By TOM COOK and ROBERT MARTIN
Last Monday night, Channel 42, the local CBS affiliate, aired a sitcom titled "Rules of Engagement."
Promotions for the show aired in many commercial breaks during the Alabama-Florida game and throughout the preceding week. In the promo, a couple discuss attending an adoption fair and the reluctant husband says that because there was not going to be food at the fair, he "won't buy one of their used babies."
The storyline had little to do with adoption and more to do with the purchase of a rug. However, the quote, used as a "shock" statement to entice viewers, was insensitive and inappropriate. Such language, broadcast nationwide, adds to the many negative prejudices and misconceptions surrounding one of the most compassionate and loving of all human actions: adoption.
Words convey important messages. Words not only convey facts, they also evoke feelings.
For example, when the husband in "Rules of Engagement" says he "won't buy one of their used babies," this suggests that birthmothers are selling infants and have no emotional bond to the child. We know from many years of involvement in the field of adoptions and child welfare, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Accurate adoption language can stop the spread of such misconceptions. When the media and members of society use accurate adoption language, we educate others about adoption.
There are so many examples of inappropriate, inaccurate language that reinforce societal prejudice about adoption. For instance, the term "birth mother" is a much more accurate term than "real mother" or "natural mother."
To "give up a child for adoption" suggests that a woman gave the child away and abandoned him/her.
A more accurate way to describe this process is to say the birth mother worked with a social worker "to create an adoption plan" — an adoption plan in which she had total involvement. If she chooses to do so, the birth mother can select the family and may even meet with the prospective adoptive family prior to the placement. After placement, she can receive ongoing updates and pictures.
For a woman facing a crisis pregnancy, the question arises, "Should I keep my baby?"
A more accurate question would be, "Can I parent my baby?"
When one decides to parent, she should be ready to make a permanent, life-long commitment to the child, be able to do what is in the best interest of the child and have the maturity to provide the child with love and guidance.
Children need an adult to whom they can bond. The parent or parents should preferably be at a point in their lives where they desire to be parents and are ready to make that life-long commitment.
Placing a child with an adoptive family is a most unselfish act of love for the child.
Adoption is, in and of itself, a positive action.
We believe in positive and respectful language that reflects sensitivity toward the child, the birth mother and the adoptive parents.
Tom Cook, DSW, ACSW, is director of CFS, a private, nonprofit, child welfare agency serving clients of all faiths in the Birmingham area. E-mail [email protected]. Website: www.cfsbhm.org. Robert Martin is president of the advisory board of CFS. E-mail: [email protected].
Birmingham News, 10/10/2010.
"HAVE YOU CONSIDERED AN ADOPTION PLAN FOR YOUR BABY?"