A Few Words on Words in Adoption

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How we hear the words

Guest author Brenda Romanchik is the Director of Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support, an organization dedicated to providing triad members, professionals and the general public with information on open adoption. She is also the author of "Birthparent Grief," "Being a Birthparent," "What is Open Adoption?," "Your Rights and Responsibilities," and "A Birthparent's Book of Memories." She lives in Royal Oak, MI with her husband and children, Katarina and Daniel. Her birthson, Matt, is 18 years old. She can be reached at: 721 Hawthorne, Royal Oak, MI 48067, phone: 248-543-0997.

In adoption, as in life, it is not always what we say, but how we say it that matters. This is, in part, because words in and of themselves, are only tools. Tone, body language and, most importantly the context we use, often reflect our underlying meaning. It is also important to note that personal experience and understanding also affect how words are heard. Therefore, any discussion on adoption language has to take into account both how the words are used and how others interpret them.

Look in any dictionary and you will find at least two definitions for many words. Add to this the emotions, past experiences, and associations that one individual has with a particular word, and it is often hard to discern what a person's definition of the word is. Too often we assume that our definition of a word is the same as everyone else's.

I am married to a man from Germany. When we met, the only German word I knew was Gesundheit (which, by the way, translates to "good health" not "God Bless You" as I originally thought). My husband-to-be, on the other hand, had the English vocabulary of a two-year-old. Consequently, we spent hours and hours finding the words to describe our lives and express our feelings. We would often take as long as 15 minutes to describe what a certain word meant to us. We became so proficient at communicating this way that, when he told me he loved me and I answered in kind, we spent a good hour or so discussing what the meaning of the "love" was to us. Which brings me to another point. Our definition of the word "love" 16 years ago, when we first uttered those words, is vastly different than the definition of "love" we share today. Years have deepened its meaning. So, too, as we learn and grow into our adoption experiences does the meaning of many of the words we use change.


Just as there has been an evolution in adoption practice, so too has the language of adoption evolved. Take, for instance, the word "illegitimate." It is a word rarely used in adoption today, but as the following excerpt from The Willows, a commercial maternity home in Kansas City, MO, illustrates it was used freely in 1926.

Here again you may have some scruples about illegitimacy because certain facts are unknown to you. To begin with, here in our home, we have only illegitimate children for adoption, the offspring of young women of good families who thru lack of proper supervision or misplaced confidence, have erred against society.


And remember since high grade married people are not giving up their children for adoption, your baby will be of illegitimate birth.

The Willows Magazine, 1926.
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