Skip to Content

If you’re unfamiliar with adoption and you’re a woman with an unexpected pregnancy, the terms associated with this process can be confusing. To help you understand this world a little better, we’ve compiled a list of useful examples to start your research. Learn more about them here.

Get Started

How Can We Define Adoption?

Important Adoption Vocabulary to Remember

Learning about the terms associated with adoption can be a confusing and time-consuming process. To help you out, we’ve broken down some useful adoption definitions below and compiled a great list of important adoption definitions to know.

But, before diving into that, it’s important that we define one of the most important terms in this process: what it means to place a baby up for adoption, commonly referred to as “giving a baby up” for adoption.

How Do We Define “Giving a Baby Up” for Adoption?

As you learn more about the definition of adoption, a common term to pop up will be “giving a baby up” for adoption. It may surprise you to know that this term is not accurate at all — and is actually advised against by many adoption professionals.

Not only is “giving up a baby” an insensitive phrase, it’s also not the true definition of adoption. When a woman places her child for adoption it’s not because she is “giving up” or “giving away” her baby — but because she dreams of giving her child a better life than the one she may be able to provide.  Using the term “give up” implies that she has no regard for her child’s safety or well-being and is only considering adoption out of her own self-interest. Everyone in the adoption community knows this isn’t true.

Therefore, it’s inaccurate to define adoption as something that occurs when a woman “gives her baby up.” A prospective birth mother loves her child so much that she makes the most difficult choice of her life, and terms like “placing for adoption” describe this reality much more accurately.

While we can define “adoptive” in order to make a distinction between biological parents and adoptive parents in an adoption, the fact that a birth parent has placed their child with someone else doesn’t diminish the kind of love that he or she has for their birth child.

4 Other Important Adoption Definitions to Know

“Give up” isn’t the only adoption term to be aware of during this journey. Here are some additional terms that are used when we try to answer the question, “What is adoption?”


When we’re using this term, we’re referring to the action of welcoming a child into the custody of another family. The “adopting” definition can be many things but, in this process, we’ll use this legal definition to set a base understanding for the topics discussed below.


Like most definitions of adoption, the interpretation of this specific term is different for each person involved. To adoptive parents, adoption is a way for them to finally build the family they’ve always wanted. To a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy, adoption can be a fresh start, allowing her to pursue her own dreams and passions while giving her child the life she wants for him or her. And, for a child, adoption provides a safe and loving home with prepared parents and the knowledge of a caring and loving birth parent who put them there. They’ll be provided with more opportunities than their birth parent may have been able to provide, and at the same time, they may be able to get to know the people who selflessly placed them for adoption.


Technically, the “adoptive” definition is “be acquired or related by adoption.” In this way, the term “adoptive” is closely related to word “adopted,” but they aren’t interchangeable. Normally, “adoptive” is used to describe the parents who take custody of a birth parent’s child. An adoptive family can come in many shapes and sizes, but the term “adoptive” almost always refers to those who are in the process of adopting a child or have already welcomed a child into their arms.

While the term “adoptive parents” can help children understand the difference between their biological parents and their adoptive parents, it won’t be as relevant as they get older. So, when we define “adoptive,” this will mainly apply to couples interested in adopting a child before the adoption is finalized. After they adopt, they will just become those children’s parents — no qualifier needed.


We don’t have to try very hard to find the definition of adopted. If you or someone you know has been adopted, it means that they’ve been placed with their new family through the adoption process — whether by a prospective birth parent, through the foster care system or with another legal method.

But, just like trying to determine the meaning of adoption, trying to determine what “adopted” means is difficult. This is because each adopted child will have their own unique feelings about being adopted. Many children that have been adopted choose to celebrate their open adoption story with pride. In an open adoption, they stay in contact with their birth parents through phone calls, emails, and letters. However, there are children that haven’t had a chance to get to know their biological parents due to difficult circumstances, including closed adoption. This doesn’t mean that they won’t feel pride in being adopted, or that they don’t understand why they were placed for adoption, but they may have some negative feelings towards their situation.

Another way that we can think about the definition of “adopted” is through the lens of our extraordinary adoption community. Whether through foster care, domestic newborn adoption, or international adoption, it’s now easier than ever to meet other adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents. Being adopted means that a child will have a unique outlook on their experience and will always have adoption as a part of their identity.

It may seem easy to look for the definition of adoption in the dictionary, but the truth is, adoption is defined different by each person affected by it. It’s important to remember that, when it comes to adoption, each situation is unique.