' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Who gains when first mothers fight over "correct" language?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Who gains when first mothers fight over "correct" language?

So...language continues as a divisive issue among those of us fighting for change in the adoption realm. Yesterday was my birthday and not only was I greeted with a zillion good wishes at Facebook, I also discovered that I was being trashed at someone's closed page for using "birth mother" interchangeably with "first mother." Sometimes I use "natural mother" and sometimes we simply use "mother" but that was not mentioned.

 I was also found to be despicable and damaging to the cause because I use "relinquish" (a legal term); "surrender," promoted by Concerned United Birthparents (!) and which also makes sense to me, as well as "gave up." For this I am accused of using "positive adoption language" as promoted by agencies who wish to whitewash the trauma to both a mother who GIVES UP her
child and to that child. So be it. I've also heard from critics who favor adoption per se think that First Mother Forum is, Oh dear, TOO STRIDENT and anti-adoption for their taste. So I can't win.

Perhaps those who are so upset with me and Claud of Musings of the Lame (who also uses the dreaded "birth mother" phrase) had a very different experience than Claud and I did when we lost our children. But we all lost our children, and throwing brickbats at one another instead of working together is counterproductive and diminishes our strength. There are numbers in unity; diviseness splits up apart and reduces our strength.

Today I am reprinting her the post that I wrote more than a year ago about language. It won't satisfy everybody but I am trying my best.--lorraine

