I got myself twisted into knots this week. Why I allowed myself to be triggered probably comes down to the fact I’ve been on a strict no-stress diet for what seems like forever. Positive Adoption Language or PAL was the cause of my lapse of living stress free. First, for those reading, I don’t take issue with all the language listed, but my word, some (or most) of the “rules” about adoptees needs to change, and the change needs to led by adoptees; adoptive parents, birth parents, adoption professionals can weigh in, but it’s ultimately the adoptees who should decide the language used about them.
I know the term “Birth Child” has been listed on PAL forever, but recently, it’s become a term used by first mothers, so it’s worth delving into. It’s also the term that initially triggered this post because I still have the same feeling of being punched in the gut when any first mom uses “Birth Child” to describe the child she placed for adoption. When I first heard first mom’s using “Birth Child” to describe the child they’d placed, I queried why they used it. The answers I heard was that their adoption professionals told them that was how they should refer to their child. Describing their child as a “Birth Child” really bothered me, but I sat with it, that is, until I saw the term used in the title (or tag line) of an article. Seeing it there in bold font where it couldn’t be missed really hurt my heart in a way things seldom do anymore. I decided I needed to step back and ask other adoptees on how they felt about its usage and received varied responses – some similar to my feelings all the way to meh, but not any that saw it as a positive.
I also recognise that “Adopted Child” is listed as a Negative on PAL, it’s also still a label widely used both within and outside of adoption, a label we can’t escape even when we are old and are still referred to as an adopted child. Adoptees don’t need to have two different labels slapped on them, one from each set of parents; we are already adopted, we don’t need to be labeled as a birth child too. And, I really don’t care whether it is a sign of respect by the birth mother to the adoptive parents, if you aren’t secure as an adoptive parent, don’t put that on the child by needing the birth mother to call her child her birth child, fix yourself.
Just when we seem to have finally gotten most adoptive parents to recognise and accept an adoptee has two families a label comes into active use to divide us. Two families; one they were born into and one they are raised in is all that is needed. Which leads me to ponder what happens now in regards to openness, acceptance of the child having two families, the common story about the mother/father loving their child but finding it impossible to raise them the way they want their child raised so they chose an open adoption. Where in that narrative does it include the distancing, devaluing language of the child being just my birth child, how does that language bring closeness and openness of the heart. And why are we burdening the child with labels instead the parents (both sets) taking ownership for their choices, i.e., child I placed, child I adopted.
Maybe I’m worrying over nothing but having two separate labels doesn’t shout inclusive and loving to me; rather, it shouts distancing and othering the one adopted, not to mention the fear adoptive parents have that their child will be defined by being adopted seems more likely the more labels they are assigned.