The world of adoption is a minefield of correct language (birth mother vs. natural mother; child of your own vs. bio child, special needs adoption vs. adopting a child with special needs, etc.), but no other phrase will elicit gasps any quicker than saying that a birth parent “gave up” a child for adoption. The preferred term is “made an adoption plan” or “relinquished/surrendered her parental rights”.
Given my careful avoidance of the phrase “given up” both in words and even how I think, I was surprised when I saw the following post in the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group by as adult adoptee.
Adoptees are told ad nauseam from day one that adoption is a gift, that we are gifts. Why then do people have such a negative reaction to the term “Given Up”? Gifts are given and unless we were removed, sold or kidnapped she “gave“. Relinquished, put up for, placed, given up, surrendered, sacrificed, given away, given out, handed out, donated, entrusted, offered up, made an adoption plan or paying it forward. In the end they all mean the same, no amount PC adoption language can ever change that. No need to fluff it up…. God gifted me to my mother’s womb it was her choice to re-gift me.
Not a Haphazard Decision
I think “given up” was phased out because it doesn’t do justice to the decision making process most first moms go through when wrestling with whether they are in a place to be the best mother to their child. I suppose “giving up” sounds too trivial for this degree of anguish.
“To make an adoption plan” emphasizes the thought process in the decision making. Weighing the pros and cons of who can best parent this child is better summed up with the verb “plan” rather than “give”.
Over-focused on Political Correctness?
As most of you know, I hate the hyper-focus on choosing the right words and worrying about the fragility of our kids and the institution of adoption; however, I cringe when I hear someone refer to adoption as being given up, even if the speaker is an adopted person who by all rights can say and feel anyway she wants. I can’t help but feel that no human deserves to feel like they were gifted or given up, but maybe I’m being overly sensitive.
What do you think? I’d especially like to hear what adoptees and birth mothers think.
Image credit: Steven Depolo
Add Your Comment
I don’t like “gave up” because I feel like it’s too easy for the person hearing the words to add a little “on” to the end of it. That they will hear it as birthparents gave up on the child rather than gave the child up for adoption. I also dislike that it can be read as implying that the birthparents “just” gave up the child for adoption with an unspoken “instead of fighting harder.”
“Made an adoption plan” may be clunky, but it appeals to me on some levels because it seems to indicate a mindset of adoption being more than a one-day event. It implies to me that serious consideration of both the short- and long-term results goes into both the decision to place a child for adoption and for a given family to have that child placed with them. To me it puts an onus on, for example, a social worker or counselor working with expectant parents to really work through all options and their implications before that plan can be finalized. Words don’t always reflect actions, but sometimes words can help nudge people towards better actions.
For now my preference is “placed”. To me it implies a certain degree of care and forethought to my ears, which best reflects the reality of our family’s origins. That said, I’m open to changing it up if there’s a better option out there or if our daughter ultimately hates the word. As an AP I might have a preference, but the language choice really only affects me indirectly through our daughter and her birthparents.
The main value I see in discussing semantics is that discussing the words can reveal beliefs or preferences within the community that uses them. That, hopefully, can get us to those deeper conversations, TAO, though often they devolve into “but we’ve always said it that way” or other tired responses.
Another challenge I see is that fussing about semantics is an easy entry point for discussion for people new to a subject. The adoption community – mixed up and complex as it is – is consistently welcoming new people to the conversation, and those new folks often try so hard to dive in with all the zeal they can muster with all good intentions (I point these fingers at others and at myself in the mirror). But, building vocabulary is adoption 101 and using specialized vocabulary as a tool to support discussions of complex subjects is adoption 401 and independent study. When both of these conversations happen in a shared space…oof…and the internet is an inherently shared space. It’s one of the reasons that things like Dawn’s radio programs and courses and workshops with speakers and panels are so valuable – they provide relative newbies like me the opportunity to listen to the experts and experienced members of our community use this language in specialized and colloquial ways without necessarily providing us the space to jump in and derail a conversation with points-of-order about semantics. It allows us the breathing room to listen and learn and not just respond. Anyway, I appreciate both the social media, rumpus-room approach and the protected space approach for the conversations. I can’t imagine how different our experiences and education would be without all of these great tools and conversations at our fingertips.
AnonAP, I agree with you on every point!
AnonAP – you always have a well-thought out reply. Words definitely matter and what works for them (that segment) should be respected. I was trying to say that it won’t work for some whose experience truly wasn’t anything close ideal in the era’s before.