Birth Mother? First Mother? Both names are belittling

By Lorraine Dusky  (c) 2011

Shortly after my daughter, Jane—whom I had given up for adoption but had reunited with a quarter of a century earlier—died my husband and a friend of ours were talking about the circumstances of her death at a cocktail party I had chosen not to attend.
If you are an adoptive parent reading this blog, do I have your attention yet? I’ve used words that adoptive parents recoil from: gave up, daughter without modifiers, and though you may be thinking, birth mother, I avoid the use of the term whenever possible. Women who relinquished their children are not having the same negative reaction to my choice of words.
To continue: both my husband and our friend simply spoke of my daughter as they talked. An adoptive mother walked up midway in the conversation. The second time she heard “her daughter,” the adoptive mother interjected, birth daughter. 
I have never been able to see this woman since and not be reminded of that incident; actually my reaction is much more visceral: I want to scream at her and pointedly ask about her “adopted daughter’s” migraines. 
To do so would be such a social faux pas—and it would hurt her to the quick. Yet she felt no compunction refining my friend’s language, and neither did another adoptive mother, and a friend, I thought, hold back when she interrupted me to insist that I not refer to my daughter’s adopters as her adoptive parents. “They are her parents,” she said willfully while I stood there, bewildered and diminished. Where is it writ, I wondered, that adoptive mothers and fathers are merely mothers and fathers, but we women who bore the children, who are, in fact, mothers, must always be reduced to someone with a modifier? 
The “preferred adoptive language” or "positive adoption language" that agencies and adoptive parents have promoted since the Seventies has made adopters—a term in common usage around the world--more comfortable with the situation of adoption, but this has been at the expense of the realities and feelings of the mothers who bore the children. The tough language of the past has been smoothed over to sooth the sensibilities of those who take the children, but in doing so increased the defensiveness and animosity towards those who raise them.
Lorraine and Jane, 1982
Once we were natural mothers, defining our role as conceived by nature; the term, to us, indicated exactly who we were and how we fit into the scheme of our children’s lives. It also signaled we were not raising the child, because mothers are mothers, no modifiers necessary. But as adoption became big business in the Sixties and Seventies, the clients—those who pay the fees, and thus the keep agencies in business— conveyed their discomfort at what the word, to them, implied: that they were the unnatural parents. So articles about “preferred adoption language” were written, charts of good and bad language drawn up and circulated, and the new, less harsh lingo was soon common currency among social workers, adoptive parents, and the media. But what was cleansed out of the equation was that every adoption begins with someone else’s catastrophe.
Along with the introduction of terms such as birth or biological mother were a whole passel of others: give up or surrender (which is how we mothers feel) was to be replaced by placed for adoption or the ever more noxious, make an adoption plan; mothers did not keep their children; they chose to parent them; mother and child reunions did not occur; they were meetings, or make contact. The rationale for that one goes into lala land, as it signifies that since mother and child never were never together, thus a reunion could not take place. Excuse me? After a squealing, live infant painfully emerges from one’s womb you two have definitely been together, and a meeting is absolutely a reunion. The concept of  make contact or a meeting also implies it is a one-time occurrence. 
The most toxic  “preferred” term of all is make an adoption plan. Is someone who falls off an ocean liner and then thrown a life saver “making a plan” as she swims to it? Or is she just doing what she must to save her life? If I can make an adoption plan, certainly I am able to rationally weighing various options, and have the resources to make an alternative plan. My social worker at the time of relinquishment may have been “making an adoption plan” but I was drowning in a sea of shame and societal mindset that all pointed one way: Give up your daughter. Give her a good life, better than anything you can provide. She needs two parents, not one. Et cetera. Indeed, I was giving up. For the vast majority of us most of us, even today, that is the reality of relinquishing a child to be someone else’s.  
This preferred adoption language calls we mothers up short and diminishes our connection to the children we bore; it is meant to lessen the calamity of losing our children due to circumstances typically beyond our control, such as youth and poverty, and turns a devastating experience into someone else’s “miracle of adoption,” a phrase commonly used on adoption websites. Our reaction is sometimes mere perplexity as we hear this language in common currency, on television, from acquaintances, not comprehending why the words make us uncomfortable. Yet we feel denigrated and react more negatively than we would if our true connection to the child, and the outright disaster that a surrender is, were acknowledged by everyone. And thus the divisions that separate us—mother/adoptee/adoptive mother—become intensified tenfold. As for calling this "positive adoption language," my question is: positive for whom? 
A particularly noxious practice is calling women who are considering relinquishing their children “birth mothers” well before a child is born. Designating her as such establishes a mindset—in the social worker, in the adoptive parents, and in the pregnant woman herself—that she is on a track to relinquishment of her child—and changing her mind, and keeping her child, then appears to be some sort of chicanery on her part. Until she signs the surrender papers, she is no more a “birth mother” than a person who wishes to adopt is an “adoptive parent” until someone brings a child home. Those designations need to come after, not before, any birth, or signing of the surrender papers.
But “birth” and “first” and “natural” are genteel compared to what we are sometimes called on various adoptive parent blogs. Bitch, reproductive agent, uterus of origin, womb, source material, egg layer, and egg donor are some that I’m aware of.  In a collection of essays titled Wanting a Child, writer Jill Bialosky could not bring herself to use any “mother” term at all, but called her son’s natural mother “the woman who labored him.”  She goes on to say that this woman is her definition of a Messiah. I would like to see her reaction if this Messiah ever came to talk to her and the son who was “born from other sperm and egg.”
4 Generations: My mother, Jane, Granddaughter Kim, and Lorraine
Does what we call the same thing make a difference in how we perceive it, in how we experience the world? Until very recently, thinkers assumed that the human experience was universal and language diversity could not modify that. However, research from a Stanford University psychologist demonstrates that language indeed does shape thought, so much so that the private mental lives of speakers of different languages may differ dramatically, even so far as to include basic sensory perception. While the work of Lera Boroditsky is with people who speak different languages, it is not a great leap to see how the words we use to describe the adoption experience shapes how people feel and think about it. Today the preferred language, or agency-speak, has been so thoroughly imbedded in English that the pain and suffering every adoption represents is all but obliterated in the public mind. Damn straight we’re pissed off about it. 
The use of birth mother became common in the Seventies, and was even promoted by women who lost children to adoption when Concerned United Birthparents was formed, but it is little different from biological mother and I have never felt comfortable with either term: “They call me ‘biological mother.’ I hate those words,” I wrote in the Seventies. “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.”
First mother? That too is stilted and unsatisfactory, and irritates adoptive mothers because it makes them second mothers. They are, in a sense, but they are also the fulltime mothers who pulled all-nighters when fevers were high and made countless PB&J sandwiches, and did the hard work of raising a child. After I found my daughter and developed a relationship with her other mother, that is what how I generally referred to her. Jane’s other mother.  In conversation with me, she referred to Jane as our daughter. Small concessions on each part led to a relaxing of barriers. Of course, she probably referred to me as Jane’s birth mother when I wasn’t there, just as I refer to her as my daughter’s adoptive mother. But not every situation is so personal and allows for the kind of leeway that Jane’s other mother and I enjoyed.
When I was deciding what to call my blog, I chose First Mother Forum because I liked the alliteration and thought that would make it easy to remember, and that became the URL (www.firstmotherforum.com);  however because birth mother is so inculcated into the language, I reluctantly added [Birth Mother]—now in parentheses—to the title so that people searching for the subject matter of the blog would be found by the greatest number of people. The numbers of visitors immediately shot up. Now I have to admit that in many circumstances, I do not flinch when I’m called a birth mother; first mother may be less offensive to some, but to me the degree is negligible, and should not be a dividing issue among us. 
Yet it is. The American Adoption Congress has a petition of “birth parents” in support of adoptees’ right to their original birth certificates, but many mothers will not add their names because of that distinction. This is sad. This is an intermural skirmish among us working for the same goal, but letting this fracture us as we try to change legislators minds and votes ultimately weakens us and drags down the movement. My hope that any parent—mother or father—involved in a relinquishment will sign the petition so that we can, together, be a greater force for change than we are if we are splintered into many factions. (See sidebar for link.) 
Some young mothers, largely evangelicals and Mormons, call themselves “proud birth mothers,” but that comes out of being so thoroughly inculcated into the ethos of their religion. We shall see how they feel in ten, twenty years, or when what they expected to be an open adoption slams shut, with no forwarding address.
Yet I am sadly aware that some natural mothers refuse contact when reached through intermediaries, or even by the adoptee herself. These women have been able to shunt their grief and turn away from their children's need for a complete identity. I don’t know what to say to these women. I can understand what they do--years of lying by the sin of omission and telling their spouses or other children is a difficult hurdle to overcome--but I do not think they understand the additional pain they inflict on their children. If they do, they are without mercy for others, they are simply cruel. 
At my daughter’s wake, it was clear that some members of Jane’s extended family were not happy with the studio portrait picture of Jane, my mother, Jane’s daughter and me that was on display, or even with the fact that I was there, and so were my husband and a nephew, a cousin of Jane's. So be it, I thought. I'm here. Jane's friends were all friendly, but there were lots of time during the long couple of hours when I sat with Tony, or my nephew. At some point, a woman approached me with a couple of other people and I sensed immediately she was friendly. “Are you Jane’s biological mother?” she asked expectantly. "I knew Jane from Toastmasters." 
You know, I liked her calling me that: biological mother. It was direct, honest and as accurate as natural mother. I liked that she didn’t know she should be using PC language--aka birth mother--that she was asking, Did Jane and I share DNA? Before I could answer, I saw that she was with a few other of Jane’s acquaintances from Toastmasters who were waiting for my response.
Yes, I said, wondering what would come next.  “She talked about you all the time,” the woman said, pleased to be telling me this. In that instant, I didn’t care how Jane referred to me with her friends.
Do not reproduce without permission but may be linked to freely and at will.


