I recently came across another blog entry on the so called merits of positive adoption language. I left a comment directing the author of the blog to this piece of writing. She didn’t post my comment but she did send me an email.

Thank you for your comment on our adoption blog. I am not sure if you are the author of the article you referred me to, or if you are a member of the antiadoption group. I know that some adoptees have not have good experiences, and I am sorry if you are one of those people. This article was obviously written by a person with a lot of anger about his/her own adoption.

I could see how some of what I think is “positive” adoption language could be hurtful to someone who was partially raised by their biological parents before being adopted and may feel strong loyalty to them.

I don’t think this article pertains to most international adoptions, and definitely not to my daughter’s adoption. Most children orphaned in China are orphaned at birth. Obviously, many of those birth parents probably wanted to raise their child but couldn’t because of the one child policy or because of low income and potentially expensive requirements of a child’s special need. I know that our daughter was left at birth. She never knew her birth mother and most likely never will. I would love for them to meet some day as I know my daughter will always have a hole in heart for this women and her biological father, but I am the women who has chosen to love and raise her, and I am her mother, parent, adoptive mother…..whatever you want to call me.

I think the list I provided is very helpful for adoptions like ours, and is meant in the best interest of my child, not me. I can stand being offended, but I don’t want her ears to hear comments about me not being her “real mom.” I am the realest mom she has.

Thank you, Kelly

It irks me as it always does that the assumption is made that I am not worth listening to because I must have had a bad adoptee experience because I am anti adoption. There’s a whole bundle of assumptions there, firstly why does objecting to “positive adoption language” mean I have had a bad experience? And secondly so what if i did have a bad experience? Are adoptees who had bad experiences not worth listening to? Those of you reading this who think that the only adoptees who want adoption reform or who are anti adoption have had bad adoption experiences and are not worth listening to because of this might want to read these two posts: You must have had a bad life… and The Value of the Abused Voice

I don’t see what being raised partly by my original parents or not has to do with anything I have no loyalty to my first parents but that doesn’t mean I don’t think of them, as well as my adoptive parents, as my real parents

The third paragraph uses nonsensical double speak and flags up the selfishness of adopters. If your child has a mother in China who is still living she is not and never was an orphan. If adopters really cared about the children they adopt and their families, instead of adopting they would pay the second child fine which would enable the families to stay together (The fine is income based so the poorest families who are overwhelmingly the ones that have to give their children up, have the smallest fines.)

It seems to me that this adoptive parent isn’t bothering to read any of the excellent blogs or books written by Transracial adoptees and then she will be surprised at the issue her adopted child will be dealing with as she gets older. From what I understand trans racial adoptees have more identity issues to deal with, not less, than domestic adoptees and using language that is designed to placate adopters rather than support adoptees is not going to help her with those issues.

I was discussing the post and the email with some of my fellow adoptees and one of them responded to this part of the blog post:

It is common for people to make comments to adoptive parents and their children that are rude, invasive or just accidentally hurtful.


This is so true. People often make really hurtful remarks about my adoption. People often tell me that my “real” parents are the ones who adopted me, and don’t let me hold the beauty of having 4 “real” parents. It is hurtful to be still seen as a child, and not recognized that my voice as an adult, and an adoptee (who IS adopted…cause it’s an awesomely hard life-long experience for me) is just as valid as those who actually had a say in the terms of the adoption. I’d like to think people labelling me as “angry” or “anti-adoption” are simply being accidentally hurtful, but sometimes I can’t help but believe they are just being rude.

Which just says it perfectly. “positive adoption language” is and will always be about the adopters and not the adoptees, nobody cares about how adoptees feel over the language used


These days adoption agencies and social services routinely use what is referred to as positive adoption language also sometimes referred to respectful adoption language. Examples of this can be found here, and here (that whole second website disturbs the shit out of me) and its really clear just by looking at the lists that the language is only positive and respectful for adoptive parents, not for adoptees or first parents.

According to Perspectives press:

Respectful Adoption Language (RAL) is vocabulary about adoption which has been chosen to reflect maximum respect, dignity, responsibility and objectivity about the decisions made by birthparents and adoptive parents in discussing the family planning decisions they have made for children who have been adopted

So firstly it doesn’t take in to account at all how the adoptees are going to feel about the language used and secondly referring to someone as a birthparent is not respectful or positive, almost all the adoptees and firsts parents I’ve come across hate it. This article written from the perspective of a natural mother argues that using the prefix “birth” biases the way society thinks about adoption in favour of the adoptive parents:

When the word “parent” is used for a prospective adopter who is unrelated to a child and the “birth” term is used for the child’s own mother, it is just expected a mother must surrender her child. “Birth mother” is like a job title or worse – she is merely a “thing” whose function is to make a baby for others.

