Does it matter what we call adopted children?

Published Mar 13, 2001


As a youngster, I was a prolific reader of girl's popular fiction - the ones where the girl solves a mystery to become a heroine...

Sometimes the heroine was a "foundling". I never really knew what the word meant. It seemed to have something to do with adoption and I was satisfied with that. Who wants to break a good mystery story to do a dictionary search?

Only now, as an adoptive parent, have I come to understand the full ramification of the term "foundling".

To be a foundling you must first be "an abandoned baby". That sad and profound understanding set me thinking about terminology and the whole issue of how society views an abandoned child.

Should the terms abandoned or abandoned baby be used? The term foundling is used in the United Kingdom. Is this a more positive term to describe the early status of these babies?

When all is said and done, the truth must be out. The truth is the child was not place in adoptive care by its parents.

The child may not even have been left in the safe keeping of nursing staff in a hospital with a good chance of survival.

The child may be perceived by society as having been dumped or abandoned, but does the child have to suffer the consequences of the abandoned label?

Do birth mothers perceive their actions as a dumping of a life?

There is a need to understand the desperate plight of the birth mom - often a young girl abandoned herself by the father of her child; abandoned by her family: abandoned by her very society.

She is often a product of that society or abused by her society - rape, incest, poverty stricken, haphazard education, no life-skills or sex education. A desperate young lady indeed.

Her mother is eking out an existence in a one-roomed "house" supporting an extended family. Single - handedly her mother feeds, clothes, educates and cares for the family, her sisters' children and her deceased sister's family. Abandoned herself by an alcoholic husband or a victim of societal violence, she might have lost the father of her own children in gang warfare or taxi violence.

And now a young daughter - the daughter of her dreams - almost independent, almost a breadwinner - is going to bring home another mouth to feed, to provide for, to care for and to love.

This is the breaking point for all. Just one more mouth to feed is just one too many mouths. There is really no place in this inn.

If we as the adoption community can change the "abandoned perception" of a child's status, the ultimate result will be a child who has positive support in his struggle to understand his birth parent's decision not to keep him.

Society needs to perceive abandonment in a different light - understand it in the same way as the child involved comes to understand the circumstances of his birth.

His mother was desperate but did not wish to terminate her baby's life through abortion, nor was her wish to "murder" her child at birth.

She gave him the best chance she knew, by placing him in a very public place where he would be found. The baby continued his fight for his right to life by crying out for help.

He is fighter, a survivor, some-one who grasped at the chance of life. These aspects of his struggle could be high-lighted.

Could one not call these children "adoptable children" or "children needing a home" or "children in need of families?"

Let us create positive language to discuss the early life of a tiny child, gallant enough to take on the challenges of life.

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