Birth children, linguistics, and making a point on the internet

4 Nov

By day, I’m a non-profit communicator.  I do a lot of editing.  And a lot of interpreting.   A lot of reading between the lines, imagining impact, embodying various audiences, and testing language with anyone who will listen.   Today, I sat at my desk with the wind stirring papers on my bulletin board because the air vents aren’t working properly and we had a nearby window open just a bit; I sat working to determine the connotations of things.  I’m not usually methodical about it, but this week, a colleague came to me with a letter that spoke about birth children.

My non-profit agency is focused on pregnancy, birth, and the early months of parenting.  We talk about birth as a transformative stage in a family’s life, a time when families are open to change, are in fact deliberate about change, when each person in the family – whether they’re aware of it or not – requires the support of family, friends, faith, both formal and informal systems.  My agency’s programs are not designed for middle-class white women.  They are not for me.  Not directly.

I don’t expect to see my family in our materials.  Ever.

So it was jarring for me to read the words “birth children.”  We talk about birth every day, and for a mom who never experienced childbirth, I know a lot more than I ever intended to know about breastfeeding and latching on and early nutrition, about dilation and epidurals and ridulously, impossibly, unnaturally, unnecessarily high c-section rates.  And yet now, here, with these two words, I feel as if I’m going to read in this letter something about my own life suddenly, about… adoption.

I mean, who besides someone in the adoption constellation would use this phrase?

I was overtaken by an immediate burst of love, affection and gratitude.  I read on.  And on.  And on.  I may have even turned the page over to stare at the white space on the other side.  Nowhere did the writer mention adoption.  I felt as if she’d gone back on her promise.  Isn’t adoption implicit in the phrase, “birth children”?

This wasn’t about my job anymore.  Now this was personal.  I was on a linguistic mission.  My writer-mind was engaged.  I got methodical.  I sat up straight.  I posted a couple photos to Facebook, and “liked” my colleague’s status update.

Then I looked up the phrase “birth children” on Google.  In case you’re new to my blog and don’t  know me in real life, I’m over forty.  Can you tell?  Digital natives – the younger generation – use Google as a verb.  If I was a digital native, I might have told you I Googled the phrase.  Do you see my point?  It’s okay if you don’t.  I should also tell you that “digital natives” is a phrase I heard last week for the first time over at the Community Media Workshop and even though I don’t think they coined it, I wanted  you to know that I didn’t coin it either, but I really like it and intend to use it as much as I can.

Anyway, I prefer to see it as research.  I’ll say… I conducted an internet search, and here’s what I found:

  • Natural childbirth videos
  • Tips for deciding whether older children should be present at a birth
  • Birth defects research

Nothing about adoption.  Could this juxtaposition of “birth children” to “adoption” be something I made up?  Do non-adoptive families actually use this terminology?  Whatever does it mean outside the context of adoption?  I continued to scan my results:

  • Birth month
  • Childbirth
  • Missing birthchildren (Aha!  Promising…)
  • Explain birth child (Is this like an Ask Jeeves site, I wondered?  Should I type in “what is a birth child?”  No. Turns out it’s full of advice on explaining birth to children – not explaining birth children.  Maybe I should have been relieved.)

I went to the second page of my search results – more of the same.  I tried the singular, “birth child.”  Same thing.

Finally, I got smart.  I’m a digital immigrant, remember.  “Internet” is not my first language.  I started to understand that “birth” and “child” take our society a lot of places (which may be another topic for another post another day, maybe even on another blog or a million other blogs), but “birth child” mashed together like that was still a reference to its counterpart, “adoptive child,” even if Google is the final word on all things and it hadn’t yet come up in my search.

Before you object to my terminology – for anyone who’s muddled through with me this far because you, too, want some kind of payoff at the end of the search and would love to see yourself or your family reflected in whatever I learned this week – I agree with you already!  It is NOT the child I want classified as “adoptive,” since it was never the kid’s choice to begin with.  I, too, prefer to say “adoptive parent,” but I also believe that “birth child” implies adoption — because of its implicit reference to “adoptive child.” Do you disagree?

