But I am a mother.
That's a quote from my memoir, Birthmark that was used on the cover, back in 1979 when birth mother was not in vogue yet. Yes, it caused quite a stir then.
Language frames how we think. How the world thinks, reacts, responds to a thing, a person. It's why women object to the use of "his" when we actually mean "his" and "hers." In writing on other subjects, I will often substitute "she" for "he" or avoid using a masculine or feminine pronoun at all if possible. But that language frames how we think about someone, or something, is a given. We know this; adoptive parents know this, and that's why everyone is so sensitive about the the words we use to describe ourselves and our relationships.
There are times now, however, I don't mind being referred to as "biological mother" because it gets to the heart of the matter: it conveys conception, gestation, labor, birth, DNA, blood, lifelong connection, inheritance of traits, the whole nine yards.
At my daughter's wake last year--come to think of it, that would be a year yesterday--a woman with a group of four or five other people approached me and quite enthusiastically said: "You're Jane's biological mother, right?" She was smiling broadly, for she must have known the answer.
Yes, I said, nodding. As nearly everybody in the room at the funeral parlor were friends and relatives of Jane's adoptive family, it was clear this group were friends of Jane's, and Jane's alone. It was also a relief to be sought out. Who are these people? I was thinking.
"She used to talk about you all the time," the woman said. "We're from Toastmaster's." Jane had been a member of the local club, amazingly overcoming her fear of giving a speech. The people in this little crowd waited for me to say something. "Jane was so proud of you," someone else said.
"That's so nice to hear," I responded. They then introduced themselves--the group included the mayor of the town, Reedsburg, Wisconsin--and we chatted for a moment longer. I realized right then and there that I preferred the term biological to birth in this instance because it felt as if the woman was not thinking the PC way, she was not schooled by adoptive parents on how to refer to me, and biological suited me just fine. It meant, that woman you knew, who won trophies for her humorous speeches--yeah, she was my daughter. She got that touch with language from me, the writer, not her other parents.
But it did not all go so pleasant. My sweet nephew who flew up from Tampa was standing next to a group of people and they were looking over the photographs that had been set up. On a small table were a few framed pictures--including a studio shot I had taken of my mother, Jane, Kim and me...four generations. My nephew, Donald, overheard someone derisively ask--"What's this?"
He volunteered the information: That is my grandmother, that one is my Aunt Lorraine, that is my cousin Jane, and that is Kim, her daughter." Information given. They glared at him, harrumphed and moved away.
So today, birth, biological, natural, real...it's all the same. We wish we could eradicate the modifiers, but for clarity we can't. Yet I am more than a little pissed off when people insist upon modifiers when they are not necessary, to wit:
My husband and a good friend, Genie, were talking about the aftermath of my daughter's funeral at a New Year's Day party last year. (I was not present, as I was still bawling my eyes out.) As I had known my daughter for 27 years, as she had lived in Sag Harbor off and on for some years, Genie knew her quite well. Another woman--adoptive mother, poetaster--was standing there, and she didn't say anything the first time Genie referred to my "daughter," but the second time she couldn't hold back and she corrected her: birth daughter.
Screw her. Why is it necessary for this adoptive parent to go out of her way and insert the PC language and in doing so, diminish me? Because she felt threatened. Because she's a small-hearted person. Because her poetry is second-rate.
I've always avoided this woman since, but now she goes out of her way to track me down at parties and be friendly. For what purpose, I'd like to know? I'd still like to smack her. Or maybe just ask: How is your adopted daughter these days? I see that she doesn't visit often....
I'm sure that Jane's other mother referred to me as Jane's "birth mother" when I wasn't around, just as I referred to her as Jane's "adoptive mother," but when talking about our daughter, that's how she referred to her: our daughter. And that's what she was. Our daughter.
Below is one of several lists of "preferred" language, obviously written by adopters. Yes, I am using that word here because the list doesn't include a shred of sensitivity to our feelings...the ever gracious "life-givers." I don't know what my favorite is, perhaps that "is adopted" should be replaced by "was adopted." Hmmm...so that means that being adopted is a one-time deal and then after the decree is final you are not an adopted person, you are born to--tell me, exactly whom? The stork?
Incidentally, we use birth mother here as two words. It at least leaves the word "mother" alone. I don't think adoptiveparents want to be one word. Notice that while we could be listed below as "parent....birth parent," yet "adoptive parents" are always supposed to be "parents." Not in my book, kiddo.
PS: I'll be back on Saturday with a new post about a different subject. The joys of Christmas as a mother, perhaps.