier for African American women considering adoption. The fear of being shunned by peers, families, and community ranks high, so many choose to do adoptions cloaked in secrecy. The African American community is not very willing to hear about adoption. Many argue that African American children should stay within the family, even if it means having the child raised or adopted by someone within the family. Often this is not an option, or may not be the best alternative for the child.

Our child never brings up his birth parents, so neither do we ... (Beth)

My son also never brings up questions about how to make friends, how to treat other children, or how to cross the street safely.

Parents need to teach their children and give them the information necessary to understand themselves and their world. Children need not just to be taught to cross the street safely and treat others with respect. They also need to be told about their birth parents. We often hear people say that the introduction of a second set of parents may cause confusion for the child. But studies show that genetic heritage does influence people. The only controversy is how much. As parents, we have to help our children feet connected to their heritage. Just as with crossing the street, it's the right thing to do.

But suppose we reject the notion of a child's fundamental right to know their full heritage - do we believe that they will never hear about adoption and birth parents if we don't bring them up? No; this belief is naive. Rather than leaving them to cope on their own, we need to broach the subject occasionally and give them opportunities to receive our guidance and approval.

When we read books about adoption, or when we talk about our children's birth parents, or when birth parents spend time with our family, my son carefully watches. He never asks. He never requests. But he always notices. And later in the sandbox, I sometimes overhear him describe his own birth parents or how he was born, and if I don't detect pride, I at least know that he has his own story and is discovering how he feels about it.

I'll keep in touch for the birth mother's sake, but I don't want to confuse my child. (Marta)

Confusion usually starts at an adult level. If the parent feels confused about contact with the birth parents, then the children will certainly pick up on those feelings. Adoption is confusing - our children have two sets of parents and two heritages. We cannot protect our children from this confusion, but we can give them the skills to deal with all of the complicated realities of being adopted. Children are very matter-of-fact. They will understand information presented in a simple, straight-forward manner. Maintaining contact with the child's birth family should be for the child's sake.

We focus on our child's birth country, so he will feel connected. (Beth)

It is wonderful to give a child as much information and connection as possible to the country of his or her birth, but some adoptive parents prefer a connection to a country rather than to people because it's less threatening and challenging to their position as the child's parents.

Many adult adopted people describe wondering as children whether they were born (separate from having been adopted), since no one ever spoke of their actual birth. It is important for us as adoptive parents to look at our motivation. If we are only talking about the birth country because we don't want to talk about birth parents, then our children will likely sense this discomfort and be hesitant to express their true feelings. In the long run, they will look to us for approval of their natural feelings of curiosity and sadness. These feelings are not a reflection of our parenting or love for them; they are normal responses to the reality of being adopted from another country. Children who grow up with a positive image of their birth parents are more likely to have positive self-esteem.

We made an agreement. We kept our part; it isn't fair that she want to change her mind. (Marta)

No relationship, not even adoption, can be set in stone. Birth parents experience many changes over the course of the adoption process. They may come to a point where the pain is not so consuming, and they may want to establish a relationship with the adoptive family or child. Most experience feelings of grief, loss, and guilt. The emotional stress of placing a child for adoption is often so overwhelming that the need to sever contact may be necessary for a while. Oftentimes, a birth parent will come back to re-establish contact after a period of time.

It's been five years since I placed my son for adoption and our relationship continues to evolve. At times, the contact is difficult for me; other times I thrive on spending time with him. When I first placed him for adoption, I lived 400 miles away. Now I live just 50 miles away. But now that I am also parenting my 15-month-old son, it is difficult to find time to spend with my adopted son. He calls and asks me when am I going to visit him. Of course I jump at the earliest possible date. I dread the day when he is angry with me for placing him for adoption, the day he tells me he hates me, and the day he doesn't want to see me. These things may never happen, but I need to keep them somewhere deep in my mind, because relationships do evolve and change - for better or for worse.

You only have one "real" mother. After all, she gave you up. (Beth)

Comments like this can only be damaging. Every adopted person has two real sets of parents, both of whom give him or her love and life in different ways. The term "real" tends to convey a critical judgment, as if only the "real" parents matter. In the end, adopted children come to understand that they have come from their birth parents. If a child's adoptive parents cannot talk positively about the birth parents, the child will eventually see the negative comments as a reflection on himself or herself. He or she may even begin to take action to fulfill the societal expectation (and perhaps the adoptive parent's fear) of possessing the negative aspects or qualities of the birth parent(s). just as you want respect and courtesy from the birth parents, you must show respect for and courtesy toward them. This will go along way in demonstrating and modeling what is it to be a "real" parent.

