Saturday, April 7, 2012

Talking about Adoption

I'm never one to shy away from a pedantic discussion about semantics, so I really liked the following passage in one of the open adoption books I'm reading:
Adoption is a process. We advocate that the process be kept distinct from the person who is the adoptee. On the simplest level this means preferring "Betsy was adopted" to "Betsy is an adopted child." The first (Betsy was adopted) correctly describes a single and past event in her life. This is no different from a birthmother proud of the experience of giving birth describing to another, "I had my son by cesarean birth." The same birthmother would not refer to that child after the event as "my cesarean son."

By contrast, "Betsy is an adopted child" or even "Betsy is special because she is adopted" conveys an ongoing significance to the state of being adopted. This is potentially dangerous because of the subtle implication that adopted children are somehow different from natural children who do not have labels attached to them. In addition, if Betsy is described as "special" or "chosen," that means someone is less special or valuable as a person. If Betsy is not a "natural child" that makes her "unnatural" or at least not normal. Do these labels all mean that at one point Betsy was not so special because she was not wanted?

Excerpt from Dear Birthmother by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin, Third Edition, Page 141
This hit home, especially in light of a conversation we just had with my sister-in-law Elise earlier tonight. She expressed the thought that she sometimes was afraid to bring up an adoption-related question or topic because she didn't know the right verbiage for it and was afraid of saying something unintentionally offensive. I can sympathize with that - I feel like we've learned an entirely new vocabulary since we started working with our agency!

I totally get the above quotes from Dear Birthmother, and on the one hand I agree with the sentiment. Our child will be our child, end of story, regardless of how our family is formed. That fact that we will form our family through adoption won't make a difference in how much we love our child, and so describing the fact of the adoption as a discrete event rather than as a characteristic of the child seems right.

On the other hand, the difference between "Betsy was adopted" (as a past tense verb) and "Besty is adopted" (as a present tense verb and adjective) is so slight that I think most people wouldn't even hear the difference. In fact, in the extreme case, the contraction "Betsy's adopted" could really represent either version. Making such a subtle distinction also seems like it's a pretty difficult task, and one we could easily make mistakes on all the time.

Don't you just love semantics?

Alright, that's enough thinking for now - better go off to bed before my head explodes. Next up (hopefully tomorrow) I'll try to post pictures from our visit to Rhode Island with Josh, Elise, and baby Cora!

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe you found time to post this! :) All interesting to think about...