Thursday, March 4, 2010

What to Call a First/Birth Mother in an Open Adoption

What should a child in an open adoption call his natural/birth/first mother?

It's a question posed by a prospective adoptive mother, who is considering adopting the child of a friend, with the intention that the child will be raised with full and complete knowledge of his biological mother, who apparently will not be a stranger in this home. The mother, Hayley, hopes that the child can be raised with the love and support of both families. Amen to that. But what to call the two different mommies?

"Birthmother" and "Firstmom" are demeaning, and obviously not what a little kid is going to learn to call someone. Likewise "Aunt" is demeaning and wrong; "Godmother" suggests someone else, and besides, is little Johnny supposed to say, "Godmother, I'm hungry" or "Take me to the park, Godmom!" or "Don't like white milk, Birthmom, want chocolate!" when the birth biological natural mother is visiting?

The question is, can two women share the moniker "Mother," or "Mom?" At first, I thought, maybe not, but then I wondered what children of two gay parents teach their child to call them? Since the argument has been successfully made that at least on a birth certificate, a child can have two parents of the same sex, I would imagine that "Dad" in the home works for both of the male parents, and "Mom" works for two lesbian mothers. Maybe one is called Daddy Bob and the other Daddy Joe? And when one is gone for an extended period, maybe the "Bob" or "Joe" is dropped?

So, Hayley, if you do adopt and are the child's primary care-giver, you will undoubtedly be Mom and Mama and Mother; how about MammaJo (or whatever the natural mother's name is) for the other mother? I have known one of my grandchildren (daughter of my daughter whom I surrendered to adoption) since she was born, and while I was Grandma when she stayed with us for extended periods during the summer, once she hit puberty she changed over to what her mother, my daughter usually called me, Lorraine. I admit I was hurt at first, but decided to live with it, though I always signed my emails "Gramma Lo," which the teenager she is converted to "Glo." And I decided I liked that. Glo. My step-grandchildren, who have a lot of grandmothers as they are happy to tell everyone, call me Gramma Rain. Works for me too.

While Jane called me Lorraine and referred to me as such to her friends and family, she would sign her notes and cards, "Your daughter, Jane." And some cards were addressed to me as her "Mother." It's only a name, it's only a word, but yes, it does mean a lot. I can only imagine that being willing to share the title of Mom or Momma-- with the child's natural mother would be noticed--and appreciated--by the adopted person, especially she grows older. And then she can make a choice on her own.

What about you, dear reader? What do you think the child's mother, who will apparently be a part of his life after adoption, should be called? Please give us your thoughts.--lorraine, aka Glo. Also Gramma Rain.
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(For more on questions posed by this thoughtful prospective adoptive mother, see: When Should You Tell a Child He's Adopted and We Want to Have a Family. Is Adoption Ever a Good Solution? )

22 comments :

  1. This is a very good question; that is if an open adoption is actually honored and the mother is indeed a part of her child's life.

    Not so in my case; as my son's adoptive parents cut me out of the picture before any of those uncomfortable questions came up...e.g, what to call that pesky lifegiver who gave birth to OUR son, that GOD intended for US.

    That being said, I will always be regulated (which was the intention all along) with the title of "birthmother".

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  2. Lorraine, your feedback on every point I've made has been given with such an open and loving heart. Thank you so much for your honesty and respectful responses. I've read in other places online where people are so embittered by their own experiences which colored their opinions that I felt that ap's were attacked and unwelcome. Here, however, it seems that everyone is interested most in the same thing I am...ultimately what is a positive solution for the upbringing of a child that, in THIS case, everyone already loves (although s/he is only several weeks into existence) and wants happiness for. (I was the first to know s/he'd been conceived only a few days after it happened and could be confirmed)

    Of all women in the world that I would want to share the title "mom" with, I can think of no one I'd be closer to than my friend. And, I think "MamaLo" would be great (my friend's name is similar to yours).

    I am far more confident now in approaching my very frightened and nervous friend. At least she'll have an option that would allow her to be a part of her child's life from the beginning without being fully responsible for 5 children all by herself. Perhaps she'll choose to parent this 5th one on her own, too. Perhaps not. But, at least she'll have an option that perhaps isn't AS difficult as surrendering her child to a stranger. I just didnt even want to say anything unless and until I had the feedback of someone from the adoption community who could enlighten me to some degree of the best possible scenario (2nd, of course, to the family remaining in tact).

    For me, I will be thrilled to be a part of this child's life regardless of what home s/he grows up in. I just didn't want my friend to feel like her choices were impossible. But, she still may.

    In any event, thank you, so very much, for your kindness and thoughtfulness in the answers to my questions.

    ~Hayley

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  3. I think the child should call both-- Mother.

