Words to Empower and Connect

Written by: Joanna Eckley, MA, LPC Associate


Words have a direct impact on the emotions and thoughts that we have. The words we select to use can promote growth and understanding or they can produce pain. When it comes to adoption, the language we use to discuss or describe the process should be language that brings about empowerment and healing. 

In choosing adoption, sometimes it may be said that the birth parent is “putting up” or “giving up” a baby for adoption. These terms denote a sense of defeat or demoralization associated with the selection of adoption for a child. The Adoption Network (n.d.) emphasized that such terminology expresses a lack of care or thought for the child and his or her future. In reality, this could not be further from the truth for many birth mothers.

 The terms “putting up” or “giving up” for adoption were birthed out of the Orphan Train Movement of the 1800s, when children were literally put up on a stage to be chosen to be owned as field workers (Huffnagle, 2021). Oftentimes, birth parents are walking out an empowered position of forethought and planning for the child by selecting adoption. To encapsulate this intentional act of love and care, using language such as “placing” for adoption recognizes the powerful choice and strength that these birth parents have in selecting a future of hope and provision for these children. 

The choice to use language that empowers and sheds light breaks down inaccurate assumptions, stigmas, and stereotypes concerning adoption. AdoptHelp (2021) shared an excellent resource in the promotion of positive adoption language:

Terms To Avoid:Positive Adoption Language:
Real parent/mother/father,Birthparent/mother/father,
(even more recently, the term “first mother” has grown in usage)
Natural parent/mother/fatherBiological parent/mother/father
Adoptive parent/father/motherParent, mother, father, mommy, daddy
Natural child, own child, one of my ownBirth child, biological child
Adopted child (vs. own child)My child/son/daughter
Waiting childAdoptable child, Available Child
Abandoned child, unwanted childChild placed for adoption
Foreign childChild from abroad
Foreign adoptionInternational Adoption
Give up for adoption, put up for adoption, give away, adopted out, abandonedMake an adoption plan, choose adoption, place a child for adoption, terminate parental rights
To keep her childTo parent her child
Is adoptedWas adopted

            When it comes to talking about adoption, consider the words that are used and the emotions and thoughts that may be connected with them. Choose words that support the beautifully brave and well-planned act that adoption is.


AdoptHelp. (2021). Why positive adoption language matters. https://www.adopthelp.com/why-positive-adoption-language-matters/

Adoption Network. (n.d.). You’re not giving up, you’re giving life. https://adoptionnetwork.com/birth-mothers/understanding-adoption/benefits-of-adoption/giving-a-baby-up-for-adoption-is-not-giving-up/

Huffnagle, D. (2021, April 28). Words have power. The importance of positive adoption language. The Expert Angle. https://www.centerffs.org/blog/2021/04/28/words-have-power-importance-positive-adoption-language