The Words We Use: National Adoption Month 2018

Lexicon: the vocabulary of a language, an individual speaker or group of speakers, or a subject. (Merriam-Webster)

I wrote my book An Adoptee Lexicon, in which I discuss forty-five terms that are significant to me as an adopted person, because I want to have a conversation about the words we use surrounding adoption, especially those simple words we come into contact with on an everyday basis, those words that float right past non-adopted people but stop us dead in our tracks.

I began by compiling a long list of terms related in some way to adoption. Then, during each generative writing session, I picked a word from the list that held energy for me, set a timer for twenty minutes, and wrote longhand in a notebook nonstop until those minutes were used up. Later, after many weeks, I began fine-tuning what I’d roughly sketched out and adding the facts and statistics I wanted to include to augment my own thoughts. I didn’t write about every word on my original list, and I didn’t end up using every word I wrote during those generative sessions.

What I ended up with was part memoir, part poetry; a little bit history lesson and a little bit political commentary. The resulting book uses my own experience as a jumping-off point to consider the social policies that shaped adoption’s past and will influence its future. This interpretation of those words from my list that made it into the book is all mine, though not necessarily anyone else’s. That “an” in the title is deliberate and doing a lot of work for such a small, typically overlooked word: this is only one–not every–adoptee’s lexicon.

How do other adoptees react to the words I chose to explore? And what about all those words on my original long list that didn’t end up in the book? I’d like to invite adopted people to join me in conversation during November, which is National Adoption Month (NAM) (also referred to as National Adoption Awareness Month or NAAM) here in the U.S.

In the spirit of the brief bursts of writing I did to begin An Adoptee Lexicon, each morning in November I’ll post a word on my Twitter profile and Facebook page for adoptees to consider and respond to. You can follow along and participate using the hashtag #AdopteeLexicon. Please also tag your responses with your other favorite adoption- or NAM-related hashtags, and please do respond with video or images or songs or whatever creative thing you can imagine if the written word doesn’t move you. Please do take the conversation to your other favorite places on the internet as well, though I’ll probably stick to Twitter and Facebook myself. I hope that my daily posts will serve as your creative catalyst.

Let’s make this an adoptee-centric, judgment-free NAM conversation where all viewpoints are respected. And please, if you’re not adopted, just listen. There are other forums where non-adopted people can express their views on adoption. The #AdopteeLexicon conversation is intended for adoptees only.

 

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What We Mean When We Say Adoption Reunion

A little while ago I noticed an article about New Jersey holding a family reunification day to celebrate parents who’ve been able to make changes in their lives and get their kids back after having them taken away due to neglect or abuse. I was struck by the use of the word “reunification” as opposed to “reunion,” which is the standard term used for cases in which adopted people and their biological relatives come back together after being separated for many years.

“Reunification” strikes me as being more serious and more lasting than “reunion.” We talk about reunification of countries, such as Ireland and Korea, that were long ago split in two due to political disagreements and war. We speak with optimism about one day in the future when the people of these nations will again be brethren under the same flag, participants in a newly mutual society reminiscent of one that actually existed once upon a time.

It makes sense, then, to talk about reunification in relation to children who had become wards of the state returning to their biological parents. These are family units that had been torn apart by disease and dysfunction, that are being restored as a result of hard work and healing on the part of the parents along with compassion on the part of the government officials involved.

Contrast this sense of potential for ongoing unity with scenarios in which we typically use the word “reunion:” high school reunions; workplace reunions; neighborhood reunions; cast reunions from our favorite old TV shows. Sure, sometimes old friends or colleagues keep in touch long after the reunion event has ended, but no one really expects relationships to return to what they once were in any of these situations.  Continue reading “What We Mean When We Say Adoption Reunion”

My Adoptivemother and My Birth Mother

No, there is no error in the title of this post.

Use of the term “birth mother” to mean a woman who has relinquished a child to adoption can be traced back to Pulitzer Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck, who was herself an adoptive mother and who also founded an adoption agency. Buck first wrote about the adoption “birth mother” back in 1956, though the term gained broad popularity during the 1970s.

In, 1976 Lee Campbell formed an organization specifically for mothers like herself who had lost children to adoption. For many decades, these women had been called natural mothers, but adoptive parents objected to the term because it painted adoptive mothers as the unnatural alternative. Adoptive parents preferred to say “biological mother,” but those mothers themselves felt that term was too reductive. So, Campbell chose to call herself and other women like her “birthmothers,” and named her organization Concerned United Birthparents (CUB), “hoping to forge a cohesive identity that mothers and fathers with children missing in adoption could rally around.”

In 1979, Marietta Spencer published an article on “The Terminology of Adoption” in Child Welfare, in which she introduced the concept of Positive Adoption Language (PAL). This model has evolved over subsequent decades into Respectful Adoption Language (RAL).

mothers
Photo by Dennis Jarvis via Flickr

RAL says that “birthmother” is a positive, respectful term for a woman who relinquishes a child to adoption. RAL also says that “adoptive mother” is a negative, disrespectful term for a woman who becomes a parent through adoption; the only positive, respectful term for this woman, according to RAL, is simply “mother.” RAL has evolved to reinforce the validity of the adoptive family. Continue reading “My Adoptivemother and My Birth Mother”