    I'm like Vanessa. My sons adoptive parents also cut me out after promising me letters and pictures, and contact.

    Now that I have met my son, (22 years old) and even though his adoptive mother died 5 years ago, and he has no other mother, alive besides me... I have been told by my son and his adoptive dad, that I am ONLY a birth mother. My only contribution was the act of giving birth.
    My son said to me very recently, "A mother is someone who raises you. NOT that only gives birth to you."

    I don't know what to do with that.

    But I feel that adopters should be instructed that the child has TWO Mothers, and should call them both Mother.

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  4. oh the 10 million dollar question! :)
    well this is going to sound cliche Im sure but it is a very individual thing. We actully just asked my daughters mom from the begining, she did not like first mom, or natural or bio mom, she wanted to be refered to as birthmom, so thats what we do but we dont say oh your birthmom is here we just call her by her first name, I dont think I have ever used that term to refer to her to my daughter i dont like it myself, she knows she came out of Jen Jens tummy and she know she visits, she knows we love her, she knows we all play and read books and hang out when she is here, she asks when she comig back, and when she gets older I will let her call her what SHE wants to. now she is activily involved in our lives and will always be, I hope.

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  5. This seems like a question that can only be resolved individually by the families involved in open adoption. There is no one right answer.

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  6. The panic that sets over this is quite amazing. But won't the child be confused?? Nope. I wager that in households where open-adoption is actually lived (as opposed to given lip service to) children are able to call each "Mom" and everyone understands each other. Of course, having a slight phonetic distinction is helpful at first when the child is young.

    Even when you're not in an open adoption, children's parents should be called parents. There's no excuse for calling a mother auntie. That is confusing.

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  7. As an adult adoptee I think the most truthful and identity-honoring thing you can do for a young adoptee is to teach him/her the correct names for those in his/her life. If that means there are two "Mothers" than it should be honored. When they grow up they will thank you for being truthful and helping them avoid alot of identity confusion.
    I am reunited with my first family and have grown to call my adoptive Mother, my "Mom" and my first Mother, my Mother. I know that may be offense to some, but to me it rings true. My Mom raised me, and my Mother gave birth to me, even though I was separated from her for years, it has been a healing journey to be truthful with myself and my reality.

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  8. Karen Lehner DawberMarch 4, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    Since the beginning of my reunion with my first son Chris, now almost 5 yrs. ago, he has always called me just "mom" and also calles his adoptive mother just "mom". If both moms are together with him we get to figure out which one he's talking too! I always say mom Karen when I have to leave a phone message and sign mom Karen when I write even though it's apparent! ;-)

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  9. Both mothers should be called "mom." It's honest, it's truthful and it doesn't elevate one mother over the other as I feel other adoption labels purposefully attempt to do. While wanting to be important in a child's life, you have to make sure that labels you give their other family members are not oppressive, especially when it is another mother or female figure. Women endure enough oppression as it is.

    Hayley, I have encountered an astonishing amount of PAP amd AP blogs on the internet that have extremely insensitive and stereotypical things to say--yet, these common adoption cliches and stereotypes are often perfectly socially acceptable. They also often go undetected by people who they do not impact and cause confusion when adoptees become upset over statements or attitudes that others view as "not a big deal." Adult adoptees responding to oppressive language and attitudes in others does not mean that they are bitter or that they had "bad experiences" at all. We've spent our entire lives being told how to feel about being adopted by people who have never experienced being adopted themselves. If I can say one thing to help a PAP or AP see how their attitude or something they're saying might be burdensome to an adopted child, I do so. I'm often called "bitter" or my perception of adoption labeled "rare and isolated." These are not only common adoptee stereotypes but excuses for people not to listen to someone whose "been there" because it deviates from what society tells us about adoption. I'm not accusing you of not wanting to listen but I always encourage people to reserve the "bitterness" label when it comes to adopted people. Walking in the shoes of the adopted is not always an easy task. More often than not, we're told to "be quiet and be grateful" instead of being listened to. Here is a post that may help you: http://adopteerightsreform.blogspot.com/2010/02/where-are-all-happy-adoptees.html

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  11. I know it isn't the same situation, but similar. My older son is from my first marriage and now has a step-mom. Essentially he has two families and he calls both of us Mom.

    Yeah, sometimes it is confusing to others when we are together for a family function, but it is what works for him. I think that is the key factor.

    Sure, it sometimes stings to hear him refer to her as "Mom" but you know what - this isn't about me. This is about him and if that is what he needs to grow into a healthy, functioning adult then I will suck it up and deal with it.

    Plus, I think he and I have both learned a valuable lesson over the past 12 or so years. His love for me wasn't divided when he started calling his step-mother "Mom" - it was multiplied. His capacity to love others grew because I didn't set limits on his heart. I imagine it could be the same type of situation in an open adoption.

