I am a mother who gave up my daughter for adoption. I am a mother who relinquished my daughter for adoption. I am a mother who surrendered my daughter for adoption. I am a natural mother. I am a biological mother. I am a first mother. I am a birth mother. I am a mother who was reunited with her daughter after 15 helllish years apart. I am a mother whose daughter committed suicide. I suppose that means I should write: I was a mother. I am a grandmother now--two grandchildren, one who acknowledges me, one who apparently does not want to know me. I am still her grandmother.I am all these things, and I have millions of sisters. Together we should be able to change the world. But if the language we use must be rigidly pure before we can agree to work together to change the laws to protect more women from unscrupulous, biased laws designed to get babies away from their mothers (see previous post), we will never get anywhere. We will continue to fight over matters that do not forward our cause. We will accomplish nothing.
I do not like the appellation "birth mother" any more than those of you who have written that in the comments, including the one from Anonymous who was very very angry and seems to be reacting to something else she read, and accused us of "hurting and conspiring against other hurting, vulnerable birthmothers [one word]" as well as ignoring others with "OPINIONS and feelings other than YOUR OWN..." Obviously she has issues with First Mother Forum.
Remember the word "queer," as in "he's a queer?" And then the gays co-opted the word themselves, and we had Queer Nation and the like, and you know what, queer lost its power to hurt. Likewise, bastard has been claimed by many adopted people--see Daily Bastardette--and that slur too has lost its sting among adoptees, some of whom which only to be called "adopted individuals" or "adopted people."
It is not quite the same with birth mother, or birthmother, but deciding not to work against archaic laws over this issue is counterproductive. We need to unite, not fracture our numbers into separate subgroups fighting with each other. A few years ago, adoptee and author Betty Jean Lifton was disinvited from one of Joe Soll's conferences because she would use the term "birth mother" in her presentation, and it generated a ton--a ton--of quite heated commentary at Daily Bastardette when our bastardette friend wrote about it.
I get it about the language. I hated the Dear Birthmother card I got from Jane one Mother's day--when it surfaces in my top desk drawer it still makes me queasy, even though the sentiment expressed inside is--hell, the truth is, I hate the damn card. But I did not send it back. I did not tell her that I flinched when I opened the envelope. In fact, my emotions were mixed because I was pleased she had remembered me that year in Mother's Day greetings, and often she had not. Sometime later, however, I found the courage to mention that I liked another card better. I did not make a big deal over it, but she got the point.
At my daughter's funeral, friends of hers approached me and one woman asked me if I were Jane's "biological mother." The question was asked without malice, in a friendly upbeat manner and I happily said yes, actually pleased that she did not use the agency-approved and schooled adoptese, birth mother. When I said yes, she immediately told me, "Jane talked about you all the time." Now, am I going to get offended by the woman's casual use of "biological?" I did not.
But I will always bristle in the presence of the woman who corrected a friend a few days after we got back from my daughter's funeral when my friend used the word "daughter" without modifiers. I was not at this event, my friend Genie, who had known my daughter, was speaking to my husband, and this other woman, yes, an adoptive mother, was standing there. After the second time Genie referred to "Lorraine's daughter," this woman could not hold back. "Birth daughter," she corrected Genie. My husband said he said nothing, and simply went on talking. Screw that, I thought to myself when I heard about the exchange. But I have to see this woman because she is part of a large circle of friends, and I do not say to her: "So how is your ADOPTED daughter? Still having migraines?" (She does.) I bite my tongue, ask nothing, know we will never be more than acquaintances.
When I wrote Birthmark back in the dark ages of reform of the late Seventies, I had this to say, and the words are on the jacket:
They call me "biological mother."I never say, I am a birth mother if I am speaking to someone and about to spill the beans, I always say: I gave my daughter up for adoption. Yet I do not feel that I am debasing myself by using birth mother in writing here because, whether we like it or not, that term has become part of the accepted nomenclature. We can try to change the accepted usage, but it is going to be an uphill battle, given that many adoptive parents can not manage to refer to us with "mother" in ten feet of their mouths.
I hate those words. They make me sound like a baby machine, a conduit, without emotions.
They tell me to forget and go out and make a new life.
I had a baby and I gave her away.
BUT I AM A MOTHER.
Some call us "birth canals," (on RainbowKids.com) or "woman who labored my son," (see Wanting A Child) or "reproductive agent." Those are not quite worth discussing. They are what they are. They are said in fear of our bond with our children. They are said in an attempt to diminish what they know they cannot. When someone called me a "reproductive agent," I felt that she was repeating what she heard from another of her friends, an adoptive grandmother and her husband...the very same one who told me, "You are our greatest nightmare." By comparison, birth mother sounds almost angelic.
As I have said before, I put "birth mother" there at the top of the blog because that is how more people come to read what we have to say here. Adoptive parents do not google "women who gave their children up for adoption forum" to find out what we are thinking, how we are feeling. Nor do most mothers who are gingerly, perhaps secretively, looking for the support and community they need. They do not know that "birth mother" is verboten, that "first mother" is preferable but still highly suspect. Rightly or wrongly, they know "birth mother." They google "birth mother forums," and sometimes they find us.
And I am glad.
One mother can do much, but a huge sisterhood of us can change the world. No matter what we are called. --lorraine