The term ‘made an adoption plan’ does give the feeling of exactly what you describe, a thoughtful process where every option was deeply explored, including the actual services offered to parents who need a hand-up for the first couple of years to parent. Not something taken lightly.
This is longer than I thought but perhaps you’ll take the time to read. I’ve never been in that position of being an expectant parent considering adoption. I am deeply connected though as my mother went through it with me way back when.
I am basing my unease with projecting this deeply thought out decision after exploring all options by using ‘made an adoption plan’, based solely on what I first saw when I came on-line 7-8 years ago, compared to today. At that time I did a tour of adoption agency websites to get a basic idea of what adoption in this era (7-8 years ago) was like. I compared what they said to prospective parents, and what they said they would do for expectant parents, it included going over both parenting and adoption, and described more details and much less lauding of an expectant parent. It included fathers into the process to a certain extent. Today, when I check out adoption agency websites there is no mention of any option other than adoption, to me, in varying degrees, focus on FREE everything, legal, counselling, adoption planning, housing, support – you get the idea – yet everything they offer has always been free across all agencies. What info is there is carefully worded to make it sound like it’s for the benefit of the expectant mother – but – when you sit back, it reads more as what prospective parents today want to happen. Overall, it comes off as pick us, adoption is the only choice you have, we will give you more than anyone else – and misses out on anything that a compassionate person would hope would be provided, including being inclusive of fathers (rather than treating them as a pest to be rid of), an overview of both the good and bad of choosing adoption over parenting, so no one goes in blind. All of that is to say – the difference is startling on the expectant parent side from not very long ago, to now. I do think how a company presents it’s first impression, is indicative of what the mindset/intent is, their culture and how their clients will be treated.
I’m not sure how expectant mothers are going to perceive how they were treated today, down the road, I see bits of it now, they were told they were THE hero’s, brave, selfless, loved, treated like princesses whose every wish was granted, and yet, now I see them fundraising for a yearly support retreat – if they truly were what they were told they were before they signed the papers (not just the agencies but my the adoption community as well) – shouldn’t everyone be clamoring to donate before it is even asked to provide a place for them? It’s just a feeling I have, that how adoption is practiced today, sets them up for a big fall, and the farther out they get the more they will be able to see it. (nothing in the above excludes that every experience is different, and each agency is different – it is just a general impression that there may be some, to many, that may feel very different after the glow is gone.)
Why I like Creating a Family (and Dawn) and I’m comfortable here – the website reflects the culture of acceptance and knowledge – I know they aren’t an agency, but this attitude here – is what is lacking elsewhere, I think that is a shame. Adoption should never be treated as anything other than something worthy of deep respect, education, reflection, and above all – complete honesty and follow-through, because it can either be something that worked well as a solution that was needed, or very bad and hurt a whole lot of people.
TAO, you raise some really interesting and important concerns. I agree that no phrase is worth the paper it’s printed on if it isn’t backed by actions, and phrases can also lull us into a false sense of security. How much do you trust that your impression of what the phrase means is shared by the person using it?
I’m disturbed by your observation of how things have and have not changed. I haven’t been keeping up for as long as you have, so I haven’t spotted those larger trends. I am worried that what you’re describing is partially a reflection of historic habit and partially a result of the need for even agencies with good practices to market, market, market. That shouldn’t preclude their ability to provide long-term services, but it certainly can lead to overselling of the committment to provide long-term support. In fact, I can even see it causing ethical agencies to oversell with good intentions – to keep people coming to them rather than going to unethical folks. Of course, anytime a group falsely represents its program, it is taking a false step. That rarely ends well.
Really good post…
If the current DIA (domestic infant adoption) mothers want to say – placed – I’m good with that. I don’t think they should tell mothers who want to say put up, gave up, forced – their experience, their terms.
I’m not so sure that ‘made an adoption plan’ only applies to mothers today. Whether a mother made the choice of adoption 100% herself, to across the spectrum to where she had no other choice (for whatever reason), an adoption plan was indeed made. Adoption doesn’t just happen. My mother certainly made an adoption plan, or I wouldn’t be an adoptee – whether she wanted it, or not, isn’t relative, she did make a plan and carried through…
I wish that the adoption community could put as much focus as they do on terms to talking about the more in-depth topics that require all of us to dig deeper – it might bring more empathy across the lines that divide…