Adoption Language: Say This, Not That


Let me start by saying that we have learned a lot about adoption and the appropriate language to use since we started down the path of adoption. Pretty much all of this was new to me which is why I want to share with you. My hope is that these positive terms will become commonplace and some of the old sayings or misconceptions of adoption will become a thing of the past.

Since we've started the adoption process and especially since bringing the girls home, we've had A LOT conversations about adoption. I would venture to say that nearly everyone we have talked to about the girls' adoption has had nothing but the best intentions - and if you read through this list and think "Oh shoot! I have said that!" - I promise I wasn't silently judging you!

I know I was guilty of saying some of these things and honestly I still have to think twice about some of them, but I am so thankful for people in my life saying, "Hey Lauren - I know you probably didn't mean anything by it, but you may want to be careful of saying XYZ". So here we go...


"Real Mom"

I think this is an example of most people not having the right words to refer to the woman who gave birth to the child, so they refer to her as the "real mom". (This concept applies for dads too.)

I won't go into the whole - what does that make me since I'm the one who woke up in the middle of the night, changed a million poopy diapers and kissed her boo boos... a fake mom? thing. I will just say, we're both real, and we both have important roles in the child's life. So a better way to describe the woman who carried the child for 9 months and gave birth to him/her would be: birth mom or first mom. And as for me - you can just call me "mom".

*If you're specifically talking about her and I together, you can call me the adoptive mom for clarification purposes, but no need to add the extra adjective in every day life :)

"PUT Up/GAve Up"

I'm not sure why, but this one comes out so naturally for most people - it's how we have heard adoption referred to by our parents and their parents, and probably even their parents. It has to do with how adoptions were done back in the day - and let's just say they weren't exactly how we want to look at adoption today (you can Google it if you really want to know more, but that's not the point of this article).

We need to change the way we think about birth moms - let's talk about them in a way that honors and respects them. She didn't give her baby up like you gave up Diet Coke for lent. Most birth moms agonize over their decision and spend a lot of time thinking about what's best for their child. Eventually if they make a plan to place their child for adoption it's because they love their child and believe it is in their child's best interest.

This is one I had to really pay attention to as I'm speaking and sometimes still have to think about it as I am talking. So I get that it's hard to reteach your brain, but how about we agree to try?

"own child/ren"

When we were shooting our adoption video sharing our story and the news that we had just become a waiting family, I was talking about what we thought our lives would look like when we first got married, and I said "we thought we would have our own children first and then adopt." My sweet and gracious friend (who also happened to be an adoptive mama herself) pulled me aside and said in the kindest way, "hey, I know you didn't mean anything by it, but back there you said you thought you'd have your own children first, and I know you didn't mean it negatively, but you may want to think about using a different word - like biological."

At the time I didn't understand how it could be perceived negatively by adoptees - or rather my future own adopted children. You see, when we refer to biological children as our own, it implies that children who were adopted are not in fact our own. That is not the message I want being sent to my daughters - that because they were adopted that they are somehow lesser than. So to the next person who says "I just don't know if I could love an adopted child like I do my own children" or "we think we'll adopt one day after we have our own kids", don't be surprised if I ask you to change your adjectives - it's nothing against you; I just want my daughters to live in a world where adoption isn't thought of as a backup plan or where people rank a child's level of "belonging" based on their DNA.

"is adopted" This is sort of a weird one - most of you are probably thinking, "well how else do you say it? The child is adopted. Well...yes, and no.

The first issue is that it is present tense - as in it defines who the child is currently, as opposed to referencing something that has occurred in the past. An adoption occurs (typically finalization happens about 6-8 months for private domestic adoption, but can be longer for foster care and international adoption), and once that event happens, the child becomes part of your family and therefore the tense can change to "was adopted".

Secondly, it puts the child as the central focus of something they had no say in. So when we are approached in the grocery store and someone says "is she adopted?", we typically respond with something like "We adopted her and her sister" depending on the situation and how much we decide we want to share with that person. But the point is - we try to take the focus off defining the child by the term and transfer the focus to an action that we as parents took to grow our family.

Ultimately, we want our daughters to find their identity first and foremost being daughters of the King, and then all of the other things that define their lives - being daughters, twins, sisters, friends, maybe singers or soccer players or dancers or mathletes... or who knows! Does the fact that they were adopted influence their identity? Of course! Does it ultimately define who they are? No.

"Now you'll get pregnant"

I know people mean well, I do, but to be honest if the person you're saying that to has struggled with infertility, there's a good chance they have wrestled with the hope and the disappointment that comes as every month passes and still there's no positive pregnancy test. So my guess is that they don't need other people putting that on them too - I know it was hard for me, at least.

Secondly, people don't decide to adopt so they get pregnant (well most people don't). People choose to adopt to grow their family by bringing a child home who needs one. If I'm being honest, there was a part of me that hoped early on in the process that maybe all God wanted us to do was to step out in faith and start the adoption process, and then maybe He would allow us to get pregnant. The further we got into the process, the more God convicted me that that was totally the wrong mindset - so the more people said it to me, the more frustrating it became. Eventually as the process continued, I actually was hoping I didn't get pregnant because then we would have to put the whole process on hold for almost 2 years.

"they're so lucky"

I know that it's meant to be a compliment, but I don't want my daughters growing up thinking they are a charity case and they should feel SO lucky that they lost their first family, but gained our family. Adoption is hard, and I'm not sure lucky is a good way to describe a child who was adopted.

You can tell us how lucky we are to have them as our children - because that is true!

If you wouldn't say it about that, don't say it about this...

I heard a pastor compare an adoptive family to a boob job - and as hilarious as it sounds, it is actually pretty spot on. If you wouldn't say it about breast implants, you probably don't need to say it about adoption. So under that rule, you probably shouldn't say the following:

  • Are they real? (or "Is that your real daughter?" Instead you could ask "Is that your biological daughter?")

  • Where did you get those? (or "Where'd you get her from?" Instead say "Where is your daughter from?")

  • How much did they cost? (Just don't people... If you're curious about adoption costs, you can Google "adoption cost" or if someone is fundraising and you'd like to support their adoption financially, you could ask how much they have left to raise.)

Wrapping it up...

Do I expect you, random stranger in the grocery store, to know all these adoption language nuances? No. Will I be offended if I hear you say one of these things? Probably not. Do I hope my friends and family adopt appropriate adoption language? (Did you see what I did there?!? Love a good pun!) Yes. Will I be upset if you say the wrong thing? No, but I might lovingly correct you ;)

Let's all agree, out of love and respect, to help each other use the right language for topics we're not familiar with. And let's also all agree not to be offended if somebody lovingly corrects us. Thanks for taking the time to read this and learn about positive adoption language!


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