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  12. Women who give birth to children are mothers (noun) . Other than giving birth there are no other qualifiers and every living thing only one. It's the universal legal and cultural term no matter if the mother is deceased, missing, in jail or living in the next town. Even if her name is locked in a sealed records file…she is still listed as the mother. It is a position granted by the act and once performed is can not be, and should not be, undone.

    Sometimes I wonder if we should be asking not “what to call a mother in an open adoption" but asking what an adopted child should call the woman who “mothers” him? (verb). With mom, mama, mommy, ma, mum ...(and no shortage of words in other languages) there are enough variations of 'mother' to lovingly address the one doing the mothering. We need not elongate or exorcize the word mother from the person who is simply, the mother!

    With all the difficulties inherent with adoption, the name game should be removed from the mix. Defusing the emotion early on is the answer. The child has (or 'had' in the case of death) a mother and she absolutely should be referred to as such. The one who is ‘mothering’ should choose a variation for herself. Dealing with 'naming rights' in adoptive families may not be as easy-breezy as it is in fully intact bio families. That's reality. It's why adoption should not be undertaken by people who are intent in living in a fantasy world. Though similar in many ways, adoptive families are just not identical to bio families…..any more than a table is identical to a chair. Though they can each serve well in place of the other, tables and chairs ( of course) retain their own identifying names. Mothers should be afforded the same distinction without prefixes of this or that.

    I've always referred to myself as my son’s mother..in spite of the fact he was surrendered for adoption at birth. Since the day
    of our reunion in 1989, he has introduced me, and 'referred' to me as his Mother when I am with him....though, he mostly calls me ‘honey’. He calls Marge mom.

    The adoption industry must make room at the well for both of us. It will start with PAP's, like Hayley, who finally want to do what is right and best for the child.

    PS --speaking of names? if the child is given a name by the mother it should be retained as a part of the child legal name even if he is placed for adoption. Obliterating a child’s given (first)name should not be legal. If he wants to change it to raccoon when he's an adult, hey, it’s a free country.

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  13. I think both women should be called mom, or some form of it at least. If they're comfortable with adding some version of their name after to differentiate that's ok too. But really, what's the worst that could happen? There's a moment of confusion if both women are present in the same room? This can be clarified in seconds simply by seeing who the kiddo is looking at or simply asking, "Which mom, hon?" if you truly can't tell. My sons call the moms they lost "mom." I always know who they mean lol. I will say that the one who is still able to have contact with his mom calls me by name when he speaks TO her. Going a bit further, I have to say this used to hurt a little but I have never and will never put him in the middle. He rightly called me Becky for over a year (he was in foster care and I was NOT his mom). He's sensitive and used to call neither of us ANYTHING when we were all together after. He was afraid of hurting both of us. It hurt me to see him trying so hard in a situation he had no control of or choice in. Basically, I told him that just like I loved both of my sons (I had only the 2 older boys at the time) I knew he loved both of his moms. I added that since THAT was what mattered to me, I was fine with him calling me Becky in front of his mom. He still tries to go out of his way to either not call me anything or try to make sure I don't hear it but he's a lot more relaxed when we see her or he's on the phone with her.

    Improper~I agree in theory that it should be the adoptee's decision. That worked for me because my boys were older and capable of making that choice. In any adoption where the child is still in a nonverbal stage, how can he make that choice and then make it known? He has to be taught the words for people and things. After he gets older I agree he can be asked his opinion and that should be respected but he's already been influenced by the decision the adults in the situation have made. So those adults have to make the best decision they can on how to refer to each other imo.

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  14. I stumbled onto this site looking for something completely unrelated... but decided to share what our family has done. dh and I adopted a sibling group of 4 kids... from foster care... and we have an open adoption. The kids were very young when they came to live with us (newborn, 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5 years old.) The kids have always called me mom- probably due to other kids in the home that called me mom at the time- and they have always called her mom. I would never try to change that. She is their mother. I am their mother. It caused some slight confusion- but only with other adults. The kids know they have 2 mothers and that is not confusing to them. Recently our oldest (7 years old) started referring to us as mommy(firstname) when we are all together- or when speaking to one about the other. I may not have always felt this way, but I am now proud to share the title of mom.

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  15. As a "first mom" all I know is 2 things:

    1. A first mother should have input as to what she is called. I can remember an experience where I got yelled at by the adoptive parents of my son a my mother sent a gift & had incorrectly addressed it to the name I gave my son at birth. It was an HONEST mistake as the night before I was putting together a scrapbook with pictures of my son & the paperwork I was sent home with. The hospital had the name I had chosen for my son on all of the paperwork. The irony of the whole thing is that I am always referred to as my son's birthmother even when people in the room already know that. They NEVER refer to me as Erica. There is never any room for confusion as the same people have always been present when I use to visit. So I wonder why there ALWAYS has to be that distinction. These same people have been there WITH the adoptive family from the beginning of their adoption process. Most have even gone through it themselves. So it is disrespectful to me to say the least.

