I had the initial strong reaction to Jillian Michaels’ comments about wanting to rescue a child via adoption. I had no issue with her desire to avoid pregnancy (though I can understand why some struggling with fertility issues balked at what came across as a casual remark but, as we later found out, wasn’t casual at all). My issue was with her word rescue and the implication that all children who are adopted needed saving by their superior adoptive parents.
The truth is that words have come and gone in adoption over the years. What was once acceptable is no longer tolerated when it comes to how we describe certain aspects or people in adoption. Here are a few examples.
- Illegitimate child
- Unwanted child
- Natural mother
- Foreign adoption
- Give up for adoption
- Natural mother
These are just a few terms that have been phased out over time. In fact, natural mother is still used in some states’ legal wording on the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR), a hold over from days when this was the accepted terminology. If you try to tell an adoptive mother nowadays something about her child’s natural mother, you’re likely to get an earful. Similarly, while I may not verbally attack you if you tell me that I “gave my daughter up for adoption,” my poor (loving) husband is going to hear about it later.
It’s not just in adoption where words change over time. We no longer throw around the slang that we once did, aware of how words and names affect others. We are careful to choose our words not because we’re overly concerned with being politically correct but because we care about others’ reactions to those words. Because we care about other human beings.
“Its hard enough to deal with dual identity issues and the mystery of ones origins without being reminded constantly by people who ought to know better that our adoptive parents are saints, that we are apparently second best, and that we should be forever grateful because we weren’t able to be raised by our family of origin.”
Should we tell that adoptee (and those who feel like she does) to sit down and shut up? Haven’t we gotten past that era of silence in adoption in which we expected everyone to be grateful that they had a better lot in life now? If we allow adoptive parents to speak up about the hardship of parenting children, shouldn’t we be allowing adoptees to speak up about their emotional concerns? Shouldn’t we welcome discussion from birth parents about their grief and loss? Or should we all go back to the era of silence in which we helped no one?
Similarly, my issue with the rescue terminology is that my daughter didn’t need rescuing. More over, it’s not how I feel being told, time and time again, that I am somehow less than adoptive parents but how I worry my daughter will perceive this information, this terminology. Her biological family was not one she needed rescuing from; we are great people. We’re intelligent. We’re kind. We’re pretty darn awesome! We just made the best decisions we could during a very difficult time in life. If she sees adoption being referred to as some sort of rescue saving mission, will she think that her genes are somehow flawed? Will she feel as though she always needs to be grateful to her parents for saving her from herself? Is that fair to do to adoptees? These are worries I have when I see people talk about adoption in such a negative light.
Do I think Michaels deserved to be called names at the same time? Not at all. I made terminology flubs in my day as I learned about adoption. Of course, as I received no education on the topic prior to relinquishment, I was really baptized by fire, making mistakes after I already bore my title. I still make mistakes. I’m still learning about the different aspects and issues we all experience in the adoption world, this unique journey. I am hopeful that once Michaels gets past the sting of the mudslinging, just as I got past my initial sting of her choice in terms, she can learn about how words are so loaded in adoption. I hope she can learn about the ethical implications that surround the adoption industry right now. Quite honestly, I’m still waiting for a celebrity to take on ethical adoption reform as their personal soap box. Maybe after all this blows over, Michaels will find a true passion for it.
I can hope, can’t I?