  1. As an Adoptive Mom I was indoctrinated into Positive Adoption Language from the beginning of the adoption process so that's pretty much what I fall back on. I don't mean it to offend anyone...it's just what I know. I try to curb my language based on whoever I'm speaking to but it gets confusing. I've come to conclude that it's just not possible to make everyone happy all the time! Lol.

    Maybe I'm a simpleton but I'm not particularly concerned about "Positive Adoption Language". I hear a lot of things...some well intentioned, some completely stupid. Lol. At this point I'm not offended. Most of the time I don't know the correct terminology MYSELF because no matter what words you choose, someone will think you got it wrong. Most of the people I discuss adoption with have no contact with the Wide World of Adoption. Many people ask about my daughter's mother. I know they are referring to her Biological Mother (or First Mother, or Birth Mother) and it doesn't bother me. Sometimes I'll refer to her as A's "mother" and THAT total freaks people out also! They say, "But YOU'RE her MOTHER!!!". Semantics. We're both her mother. Sometimes I say "gave up for adoption" which the general public seems shocked to hear. Sometimes I say "relinquished". They both mean the same thing.

    As long as people are talking about you (good or bad) at least you know they're listening! And that's what really matters!

  2. I don't like the term "Birthmother" because I think it denigrates the relationship a mother has with the child she not only created, but carried to term in order that he/she lives. I believe there is a natural bond existing between them that can never be severed. I prefer "Firstmother" or just "Mother." I don't know why we insist on having these silly battles. Adopted people have two mothers unless they were cloned...

