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Our words reflect our values and our emotions. They wound or heal, alienate or educate.

The language of adoption is full of expressions we have “always heard” and all too often use. These expressions shape the perceptions of both the people who use them and the people who hear them. They convey our values and biases, and they can encourage or interfere with communication.

The following list is not exhaustive, but it reflects some of the more common outdated words or expressions that we encounter:

Rather than saying….

Real parent(s)

Natural parent(s)

Unwed mother

Real child

Illegitimate child

Put up for Adoption

Give up for adoption

Keep a child

Hard to place child

Unwanted pregnancy

Find parents


We suggest…

Birthparent(s), Birthmother, Birthfather

Biological parent(s)

Single parent


Child of unmarried parents

Make an adoption plan

Choose adoption

Parent a child

Child with special placement needs

Unplanned, unintended, or untimely pregnancy

Search for birthparents

Someone who was adopted

People say the most amazing things! When the topic is adoption, as an adoptee, birthparent, or adoptive parent you will likely face insensitive questions from curious friends, family members, coworkers or even total strangers about your (or your child’s) background. 

In those moments, it’s best to take a deep breath and remember that you are in control of your information and your story. You do not owe anyone an explanation or details about your adoption journey. You have the option to share as little or as much as you want.

Knowing that you are in control can be very freeing, but deciding what you want to share can be difficult—especially the first time.

Remember, it’s your (or your child’s) story: Whenever you talk about adoption, you should be cautious about how much personal information you share.

If you're an adoptive parent, it's important to remember that, ultimately, this adoption story is your child’s story, and he or she should have as much control as possible over how and when the story is told. Your child should not learn any part of his story from anyone other than you. Whenever possible, avoid sharing information that you have not yet shared with your child. If there are details about your child’s pre-adoption history that he is not yet aware of (for reasons of age-appropriateness) and that you need to share with a professional, be sure that the professional knows and understands that you want to be the one to share the information with your child. This awareness is important when talking with pediatricians and teachers as well. Talk to your child about who he wants his adoption story shared with and what he wants others to know. By having your child help determine who should know what and when, your child will feel more in control of his story.

Become an Adoption Advocate and Change Your World

Some adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents become active adoption advocates. This can bring a sense of empowerment and a greater sensitivity to adoption issues in education, health care, journalism, and the arts, not to mention friends, family, and the wider community. Many have become advocates for greater adoption sensitivity in education and health care, and for change in legislation, such as access to original birth certificates.

Helpful Resources 

"A Mother’s Tips for Helping Children Handle Adoption Questions at School" can help you find ways to respond to commonly-asked questions in ways that are respectful while keeping you in control of your family’s adoption story.

If you took part in embryo adoption, The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) has created a great resource, "Talking with Children Conceived Through Donor Insemination, IVF with Egg Donor or Surrogacy" for helping you talk to your child about their adoption.