    2. I think my son should also, if not ultimately, be the one to decide what HE would like to call me. It is HIS comfort level that matters most IMO. The relationship between I & his parents is already established; we know where each of our roles are in relation to each other. Ultimately, my relationship with my son is NOT up to them; it is his choice. They most certainly have an influence over whether he will want to continue our relationship when he becomes of legal age. So why not let him decide what HE wants to call me. Again, I will say, adoption is SUPPOSE to be about the child, & not the adults involved. These children NEVER have a say in whether they want to be adopted or not, so why not give them a voice as soon as they start to inquire about adoption(as you said yourself Lo.)

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  16. As a "first mom" all I know is 2 things:

    1. A first mother should have input as to what she is called. I can remember an experience where I got yelled at by the adoptive parents of my son a my mother sent a gift & had incorrectly addressed it to the name I gave my son at birth. It was an HONEST mistake as the night before I was putting together a scrapbook with pictures of my son & the paperwork I was sent home with. The hospital had the name I had chosen for my son on all of the paperwork. The irony of the whole thing is that I am always referred to as my son's birthmother even when people in the room already know that. They NEVER refer to me as Erica. There is never any room for confusion as the same people have always been present when I use to visit. So I wonder why there ALWAYS has to be that distinction. These same people have been there WITH the adoptive family from the beginning of their adoption process. Most have even gone through it themselves. So it is disrespectful to me to say the least.

    2. I think my son should also, if not ultimately, be the one to decide what HE would like to call me. It is HIS comfort level that matters most IMO. The relationship between I & his parents is already established; we know where each of our roles are in relation to each other. Ultimately, my relationship with my son is NOT up to them; it is his choice. They most certainly have an influence over whether he will want to continue our relationship when he becomes of legal age. So why not let him decide what HE wants to call me. Again, I will say, adoption is SUPPOSE to be about the child, & not the adults involved. These children NEVER have a say in whether they want to be adopted or not, so why not give them a voice as soon as they start to inquire about adoption(as you said yourself Lo.)

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  17. I don't call my mother mum, nor do I call my father dad. We have special pet names for our parents that started when we were small. I rather not say what they are because but the one for my mother starts with M. and the one for my father starts with D. For us it's always been normal.

    Anyway you don't have to use Mum or Mama or Mummy or whatever, you can just have a special name for the natural mother that is a pet name that is only used by the child for her.

    I don't know if this helps or not.

    Not sure what other people in open adoptions do.

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  18. I also want to say that I am like Vanessa and Allison. My daughter's parents promised to write a letter once a year to tell me news about my daughter. They never kept that promise.

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  19. How about just by their first names? Isn't it something that can develop naturally and isn't it a bit premature to be organising all this at this early stage?
    I called both my mother's Mum but of course my biological mother was my only mother.Always was , always will be.

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  20. I'm thankful I came across this post and the comments b/c this is what we (DH and I as AP) and our son's biological (I mean absolutely no offense w/ that "term") are talking about...and none of us have thrown out any suggestions!!! We all know how we view each other and ourselves and want M (child) to view all of us, and that is that we are extended family. Families look different and in adoption that does mean that there are two sets of mothers and fathers, even if the roles are different. But I've been worrying about what to call bio parents and stumped b/c when I talk about them to M, I call them something different every time (just variations of mama and mom dadda and daddy etc w/ the first name following) and when I talk about myself and DH, I call us something different every time (variations of momma, mom, mommy, dad, papa, daddy w/o first name after)...so I think "this poor kid isn't gonna know who anyone is!!!" Any help w/ that? Does choosing ONE name matter? Blessings~ PS. If I didn't say so, M is 3 months. Thank you so much for sharing, everyone.

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  21. What is the proper way to refer to the two mothers of an adopted child. I need to put this information into a report and I want it to be respectful.
    So, something like (as in our state)
    Suzie's adoptive mother Joan, and her second mother Jackie. . . Or, Suzie's adoptive mother Joan, and her mother Jackie. . .
    Thank you

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  22. Victoria: You've got me stumped there. Although we are not in favor of anything that increases the market for more babies--which all gay adoptions do--so we are hardly in favor of the situation you are asking about. That aside, however, why not refer to each as simply "mother." However, if one is an adoptive mother, and the other is not--in that one of the women actually bore the child, and gave her egg to that child, she clearly is the mother; and I am then assuming that the other would have to "adopt" the child? If that is not the case, could you simply refer for the "other mother," without making that her official designation? Does that help? I'm listed, however, if you want to talk about this further.

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