It's hard not to think about language when writing about adoption from our vantage point --because it feels as if we are assaulted constantly by admonitions to watch our tongue, in an effort to not offend someone, aka adoptive parents. I have a friend, an adoptive mother, who is offended when I refer to my daughter's adoptive parents as my daughter's adoptive parents. (Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, as long as the person gets the drift.) She has, on two occasions, corrected me, and on a third, my husband, because obviously, she finds it offensive to use the word "adoptive" before "parents" when referring to adoptive parents. I've said nothing, but internally seethe.
I don't refer to her child as her adopted child, or make the distinction (except with those in this inner circle of hell we inhabit) when I talk about her. But that's what is so infernally frustrating about life at our end: we are continually asked to be deferential, when as far as I can tell, adoptive parents feel no such compunction.
Shortly after my daughter committed suicide, my husband Tony was at a Christmas party (which I did not attend) and a close friend, who had known my daughter for over twenty years, was asking Tony about Jane, and me...and simply referred to "Lorraine's daughter." An adoptive mother whom I don't know well was in that circle of three, and the second time Genie referred to my "daughter" the adoptive mother corrected Genie and said, "birth daughter."
My husband was irritated, but of course, said nothing. Impolite to point out? Right. But I do feel like asking her one day, how her adopted daughter is.... Why do I think she won't be happy? Guess we won't be good friends any time soon.
While that was irritating, sometimes spontaneous language that isn't "correct" feels just right. At one point during my daughter's wake a woman approached me and asked: Are you Jane's biological mother? She said it without hostility or emphasis, and I answered in kind: Yes. She was with a small group of people who turned out to be Jane's friends from Toastmaster's, and they seemed all delighted to meet me. They woman told me that Jane had talked about me often, in obviously a good way, to judge from their enthusiasm at talking to me.
In that moment, being Jane's "biological" mother was just fine--in fact, it was better than having this woman know the proper language. On that occasion, I preferred "biological" to "birth." When you deconstruct the word, "birth" gives off the vibe of being there only for the birth; biological says it all, clinical and machinistic though it can sound in a different situation. It's all in the context.
I try not to be overly sensitive, but sometimes you just can't help feeling that people on the other side of the adoption equation need to get a grip on reality, and be more sensitive our our feelings. How hard would it have been for the two adoptive mothers quoted above to simply hold their tongues? They can refer for me as "birth" mother or !@#!!* mother not in my presence, but when my husband or I are there, please refrain from feeling you have to put me in my place. I--or my husband--are really not going to forget that--Oh yeah, that's the daughter I gave up for adoption.
But what all this fuss over language does is acknowledge the enormity of the bond between mother/parent and child. If that biological/genetic/blood bond meant nothing, there wouldn't be this tug-of-war over language. I'm willing to be sensitive to adoptive families' feelings, and certainly those of adopted people, and consciously try not to offend them, but it would be nice if the favor were returned once in a while.