It is foolish to imagine that, because she places a child for adoption, a birth mother has no rights to connection to the child. The connection we all have to our birth parents exists stems from our genetic heritage, not from their actions. The words "gave you up" implies that the birth parent abandoned or discarded the child. This is hardly ever the case, even with birth parents who are ill-prepared to parent and who have their children forcibly removed from their custody.

Your birth mother... (Marta)

... was too poor to keep you. This sounds like a value judgment that is placed on the birth parent. Most often being poor is associated with not having any money. Think about how your child will interpret your response: 'If one day we don't have any money, we won't be able to keep you.' A child may be better able to understand, 'She was struggling financially, and couldn't afford to take care of herself and a new baby."

... was too young to keep you. In some situations, age may be the reason for placement. Maybe a teenager wants to parent her child but she is being financially supported by her parents and they are not willing to support her child as well. Age is often a small piece to a much larger puzzle.

... couldn't keep you. This will most always spark another question, 'Why couldn't she keep me?" I've asked my son's parents to refer my son to me when he asks them, 'Why didn't Marta keep me?' so I can explain my reasons to him. Of course, as his parents, they need to tell him his adoption story, but only I can tell him how I was feeling at the time. I was afraid at the thought of being a Mommy. I wasn't ready. I was afraid to be a single parent. I was afraid of what my family might think if I told them I was pregnant.

... had so much love for you she decided to place you. Adoptive parents love their adopted children, so does this mean you will place your adopted child for adoption? I am always turned off when I hear people say this, particularly when I hear birth parents say, 'I did it out of love." This sounds like an easy answer to a very difficult and complex question. Of course I love my son, but I feel that love shouldn't be associated with the reasons I chose not to parent him. I find it hard to believe that one places a child because of love alone. The decision to place my son for adoption was based on what I felt was best for him and me at that crucial time in my life. I felt that I wasn't capable of providing him with the life he needed - the life I had always envisioned my children having.

... didn't want you. This answer is purely negative and is non-explanatory. If a birth mother does not want to parent her child, there is a reason beyond this. Abandonment issues are automatically present in adopted children. This kind of statement doesn't help to reassure a child of his or her place in an adoptive family; it only hinders.

I don't want to know anything about them. If my child wants to search, that's her choice. (Beth)

When my daughter was born, my husband and I rushed to meet her. When she was just three hours old, I held her for the first time. I bathed her little face with my tears, never wanting to let her go. When the hospital social worker told us that Ana (her birth mother) was having a hard time and that it would be best for us to leave the hospital without letting her see the baby again, I was secretly relieved. I coveted this child; I wanted her for mine. When we got home with our most precious gift, I did not feel like her mother. I felt like a thief. I still blush with shame at my need to serve myself rather than giving Ana back some small measure of the enormous gift that she gave us. I decided to fly back with Sophia to see Ana before she signed the documents that would make Sophia our legal child forever. Looking back, I think it may have been the smartest thing I have ever done. I remember people saying I would lose the baby. "She gave her up. Leave it alone. Why can't you just enjoy being a mother?" But as I watched the two of them spend time together, I saw Ana's joy and grief intertwine. Funny, at the time I thought I was doing it all for Sophia and Ana. In the end, I think I gained the most - for it was on that day that I truly became a mother.

If you are fearful of your child's birth parents or feel they don't really matter, maybe it makes sense to explore your or own sense of legitimacy as a parent. All of us have to face a society that believes "blood is thicker than water." This makes us, as adoptive parents, more susceptible to self doubt and uncertainty. But the truth is our strongest ally. Our love for our children, for all that they are - which includes the legacy that they bring from their birth parents - is the strongest cement for long-term family connection.

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Bumping up this topic for our newer PIW...

One great thing about this forum is that we learn so much about being good adoptive parents and being good friends to our childrens' birth families. It also, hopefully, helps us along the pre-placement path by giving us insights that open our minds.

This thread has a lot of information within it's two short pages! A couple of my biggest take-aways that have stuck with me since 2 years ago when I first read this topic were: 1) not calling expectant mothers "birth mothers" before they've placed their child (and the emotional/psychological detriment it causes to do that) and 2) not saying "our birth parents."

There's also a really moving exchange between Karen, Jada and Krystal about positive adoption language and both-sides-of-the-fence feelings within this thread as well. Lots to be learned from that exchange.

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