  3. "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." --George S. Patton

    We're never going to agree on everything. We need to be as empathetic as possible toward one another. Try to see things from the other person's vantage point. That is the best we can do.

    I don't like the phrase "gave up." It reminds me of giving up something small for Lent. So, for me, it conjures up thoughts that my mother had a choice and chose to let me go. While relinquished is synonymous with "gave up," it has a different texture to it. Some don't like the way it feels. I prefer it. For me, the word is used more frequently when someone is forced to yield or pressured into something. But, truly, gave up and relinquished have very similar meanings. My life experiences adds layers of meaning to these words.

  4. I don't think anyone gains anything by the language that's used to describe them. I'm a first/birth whatever mother in reunion. My son refers to me as his mother, his birth mother, his first mother. This is new to both of us. Honestly I don't care what I'm called, I call him son and he's good with it. As long as we are talking and continuing this journey together the language doesn't matter. This is the reason I've really steered clear of any of the adoption/birth parent sites. You all come across as really angry, petty women. I think we all see ourselves in different ways. The way I prefer to see myself may not be the way you see yourself. So be it, continue your journey in the best way you know how.

  5. It is a waste of energy to fight amongst ourselves over terminology. Energy that would be better spent on adoption reform. But it can be hard though. Some words really do rankle. Like referring to us BSE adoptees, who are now in early middle age, as an "adopted child", or a term I personally dislike, adopters. I think the best option is to try to educate, but at the same time be open-minded about what the person is trying to say, rather than nitpicking over every word.

  6. As an adoptee, who has been reunited, but dose not have a relationship with my birthmother (her decision as she claims she is not capable of having one) I believe that it is my choice on what I decide to call the woman who gave birth to me, no one can tell me otherwise, no marketing companies no other women who have had children adopted from them through relinquishment or coersion, it is purely my choice. The difficulty lies in that all of us whose lives have been effected by adopted are told how to feel, how to act, how to accept our realities, I will not be told what term I am suppose to use to disignate my birth mother. All she did was give me life, at this point, she gave me nother else. Dose it really matter what term I give her to anyone else, it is my reality.

  7. It is counterproductive for mothers to battle each other over language, or anything else for that matter, when what we really need to agree on is that we share a traumatic experience, the public needs educating on it, and the closed (and even "open" as it is today) adoption system needs to be reformed. No wonder we can't get anywhere. We are not a united group and a reunited front is the only way things get done these days.

    I never knew the term "birthmother" until I reunited with my son, and that came from books I read on the topic and support groups that I went to.

    Yes, we are mothers. Sometimes the descriptors are necessary for people without experience in adoption to understand what we're talking about.

  8. Jo said: You all come across as really angry, petty women.

    That's a pretty blanket statement, Jo. Relinquishing a child is pretty darn traumatic for most of us, and is traumatic to the child who is relinquished also so remains a sensitive subject for us today.

    I don't feel angry at anyone but the legislators who won't change a law that dates from 1938 and was designed to keep you from knowing your son, and me from knowing my daughter. I was never angry with my daughter's adoptive parents. I was angry however that the law said I was NEVER supposed to know her. Which you and your son fortunately seemed to have found a way around.

    Who are you addressing your comment to? Me and Jane? Usually I am not called names by other birth/natural/first whatever mothers, but yesterday I was because I am not angry enough, and today because I angry and petty?

    Can't win, I guess.

  9. I remember way back when I was first getting to know my daughter.......she was 19 with two children and I was invited to attend her "wedding" along with my husband and children by her adopted mother. This was long before I knew about adoption language. I was introduced as her " birthmother" .......why did I feel shame at that title? I walked away from that day in tears , feeling like the fish in the glass bowl.......I didn't "relinquish" my daughter.....nor " give her away ".......she was taken......and yes Jo I am angry....I think I have reason to be angry....but I don't think the situation is petty if it defines me as a human being.....

  10. I have no energy for this ongoing battle. I prefer to spend my time elsewhere. Call me what you will. It is a reflection of you, not me. Bitter, petty, birth, barf, etc. While you fuss over the language I will work to help the vulnerable mothers at risk of becoming prey to the adoption machine.