Everyone recognizes that a parent has a right to raise his or her own child. Yet in court when the foster caregiver or prospective adopter is called a “parent” and the true parents are called “bios” the outcome is predetermined. After lengthy delays initiated by those in the “system”, once they are finally in court the true parents of a child may be proven to be fit in every way yet still have their parental rights terminated.

Every citizen has a right and even an obligation to call a natural mother a “mother” or “natural mother” and thus prevent the temptation for others to separate children from their family any time they feel like it or can profit from it. Using the term “adoptive” for someone who has adopted is not disrespectful but honest and will avoid confusion about relationships. Any person who has adopted and who truly cares about children should be in favor of adjusting their language accordingly. Those who have not yet adopted of course must be called “prospective adopters”, not “parents”

But also as an adoptee its a term I hate, I much prefer to use Mother, it is almost always obvious which mother I’m talking about. My post adoption social worker insists on referring to my father and my siblings as my “birthfather” and my “birthsiblings” which apart from being really fucking disrespectful makes absolutely no sense.

perspective press weighs in on the matter saying

Those who raise and nurture a child are his parents: his mother, father, mommy, daddy, etc Those who conceive and give birth to a child are his birthparents: his birthmother and birthfather.

Why is it the natural parents that need the qualifier and not the adoptive parents?

Back to the lists, whats with the phrase “Adoption triad”? This probably isn’t a phrase people who aren’t involved in adoption have heard, but it is always used to mean the three parties involved in the adoption are equal and have the same amount of power. Well adoptees have no power (even adult adoptees because no one listens to us), first parents have very little power and adoptive parents have all the power, so there is no triad.

I have real issues with the “was adopted/is adopted” thing as well. Perspective press says:

When it is appropriate to refer to the fact of adoption, it is correct to say “Kathy was adopted,” (referring to they way in which she arrived in her family.) Phrasing it in the present tense– “Kathy is adopted”–implies that adoption is a disability with which to cope.

But I am adopted, it wasn’t a one time deal that didn’t effect anything else in my life, and while maybe not being a disability, being adopted is always something that needs to be negotiated, it effects all my relationships and will do for ever because it is such a profound life altering thing to happen to someone.

Perspective press then decides to continue injecting its own bias on the subject of homestudies:

The process by which families prepare themselves to become parents is often referred to as a homestudy. This term carries with it an old view of the process as a weeding out or judgment. Today, more and more agencies are coming to view their role as less God-like and more facilitative. The preferred positive term, then, is parent preparation, a process whereby agency and prospective adopters come to know one another and work toward expanding a family.

In light of the adoptees I know and how so many adoptions end up as car crashes because of abusive or just clueless adoptive parents, trying to make a home study less judgemental or less of a weeding out process is just fucking immoral and criminal, home studies should be more strict not less. I don’t want adoptive parents to think that “parent preparation” is some cushy thing that they wont get judged on.

Back again to perspective press on how to talk about reunions:

Frequently news stories refer to reunions between people who are related genetically but have not been raised in the same family. In most such instances these encounters do not carry with them the full spectrum of understanding that the usual use of the term reunion implies. While children adopted at an older age may indeed experience a reunion, most adoptees join their families as infants, and as such they have no common store of memories or experience such as are traditionally shared in a reunion. The more objective descriptor for a meeting between a child and the birthparents who planned his adoption (a term which neither boosts unrealistic expectations for the event nor implies a competition for loyalties between birthparents and adoptive parents) is meeting.

How is meeting the woman who gave birth to you, who carried you for nine months. who was the first person to hold you not a reunion exactly? Quite apart from the fact that lots of adoptees were with their first families long enough to remember them. The last sentence in the above quoted paragraph is really telling though. There is no such thing as “objective” language, the language we use both shows and shapes the way we see the world and here it appears again that the important thing about the language is how the adoptive parents feel, nothing about how the adoptee feels. Quite frankly how any of my parents feel about any of my adoption issues doesn’t matter to me. I use the language I need to use and I actively resist language that adoptive parents use to try and shape the world to the way they want it to be rather than seeing and respecting the lived reality of the adoptee