Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Our Birthmother"

I've read many adoptive mothers refer to their child's biological mother as "our birthmother." Initially, it sounds so endearing. "Our" affectionately lays claim on a "mother" who will give "birth" or did give birth to a child who will be or is being raised in an adoptive family.

But there are issues with this term.

First, the idea of "our" is disturbing because it's claiming another human being as theirs. As if this woman intentionally got pregnant only to place her baby with an adoptive family---you know, like for fun. Yeah, right. "Our" also seems to impress upon hearers that the woman is solely existing for the purpose of birthing a baby which she might, intends to, or has placed with an adoptive family.

Second, "birthmother" is often used for a woman who is expecting a baby, not a woman who has placed a baby. A woman cannot and isn't a "birthmother" if and until she places that baby with an adoptive family. A match (meaning, if an expecting mother chooses a family prior to the birth of the child or even after the birth but the mom's parental rights are not terminated) doesn't equal a woman being birthmother.

"Birthmother." Really, it's two words, yet it's lumped into one. A slurred word that strips away the emphasis on mother.

Additionally, "birthmother" is a term that offends many women who have placed their babies for adoption for a few reasons. (These reasons I'm listing have been complied by me based on my discussions with women who have placed babies and from my own assumptions and understanding).

First, the term tries to encompass a very complicated, intricate situation into a single event: a birth. What about the months of pregnancy? The emotions? The choices? The bonding? The wondering? The years of loss, grief, and pain that will follow a placement?

Second, "birthmother" is the term many adoption agencies use, and that puts a bad taste in the mouths of many. Adoption agencies, most, exist as businesses, not ministries, and many women do not really understand this until they've worked with one, placed a baby through one, and then are left feeling empty, cheated, manipulated, lost, etc. So to be labeled as something that was driven and designated by an institution that partook in the adoption is offensive, hurtful, etc.

Third, there are better terms. Some women who have placed babies prefer: biological mother, natural mother, or first mother.

(I've had many discussions with adoptive moms and women who have placed babies about the terms listed. Each has her own reasons for using one term over another. At this time, I'm not sure which is "right" for my family, and you will often read that I do use "birth mother" in my posts. I do this mostly because it's a generally understandable term to the general public. However, I do not strongly disagree or agree with the other terms).

I recently read an adoptive mom's blog where she kept mentioning "our birthmother." Now, this "birthmother" hadn't given birth at the time of the blog entry (so yeah, she was really an "expecting mother"). Second, the woman didn't belong to the adoptive family, so the term "our" hardly seemed appropriate. And third, a match means nothing in adoption. Not really. It's a possibility (maybe an adoption will occur, maybe not)---but to claim "our birthmother" is rather presumptuous of the adoptive family. (I think that family needs a good talking to by the social worker!) I've said this before and stand by my claim---the baby doesn't belong to the adoptive family until all legal matters have been fulfilled.

Words are powerful. And no one likes to be labeled as something or someone they are not. So when adoptive families refer to their child's biological/natural/birth/first parent, the "our," in my opinion, should be left out, and the term, whatever it may be, should be chosen with love, caution, and consideration.


  1. Of course the terms "natural mother" or "natural father" suggests that somehow we, the adoptive mothers and fathers, are somehow "unnatural" mothers and fathers. So, I would never choose "natural" mother to refer to the woman who gave birth to our son. Plus, as our son gets older, I allow him to choose how to refer to the mother and father who gave him life.

  2. i think so much of this depends on the relationship you have with your child's birth family.

    i tend to ask them if things are offensive instead of assuming that they are or aren't.

    i have a DEAR friend that placed a baby for adoption. she was offended when people DID NOT call her a birth mother BEFORE she placed because she felt like that meant they didn't think that she would really do it and didn't want people to make those kinds of judgments on her. each birth mother or expectant parent considering adoption or whatever you want to call them is different. blanket comments like some of these aren't ALWAYS true.

    it would do us well to talk to our friends and family who have placed (and i do use "our" because they do BELONG to our family just as we BELONG to theirs) and ask them which terminology they are the most comfortable with.

    but that's just me.

  3. I am a birth mother and I have been one for almost 8 years! I don't mind being called that and it has really just been in the past couple months that I have heard any other reference towards birth moms. I think people are trying to read to much into it. We are birth moms in the end. I guess you wouldn't want to be called that if you didn't place. But if you did I don't see what the controversy is? As far as "our" goes. I LOVE IT! I am their birth mom, we are family :)

  4. We are in the middle of our second adoption, and I'm still learning how to talk about adoption accurately and sensitively. I sent an announcement saying, "The baby we are hoping to adopt was born on...". I feel good about that wording. Another time I (regrettably) referred to the baby as "our little guy", even though we do not have legal placement yet. We have physical placement, so he feels like our baby. He is already so dear to us. But we are not his legal parents yet.

    Adoption is such a unique process. Through our journey, I've noticed that friends try to relate these new experiences to them having biological children. They rejoice at milestones such as birth. When, in reality, our milestones are court hearings. And home studies.

  5. Thanks for talking about this. Enough said. :)


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