  11. Lorraine, welcome to the world of being blamed and branded for one wrong word, not for the full message of your beliefs. That is always a shame when it happens to someone who has worked so hard for adoption reform. It has happened to me many times over the word "birthmother" even though I too will use natural mother,first mother, biological mother, or just "mother" where that is understood and not confusing. I also feel "gave up", "surrendered" and "relinquish" mean the same thing and use them all at times, with no fine-line distinctions. If others prefer one word or another that is fine, I am not about to correct or harass them.

    Quibbling over correct words does come across as petty and angry, no matter who does it, and is sure to derail real discussion into a nasty and petty squabble over whose words are more righteous.

    Nobody outside the small and contentious insider world of adoption cares about or even knows about either "positive" or "negative" adoption language. Insider language and trying to tell everyone which words to use when they mean no harm or insult is part of the reason our cause is not better understood or more popular. We need to get past the perceived offense at some words like "birthmother" and listen to the intent of the speaker and what they are really saying. Chances are they are actually on our side and not meaning to be insulting at all. It is counterproductive to judge and divide us by the words we use, not by what is in our hearts and minds,

  12. I won't be checking in often today so don't get upset if it takes a while for comments to go up.
    Twenty people for dinner tonight! Pretty busy around here, doing it all ourselves, hubby now cutting grass...etc.

  13. I don't relay like the term Birth mother" BTW, but when we do use it here, I insist that it be two words...and will until adoptivemother is written like that....Other mother is the best term, but of course I have had to be the birth mother on occasion. I just let it go and keep pushing for dropping it...I await the day when an adoptive parent can say about her child, "her mother" and I say the same about her. Adoptees have two mothers. The one who is there and the "other" one.

  14. Yay, Suz! Thanks for all you do.

  15. I draw the line at "tummy mummy" and. "our birthmother".

  16. Suz wrote:"While you fuss over the language I will work to help the vulnerable mothers at risk of becoming prey to the adoption machine."

    YAYYYYY Suz!! She's got the right idea, raising money for charities that help young moms. Please visit her blog for details and donate or buy something.

    Others with the right idea, those who are working for open records in NY and NJ and other states, who show up, who write and call legislators, who work together for change, not against each other.

  17. @anon 4:09 - I agree and also include the term "abandoners"

  18. They are all mom and dad to me. I use their given names on the end when more than one is around at the same time.

  19. While understanding the many "locations" in adoption recovery, we must also seek to educate others with respect to the power of the adoption industry, and the marketing techniques used to marginalize, coerce, and devalue mothers of which terminology is a part. It is putting on a blindfold to believe that "language doesn't matter". If language did not matter, the adoption industry would not have spent millions of dollars promoting "Positive Adoption Language" which states that "birthmother" is positive and "mother" and "natural mother" are negative language, and which states that "getting in touch with" is positive language and "reunion" is negative. We must understand that it IS important, and equally important to resist language being imposed upon us by the adoption industry which is used to marginalize mothers and render invisible the trauma of separation of mother and child. Valerie Andrews

  20. "I await the day when an adoptive parent can say about her child, "her mother" and I say the same about her."

    Amen to that. I think that day has already come in a few cases, but really it does need to be the way in all.
    Still, when discussing adoption with others it is sometimes necessary to distinguish, if only for the sake of clarity. Everyone has their own reason for liking or disliking certain adoption terms. They are entitled. I have my own preferences, but when I hear someone using one of my least liked terms, so long as they are not trying to be deliberately insulting, I usually let it go. There are so many insulting terms that are beyond the pale (such as "abandoners - I agree that's a doozie, Syria. And how about "breeder" or "birth slut" which I've seen), why focus of the small differences between people of mostly like mind?

  21. I am aware that the agenciers (new word) do not like "reunion," but if they ever think that is going to make that into language...they are sorely mistaken. I can see that repeated often enough it might let an adoptee think that while he or she may wish a relationship with his or her natural parents, "get in touch with" leads to thinking--well, it's just a one time thing. Ha! After our REUNION, I got "in touch with" my daughter hundreds of times. And she even lived with us for months at a time.

    I don't know about spending millions but adoption agenciers are sure trying to direct traffic with my words after I GAVE UP my baby and spent years of my life in deep grief and sorrow until we were REUNITED. As for closure, what in the hell are you talking about, Ms. Agency? I still gave her up and nothing could undo that.

