Adopting a child is a process that also involves plenty of adapting: adapting your original ideas about how you’ll go about bringing a baby into your family, adapting to the complications and invasions of privacy involved in the legal processes, etc.
But as we’ve gone about adapting our lives to the thoroughly excellent baby who’s joined the family, I’ve gotten signals that I need to start adapting some of the words and phrases I use to describe our adoptive family.
The first reminder to watch my language came after we’d been matched with our birthmom: a fellow adoptive parent on an Internet message board pointed out that “our birthmom” wasn’t the right way to describe her, since it implies a kind of ownership relationship. The preferred term, I was told, is that she’s the baby’s birthmom.
At first the unsolicited correction raised my hackles a bit. But once I thought about it, the commenter had a point. We weren’t buying the contents of this woman’s womb or employing her to complete a task; my wife and I were entering into a lifetime partnership with this woman and the baby she was carrying. “The baby’s birthmom,” indeed.
Not long after our son was born and came home to Maplewood, my wife and I began skimming through some of the adoption-themed books I’d been buying. And we quickly came to the next bit of terminology adjustment: we’d been saying that our son is adopted, but more than one source suggested that our son was adopted. A simple word substitution–is to was–changes adoption from something his is, all the time, to something that happened to him one time. Our son is a resident of Maplewood, is Jewish, is staggeringly cute…but he was only adopted once, an important event on the way to all the other things is and will be.
I know that more of these vocabulary adjustments are on the way for us. Our son is going to have questions about our family and his place in it, and the words we use to answer him are going to matter. I’ll be doing my best to pay attention and watch my language throughout.
Story by Brian Glaser, who wrote regularly for The Local, is a Barista Kids’ contributor.