“New Castle Indiana, March 1996: A 24-year-old woman gives birth to a premature baby girl in a hotel room while trying to kill herself. The baby is found nearby, stuffed inside a pair of soiled sweatpants with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around her neck, barely alive. The woman later tells the press that she intended to kill herself and her baby in order to spare the child a life of poverty.”
Granted there is more to the story than we read in the newspapers and granted the woman and her family are obviously entrenched in crisis on more levels than poverty and unplanned pregnancy, but stories like this always hit me hard.
As an adoptive parent, my first impulse is to scream, “Hasn’t this woman ever heard of adoption?!”
As a Christian, I must stop and wonder, “Didn’t anyone reach out to this girl in the midst of her darkest hour and offer some light, some alternative solutions to her seemingly insurmountable problem?”
I believe this woman and many like her inside and outside the Christian community who have faced an unintended pregnancy, make decisions based on the subtle messages received from family, friends, teachers, media, and the church. Much too often these messages carry a negative perspective of adoption.
How often have you heard the following unkind and inaccurate terminology used in conversation regarding adoption?
“She had an illegitimate baby.” [As if the baby is somehow responsible for her parent’s actions.]
“Is she going the keep the baby?” [As if the child is a possession to be kept or discarded.]
“She put up the baby for adoption.” [“Put up” is a term that comes from the orphan trains of the 1800s where agencies would literally “put up” the children on a flatbed train car to be claimed for free labor.]
“How could anyone give away such a beautiful little child?” [Is this a person or a possession? Is it OK to give away a homely child but not an attractive one?]
“Why didn’t she just have an abortion?” [As if eliminating a child is preferable to letting someone else raise her.]
“She did the honorable thing and married the father; they kept the baby.” [Sometimes this works, most times it does not and if it doesn’t the child is raised in a home of resentment.]
“In our family, we just don’t do that; we would never give up a baby for adoption. My mom or grandma will take him.” [Children raised by single parents are more likely to be raised in poverty and on welfare, more likely to turn to crime, and more likely to become parents as teenagers, than children raised in a permanent home by two parents.]
“Why did her real mother give her up?” [If biological mothers are the only real mothers, are the rest of us imaginary or pretend?]
“Do you have any kids of your own?” [How are your own kids different than your adopted kids?]
“They have one adopted and one natural child.” [If biological children are natural, are adopted kids unnatural?]
“We adopted a puppy from the Humane Society.” [No you didn’t; you bought a dog that you likely will return the first time it pees on your carpet or snaps at your toddler. That’s very different than adoption.]
“My child’s class adopted a wolf and a puffin.” [Your child’s teacher was scammed by an organization generating operating funds by tugging on the heartstrings of children by incorrectly using the term ‘adoption’.]
“What do you know about his real parents?” [First of all, it’s none of your business; secondly, we are his real parents.]
“They love their adopted child just as if he was their own.” [As if? What? Their adopted children aren’t their own? Whose are they?]
“He acts up in class, he is such a handful. You know … he is adopted.” [Like kids born into their families never have behavioral issues. HA!]
Each time a young woman hears one of these statements, she hears the message that making an adoption plan for her child is somehow disgraceful and wrong for her, and risky and second best for her child. This notion could not be further from the truth.
Women who make adoption plans for their babies are usually ordinary women who happened to get caught in an unintended pregnancy, but had the courage to look deep into their own capacity to parent at that particular time, and then made an adoption plan to help assure their child’s best interest is met long term. Such women are not irresponsible people without conscience, as suggested by the above characterizations.
As Christians, we are called to reach out to people and help to show them the love of Christ as they work through their crises. We need to do this in tangible and subtle ways. First and foremost, we need to pray. Next, we need to establish relationships and walk alongside those in need. But we must also speak with kindness and compassion to and about those around us. I am not talking about trendy political correctness here. I am talking about kind and accurate language that shows people around us that we have a heart for them and that we are approachable to help shed light in their dark hour.
I do not mean to present a simplistic solution to a tragic situation. But I do wonder what drives a young woman to such desperation.
Is it one major event? Is it years of crisis and dysfunction culminating in a very bad choice? Is it a hopeless paradigm through which life is viewed? Or is it a combination of all the above, seen through a frame of reference that has been built by subtle messages received every day?
As I pray for that young woman in New Castle, I pray that we may become more tuned in to the small messages we send out in each and every conversation we have, by choosing our words more carefully:
POSITIVE LANGUAGE / NEGATIVE LANGUAGE
Birth parent / Real parent
Biological parent / Natural parent
Birth child / Own child
Born to unmarried parents / Illegitimate child
Terminate parental rights / Give up
Make an adoption plan / Give away
To parent / To keep
Parent / Adoptive parent
Search for birth parents / Track down parents
Child placed for adoption /Unwanted child
Court termination / Child taken away
Child from abroad / Foreign child
Child with special needs /Handicapped child
Was adopted / Is adopted