    Language is important and we who want to reform need to hang unto the tough hard meanings and use them. However, while first mother is better than birth mother, natural mother is better than either one of them. But throwing nasty brickbats at each other over the use of this or that term is absurd.

    Consider this: If an African American told someone he didn't want to be called "colored" or "black," the person hearing that statement would probably acquiesce our of politeness. Yet a great many adoptive parents bristle when they hear "first mother." Natural mother may have been the best term of all for everyone to stick with, but boat has sailed. Natural mother doesn't make an adoptive mother, for god's sake, unnatural, it makes her an adoptive mother. Which she is.

  22. I am an adopted daughter.

    It bothers me when some First Parents refer to their child's adoptive parents "my son's adopters" or "my daughter's adopters." It mostly feels disrespectful to me.

    These first parents refuse to designate the people who raised their child as any kind of "parent." The designation "adopter" describes the legal actions of an individual and is void of relational designation. I certainly think of the people who raised me as much more than Adopters.

    First parents who cannot bring themselves to use the term "adoptive parents" should to be moving towards acceptance that adopted persons really really do have two sets of real parents. We have formed a complex web of enduring familial relationships with our adoptive families. This acceptance takes time, I realize.

    For first parents who substitute term "adopters" for "adoptive parents": Should I call you "the relinquisher" instead of natural mother/ first mother/ mother?

    Well, I wouldn't do that, I am just making a point. I think my natural mother would freak if my adoptive parents ever referred to her as, "my daughter's relinquisher."

  23. "It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to." W.C. Fields

    Those are my feelings exactly on this subject!

  24. I like the term "natural mother" too, but it might be useful to remember the history of the term in order to understand some of the prejudice against it.
    Old parish registers variously used the words "base born", "bastard" and "natural" to describe children born out of "wedlock".
    Despite "natural" being the more polite version, it didn't escape stigma because it effectively meant the same thing - illegitimate.
    The church itself has always been ambivalent about nature. Before the expulsion from Eden, nature was regarded as having been pure and uncorrupted.
    Nature after the fall was regarded with suspicion, as ungovernable, "red in tooth and claw". It represented base instincts calling out to be redeemed.
    Removing a child from its supposedly fallen "natural" mother was seen as a way of removing the historical taint of bastardy.

  25. Gosh, Anon at 9:07,
    your comment is so erudite I wish you had let us know who you are...? Maybe you will? One of our Canadian readers?

  26. Yes, to begin with I can write pretty well, but for some reason cannot speak coherently so I stay away from people most of the time. I scored 160 on an IQ test in high school once, so everyone expected great things from me.I'm a 1-trick-pony and I did have a beautiful baby, but was told I was not the best mother for him. WTF? is what I would say now. That is how I was introduced to the confusing world of being a "birthmother" Only someone who has lived it would understand. Over the weekend I went to a dance recital for one of my nieces. It was really good, but as I am getting older and cannot see too clearly, and all the girls were dressed in the same ballerina costumes with their hair up, sometimes I couldn't tell which was her from a distance. I asked my brother(her Dad) and sometimes he couldn't tell either, but when I asked my sister-in-law she always knew. That reminded me of when my son was born and they first wheeled him into me His eyes were open and I felt a magnetic pull, which is probably the way all mothers feel but don't even realize it because they're around their kids all the time Just my thoughts. I also found myself having frightening flashbacks almost to the point of hallucinating for about a day afterwards. The event was held in a high school auditorium in New Jersey. Being a "birthmother" or whatever really does a number on a human's brain.

  27. Adoptees sure do have the right to define their own reality but I'm still going to speak up when I see them calling us "bms". "BM" is "bowel movement." Doesn't the industry and society at large call us BMs too much already, in one way or another? You're at a computer and presumably know how to type. Make the extra effort.

    I don't like "abandoner" either unless you know for a fact you were found in a dumpster or in a toilet or on a doorstep or similar. And I hope that explanation is forthcoming.

