You don't have to be an adoption professional to be an advocate. Every time you educate or enlighten someone, you are advocating adoption. And the longer you're an adoptive parent, the more you'll want to persuade the world that adoption is a wonderful way to build a family. Here are some ways to be an adoption advocate in your community.
Use positive adoption language — and gently correct those who don't. When a store clerk asks, "Where's his real mom?" respond with, "Do you mean his birth mother?" When your prying neighbor asks, "Why was she given up for adoption?" respond that your child's birth parents made an adoption plan knowing that was the best option for her. You don't have to chastise anyone for their incorrect terminology, but you will notice that others will begin to copy the terms you use.
Make corrections to forms that use inappropriate terms. Adoption agencies often provide sample pleadings that you can adapt and file with the court if necessary. The samples might contain the terms "natural mother and father." You can change all of the terms to read "birth mother and birth father." You can amend medical or school information forms — or any other document crying out for an update — in much the same way.
Be prepared for nosy questions in the grocery aisle. People seem to love asking kids, "Where did you come from?", "Is she your real mother?" and "Why did your real mother give you away?" If you are prepared, you can answer — or refuse to answer — with confidence, showing the questioner and your child that you are proud to be an adoptive parent. Have everyone in the family practice appropriately vague answers. Teach your child that it's okay not to answer intrusive questions. "That's private" is a perfectly acceptable answer.
Discuss adoption with your child's teachers. Use your next appointment as an opportunity to educate the teacher about adoption and to ask about potentially sticky assignments. As an adoption advocate, offer to lead a discussion group on adoption issues for all the teachers or to make an adoption presentation to your child's class. Remember to revisit adoption as your child progresses through school. At six, your child might be delighted to have you talk to her class. At 14, she might not want the attention. Keep the lines of communication open.
Educate your community. This can include book clubs, churches, synagogues and other groups. Contact local organizations and businesses about recognizing National Adoption Awareness Month in November, and ask your public library to create a special display of adoption books this month. List an adoption event in your local newspaper, or send in an editorial on an adoption-related issue. Get to know reporters and editors, and offer yourself as an "expert" to be quoted in their stories about adoption. Let your senator or representative know where you stand on adoption-related legislation. Adoptive families are an increasingly organized, vocal and powerful interest group — and politicians are taking notice.
Think of adoption advocacy as a slow, evolving process rather than a list of projects that you should tackle all at once. First-time parents might be so swamped that they can only think about the next feeding and diaper change. Take your time and do only what feels comfortable for you and your family.
Katherine Mikkelson is an attorney turned writer in the Chicago area. She is the mother of two boys from Korea.