I tried putting the phrase in quotes.  Here’s what I got then:

  • Your Birth Child Search (a paid ad)
  • Adoption After Infertility
  • Search Tips for Birthparents
  • Videos for “Birth Child”
  • Searching for Birth Relatives
  • Reconnecting with your Birth Child

Jackpot!  I was right, according to the Google King.

And so… what did I learn?  A few things, I think:

  • If I keep trying, I can find almost anything I want on the internet.
  • Every once in awhile, my need to be right becomes an angry beast with teeth and perseverance.
  • Work is life and life is work, even if it seems for years that life and work are separate.
  • The phrase “birth children” will lead to some kind of conversation about adoption … unless you’re using the phrase as a metaphor, which I believe was my colleague’s intent.
  • Every language can be learned. Eventually.
  • I have at least three readers who will make it to the end of this post, even if it’s not my best work – my dad, a friend who headed into the blogosphere around the same time as me, and the friend and colleague who handed me the letter.  It isn’t strictly accurate to say I know this for sure, but I’m confident it will be true!  And by the time you read these words, I may have the evidence to prove I’m right!  I do so like to be right.  Don’t we all?

We’ll see.

What linguistic rabbit holes have you gone down lately?


4 Responses to “Birth children, linguistics, and making a point on the internet”

  1. Cindy November 4, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    I loved this post – and I love that we don’t “google” things – we search for answers on the internet USING google – digital immigrant! love it!!

    also – the way you describe the work at our agency – capture it. it’s beautiful and moving – “talk about birth as a transformative stage in a family’s life, a time when families are open to change, are in fact deliberate about change, when each person in the family – whether they’re aware of it or not – requires the support of family, friends, faith, both formal and informal systems.” I’m using it in my next email –

    amazing! You have inspired me today…..

    • rrp69 November 4, 2011 at 11:19 am #

      Oooo yay! Plus, I got one out of three in my last “learning” just because you made it to the end. I’ll be right – I know it – by the end of the day!

  2. sbaileyop January 21, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    This is a very late comment on your post – sorry, I’ve been catching up on all kinds of things, here! Having two kids with the stomach flu allows one a few hours online…

    As one who’s always considered herself a grammarian, I really enjoyed and can appreciate your journey down the “linguistic rabbit hole” described above. (I always thought the term “grammarian” was funny, and back in high school, my best friend and I would joke that we were from Grammaria.)

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading this, and it reminded me that you were kind enough to explain to me the term “birth parent” (vs. -ugh- “real parent” – God, can’t believe I would use that term, and so glad that you educated me), way back when. It really made sense to me, and I appreciate your taking the time to explain that! We all need to be more careful about the words we use… even (or maybe especially) those of us who think we know what we’re doing, linguistically.

    I also liked the term “digital immigrant” and your refusal to use Google as a verb.

    You have such a great way with words. I’m glad you’re sticking with it. You’ve given me courage to get back to mine… I promise to keep you updated. –Steph B.

    • rrp69 January 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm #

      Yes, please do keep me updated – I would so love to read more from you. “Grammarian” is a new word for me – I like it 🙂

      I don’t remember the conversation you’re referencing, but I have always experienced you as kind, thoughtful, and respectful, so I can’t imagine it was much of a challenge. I appreciate knowing I had an impact. Honestly, I strive to be as open and caring as you are! You are a good influence on me ~ and I always love a good discusion on the power of words. One of my strongest desires in writing this blog, in fact, is to connect with other parents, writers, people who want to make a positive mark on the world ~ to support each other in remaining (becoming? striving to be?) mindful and open to learning. Thank you for letting me know something here strikes a chord.

      It’s good to hear from you. I hope the wee ones are recovering – and that you are keeping your health, as well. Take care.

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