    I absolutely refuse to call my son's grandmother his "mother." Our arrangement was supposed to be temporary and it turns out she was taking advantage of her son's failure so that she and my ex's stepfather could raise a child together. She lied to me, stole my son (had I had my wits about me, I'd have reported it as a kidnapping--it would have been spectacular, I'd have had to get the FBI involved), and then bullied me into signing away my rights. We all know possession of a child is nine-tenths of the law. If I could have afforded the interstate trip and the motel room and the lawyer, I wouldn't have sent my son away to begin with.

    I don't think of *any* adopter as a mother or a father of the child they adopted. I think we need words in the English language for "person not responsible for my existence who raised me throughout my childhood." Teachers spend time with our kids 8 hours a day. We don't call them parents. Lots of young children spend most of their waking hours in daycare. We don't call daycare workers our children's parents. Ditto for nannies who spend even more time with the kids. Having money and a good lawyer doesn't make you a parent. It makes you a childrearer. And yes, the giving-life thing kind of matters. There's no such thing as "they ONLY gave me life." If you think that's no small matter, stop breathing. It's just life, right?

    THAT SAID... I'll refer to an adoptee's adopters as their mom and dad (most of the time--I never will in my son's case and he will just have to deal, if it comes to that) if/when it's obvious that's how they want them labeled. Because I try to be a decent person. But I can *think* whatever I like, and I will NOT think of these people as parents. They are the most active agent in tearing families apart; if they weren't available to adopt these kids, society would have to change how it perceives people who breed in less than ideal circumstances. They create a market for all this heartbreak. I've no sympathy at all.

  28. This is a fabulous blog, Lorraine.

    Language, in our time has become a poisonous political thing, designed to pigeonhole absolutely everything. Throughout history language has distanced the educated from the rest of the pack. These days, on too many levels, it has become divisive. Particularly when something is as obvious as adoption.

    Ultimately, the one who carried the child to term is the mother. The one who cares for it is the adoptive mother. Pretty simple, I believe, and she knows it.

    I would even opt for the child, once they start talking about adoption, to call the adoptive parents by their proper names, if it so wishes. Sounds a bit radical, I know, but that would put everyone in their proper place. Above all, it would make it less confusing for the child.

    I'm taking note of all the terms you have identified. It's fascinating: a pigeonhole for everything. By the way, I am an adult adoptee.

    Thank you for a great blog...

  29. Rosie O'Donnell calls her children's mothers "Tummy lady". Sometimes language does matter.

  30. A very wise older woman said to me once when I was young - "You have to choose the hill you are prepared to die on." For me that hill is not this language debate. I understand why people feel the way they do but I think there are bigger issues. I find "positive adoption language" as defined by the adoption industry to be biased adoption language. But the good news is that our voices are being heard and someone feels they have to counteract them. That means we are making progress. Like the adoptee commenter above, I always thought of adopter as a pejorative term and didn't use but then an adoptive mother told me she didn't mind it at all.

  31. Dana,

    You have a right to believe and say whatever you wish. And, with your situation, I can certainly see why you would feel that way.

    I, however, am not going to dismiss the nurture role. (I certainly do not dismiss the nature role.) Yes, my elementary school teachers spent many hours with me each day. But, they didn't love me they way my adoptive parents loved me.

    I wasn't stolen from my parents. If fingers can be pointed in blame, then it's my maternal grandparents who chose to send me away. So, someone needed to take me.

    On the flip side of your argument, love is an action. While I will always consider her one of my mothers, she certainly doesn't act like it. What kind of mom chooses to ignore her daughter? My adoptive mother wouldn't do that to me.

    The words adoptees or mothers use may not fit your situation, but they may perfectly fit their own.

  32. As for adopter, I usually do not use it, but I understand that it is not so pejorative a term in other parts of the world.

  33. Reading the comments reminds me over and over of the time an adoptive parent, whom I considered to have very liberal ideas about adoption and her child's other mother, once "corrected" me when I used the phrase...when I gave Jane up. She said, It sounds like you are drowning. I looked at her, said nothing, but I wish I would have said: I was.

    I never saw this woman again. We had been friends of a sort.

  34. @ Catana Tully
    What if the woman who carries the child to term is a gestational surrogate? Is she still the mother?

  35. I have to chime in too.

    Mothers are entitled to refer to themselves however they wish be it, adoptive Mom, natural Mother, birth Mom, etc. It is astounding to me that so many of you bristle at being "categorized" but summarily assign titles and names to others.

