I realize, however, that people who use such words and phrases are no different than myself in that they want to describe the unusual circumstances of adoption and ask about details (isn't everyone curious?) but don't know quite how to phrase it, partly because they fear treading into areas which may be viewed as none of their business. That's how I feel sometimes, so when someone asks me if my other two kids are my "real" kids as opposed to the expected baby who will be adopted, I don't tend to get mad. I know what they mean and I can use every opportunity to tactfully give them new language to use that won't imply that my third child won't be my "real" child.
Today in browsing through some material that TT sent from a recent adoption conference, I found a link to an article dealing with this exact issue. Apparently I am not the only one who has struggled with this. A particular paragraph or two jumped out at me:
Though in adoption parent and child are linked by love and by law, the fact that they are not connected by blood has often meant that some people are unwilling to acknowledge their relationship as genuine and permanent. Thus they use qualifiers (”This is Bill’s adopted son”) in situations where they would not dream of doing so in a non-adoptive family (”This is Bill’s birth-control-failure son” or “This is Mary’s cesarean-section daughter.”) They tend not to assign a full and permanent relationship to persons related through adoption (”Do you have any children of your own?” or “Have you ever met your real mother?” or “Are they natural brothers and sisters?”) They assume that adoptive relationships are tentative (”Will the agency take him back now that you know he’s handicapped?” or “What if his real parents want him back?”)
Four Adoption Terms Defined
Natural child: any child who is not artificial.
Real parent: any parent who is not imaginary.
Your own child: any child who is not someone else’s child.
Adopted child: a natural child, with a real parent, who is all my own.
They really made me chuckle, those examples of introduction and that chuckle made me feel a whole lot better. I think I can safely use the term "offspring" to describe my newest family member, a term about which I had previously wondered. If I don't give birth, is she still my offspring? Yes, I think so, just as a cesarean-birthed child who doesn't travel down the birth canal is still an offspring. Why do we, as a society place so much emphasis on the genetic relationship in determining words like "offspring"? I don't have a good answer to that question, but I have to admit I have wrestled with it.
I think the answer lies in the word "adopt" where a child becomes some thing she wasn't before. She becomes ours. She becomes a part of our family and therefore becomes my "offspring". She is grafted in to a different root but becomes part of the tree nonetheless.
I am entering a new world here but others have gone before me and have paved the way, giving me mountains of good ideas for all of the small ways I can make my child feel wanted, welcome and loved. That, after all, is the goal.