I Could Never Say No

Person: “How did the match meeting go?”

Me: “Thanks for asking, it was really informative. But unfortunately, I don’t think we are the right fit for this child.”

Person: “Ugh, I could never, ever say no to any child.”

How would you respond?

A) Start some shit. “Well, I did kick it off with a pretty huge yes by pursuing adoption in the first place.”

B) Verbal eye roll. “Wow, you MUST be a MUCH better person than me then. I just find it SO incredibly easy to say no to children in need.”

C) Get real. Spend the next half hour delving into the complexities of a broken system and pouring out feelings of grief, shame, sadness, disappointment, and longing.

D) Say nothing.

The thing is, I could never say no either. But I have to. 

After each match meeting, we have to do something incredibly hard: picturing our life, day in and day out, forever, with that child, as best as we can with the limited information we have. How many appointments will we have throughout the week with therapists, OT, skills workers, and teachers? Will school be a struggle, or sleep, or meals, or something else, or all of the above? What things will be trauma triggers for them, and are we prepared to parent them through the healing process? Are we ready to welcome not just this child, but their birth family, whatever that may look like and whatever may come with that, intimately into our personal lives? Can we say yes to this child, now and in all of their future forms?

Then, after all of that, sometimes we have to do something even harder: we have to say no. We have to grieve the fact that for whatever reason, we weren’t enough for this child. We have to sit in the discomfort of knowing that our decision kept a child in the system a little longer. We have to send the worst email ever, cry together, and pray over this child, their birth family, their support team, and their foster family. We have to break the hearts of our friends and family by telling them this wasn’t the right fit. Then we have to rally ourselves to start all over again.

I have learned that there is much joy, hope, and excitement wrapped up in saying yes, but there is even more guilt, sadness, and disappointment wrapped up in saying no. It feels icky and wrong. It is laced with platitudes like “You have to do what’s best for you AND the child,” and “Just think, your no got them one step closer to their forever family.” It results in feeling like I was stabbed in the heart when someone says “Oh, I could never say no to any child. I don’t know how you do it.” This is how I do it. Painfully.

So please, of all the things you could say to me about this process, PLEASE don’t tell me you could never say no. Trust me, neither could I.


How to Use Adoption Positive Language

Language matters. But life is awkward, so it’s also hard to know what to say and when. Over the past few decades, the process of adoption has changed, and we have learned so much more about the lived experiences of members of the adoption community. When times change, our language should change too. So when discussing adoption, it’s important to use adoption positive language.

So, what is “Adoption Positive Language?”  It’s choosing words and phrases that communicate respect for the feelings and experiences of everyone in the adoption process, including the child, birth family, and foster or adoptive family. It celebrates the joys in the adoptive process, instead of focusing on the loss involved. It also honors the permanency of the adoption process while not erasing the past.

This quotation explains it quite directly:

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 caesarean-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?”)

Patricia Irwin Johnston

By using adoption positive language, we affirm that there is no best way to make a family. We communicate to others that no type of family is any more or less valid than another. Making a conscious effort to adjust your vocabulary shows members of the adoption community, especially adoptees, that you care!

Read and share this infographic, & find more examples below!

Adoption Positive Language

Even more adoption positive language…

Give up/put up for adoption ⇒ Place for adoption, make an adoption plan

  • The decision to place a child for adoption is a challenging, emotional one with many facets. A birth parent is not “giving up” their child. They are making a plan that is in the best interest of the child.

Keep the child ⇒ Parent the child

  • Again, a child is not something to be exchanged through keeping or giving away. The decision to make an adoption plan likely means the birth parent recognizes they may not the best person to parent the child, for whatever reason.

Natural/own child ⇒ Biological child

  • Many people will ask an adopting couple, “Don’t you want to have your own children?” First, all children in a family are “our own children,” regardless of how they came to the family! Second, this implies that adopted children are somehow less a part of a family than biological children are or would be.

Reunite with birth family  Make contact with birth family

  • Calling something a reunion makes it seem like a child or family was not whole without a connection to the birth family. In many cases, making contact with a birth family is something that ADDS to an already full life of family and love. Furthermore, making contact doesn’t always result in regular communication, depending on the feelings of the individuals involved. Sometimes that’s all it is–making contact.

Foreign adoption ⇒ International adoption

  • In many ways, this one is just a reflection of society moving into the twenty-first century. “Foreign” can be translated as “strange.” What you really mean is the family adopted internationally, from outside their own country of origin (as opposed to domestically).

Foster kid ⇒ Child in foster care

  • Much like the is adopted/was adopted example above, calling a child a “foster kid” makes foster care a central part of their identity. They are so much more than that! They are complex humans with lots of feelings, interests, and experiences, and just ONE of those pieces is that they were or are in foster care. It’s up to each child how significant this part of their story is to them.

Broken/damaged child ⇒ Child who has experienced trauma

  • No child is broken or damaged, regardless of what has happened to them. Little ones who are coping with abuse or neglect are innocent children who have experienced trauma. We as parents are working to help them heal from this trauma and live as normal a life as possible. We believe they are beautiful, never broken.

We hope this has helped you get a grasp on what adoption positive language is and why it’s important. Practice using this new vocabulary and help others learn too!

-Laura & Nate



Have questions? Want to learn more about foster care & adoption?

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