    Please just admit that many commenters who frequent here do use the term "adopters" to diminish and demean the role of of adoptive parenting. And you know what? I get it, I do. In all the important ways the adoptive parents get all the "good stuff", all the glory so to speak. They also get the bad, mediocre, disappointing and all the other gray stuff in between!Such is the adventure of raising a child!

    I am saddened to hear that someone would liken a parenting role - ANY parenting role, to that of a day care worker or teacher. Teachers are paid, work their hours and return home. The same is true of Day Care workers. You cannot reduce the love and commitment of a parent & family to nothing more than punching a clock, cashing a check and seeing an obligation through. (no disrespect intended to teachers, many of whom are amazing!)What a sad and narrow view. If it does reflect your experience I have sympathy but no tolerance of arguments made to compare parenting to a salaried position for hire.

    I too am an adoptee and I too will choose to reference the people in my life however I see fit. I am grateful that my Mom always refered to my biological Mom (yes, that term is my choice and while I am sorry if that offends anyone, it frames my experience best) as my other Mother or by her first name. Back then the only terms bandied about were birth mothers, so "other Mother or other Mom" while not kosher now was decent and forward thinking at the time. She never denigraded my biological mother and always respected my familial ties to my first family. ( I am comfortable with that term as well.)

    I wish I could say the same thing about my biologica Mother who has caused me nothing but pain. She gave me life and biology and truthfully, nothing more.

    Additionally when I see commenters reduce adoptive parents to "adopters" or "kidnappers" I immediately disregard their words - any value in their thread is lost to me as I have no respect for name calling on either sides of the aisle. I also pay no attention to adoptive parents who diminish biological families. It goes both ways.

    My Mom was always just happy to be "Mom". Over the years I probably called her other things, used harsh words when I was hurt or angry. She was still Mom throughout; her devotion and love for me never waivered, just I knew it never would. I don't need to call her by her first name ( how cold for a tiny child to have to call their day to day Mom by their given name!!) or refer to her as my "adoptive" Mom anyplace other than on sites such as these. For me its clear and easy BUT not up for debate where my own use of speech is concerned.

    I'm all over the place on this comment but finally I would like to say that language does have power but only if you allow it to frame your own self worth.

    It also has power to frame societal views, especially of those not invested or knowledgable about a subject. We would all do well to speak carefully and clearly and remind ourselves that one person's "adopter", "kidnapper" ,
    "caretaker", "tummy Mommy", "breeder" "birth mom", etc. is someone's Mom.....plain and simple. Even for an adopted 'kid' like me.


  36. My SON can call me what ever he want ..Just call
    anyone else can say or argue what they what I don't care....

  37. Jade,

    I do not deny some--but not that many--use "adopter" here when writing about adoptive parents. I cringe sometimes when I see it because I know that it unnecessarily sets out a red flag, but unless the comment is otherwise offensive enough to deny it, we do publish it.

  38. When I was quite young I asked my father what his name was. I do not recall this happening but it was part of the family lore. After he told me his name was Harry, for reasons I do not recall, I started calling him Harry. He wasn't distant or anything like that; in fact, I adored him. My parents let it be, and in a couple of years I reverted to Daddy and Dad. My mother said it was embarrassing when we were in a supermarket and if we were separated, I would call out "Harry!"

  39. "What if the woman who carries the child to term is a gestational surrogate? Is she still the mother?"

    Legally that depends on jurisdiction, but hormonally, emotionally and socially, of course she is the mother.

  40. @Anonymous
    The gestational surrogate not a mother? What do you think the child she is carrying would say? Yes... All it knows is her body.

  41. @ Catana and Theodore

    I do think young children born to women who carry to term and raise them them see them as mothers, and I agree there is always a profound connection between gestational mother and child. But surrogacy is in many respects even more labyrinthian than adoption. Suppose the child knows or finds out later they aren't even genetically related to the woman who bore them.

    A question for you both. Do you think a qualifier is ever necessary to distinguish between surrogate mothers who bear children conceived from their own eggs and those who gestate embryos from people who are unrelated to them?

  42. "A question for you both. Do you think a qualifier is ever necessary to distinguish between surrogate mothers who bear children conceived from their own eggs and those who gestate embryos from people who are unrelated to them?"

    Yes, quite often, in the former case"mother" is enough. The latter may need the qualifier.



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