' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: 'Preferred' adoption language is bunk

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

'Preferred' adoption language is bunk

I remember the exact moment someone I was friendly with corrected my language. She was an adoptive mother who knew my daughter Jane, and she was someone who early on found her daughter's natural mother at the daughter's request--the girl was 12 at the time--when the adoption had been closed. We'd met professionally and had become friends.We'd often had lunch, either alone or with our husbands.

Nothing in the way either of us spoke about adoption had ever been a sticking point. One afternoon I casually said something about "giving up" my daughter. For the first time ever, my friend decided to "correct" my language. Giving up sounds like you are drowning or something, she said. You made an adoption plan, she said. I
stared at her, at a loss for words, grasping in that instant that her previously clear vocabulary had been corrupted by adoption agency gobbledyspeak. I was stunned by her "correction" and my brain wasn't operating quickly enough to counteract then. I said nothing, the conversation shifted, we moved on, I left. Other things got in the way, but that was the turning point in our friendship. We've not met since.

The controversy over language regarding adoption just won't quit.

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 realistic language of the past has been smoothed over to sooth the sensibilities of those who take the children--not make them--and in doing so, has made giving up a child, or surrendering a child, seem like a much more clean, thoughtful, swell decision for mother.

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 the normal, average mother is a mother, period, no qualifiers necessary.

But as adoption became big business in the Sixties and Seventies, the clients—those who pay the fees, and thus the keep the industry humming— 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 (several available on the web), and the new, less harsh lingo was soon common currency among social workers, adoptive parents, and sometimes the media--especially if the reporter or broadcaster was an adoptive parent.

What was cleansed out of the shift in language 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. An individual was adopted, as if it were a one time act, rather than is adopted, as in,  for a lifetime, which of course adoption is. 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 after nine months you two have definitely been together, and a meeting is absolutely a reunion. The concept of make contact or a meeting also implies reunion is a one-time occurrence. I'm just skimming the surface here of the preferred adoption-speak typical at many if not most agencies.

The most toxic  “preferred” term of all is "make an adoption plan" instead of "giving up your baby." 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, without stopping to plan--do I swim this way or that? Should I do it or just paddle water while the boat goes father away? If I can make an adoption plan, certainly I am able to rationally, unemotionally weigh 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 to forces greater than I could withstand, and in doing so I was giving up my baby. I was bowing to the inevitable. I was a chaff of wheat in a field blown down by the wind of the times.

For the vast majority of us most of us--even today--that is the reality of relinquishing a child to be someone else’ son or daughter. This preferred adoption language diminishes a natural mother's 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 (and slink deeper into the closet) 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? Certainly not for the mothers who lose their children.

A particularly evil practice is calling women who are considering relinquishing their children “birth mothers,” well before a child is born. Live among those who adopt, and you hear them refer to "our birth mother" long before any baby is born. Designating her as such establishes a mindset—in the social worker, in the adoptive parents, and, most harmfully, in the pregnant woman herself—that she is on a track to relinquishment of her child. Thus changing her mind, and keeping her child, will appears to be some sort of chicanery on the part of "their birth mother." 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 a child is brought home. Those designations need to come after, not before, birth, or the singing of the surrender documents.

But “birth” and “first” and “natural” are genteel compared to what we are sometimes called on various adoptive parent blogs when they think we are not reading--and sometimes they don't care if we do. Bitch, reproductive agent, uterus of originwomb, source material, egg layer, and egg donor are some that I’ve seen. Someone once yelled at me that I was "No more than a reproductive agent." I've been told that I shouldn't refer to my daughter's adoptive parents as her "adoptive parents." I am only supposed to refer to her "parents" even though the adoptive mother I was talking to knew full well that I was the mother of the daughter in question. What am I, chopped liver? Oh yes, I am only a birth mother. How silly of me to presume otherwise. Why don't I get with the agency-approved program?

In a collection of essays titled Wanting a Child, essayist 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,” which sounds a bit like she sent her child out to work at too young an age. Bialosky 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.” See, there are many ways to get around her even using to her what was a noxious term for her son's mother. Biological mother. Real. Mother. In one sense of the word.

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 by a Stanford University psychologist is demonstrating that indeed language shapes 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 embedded in English that the pain and suffering every adoption represents is all but lost in the public mind. Damn straight we’re pissed off.

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.”

How about first mother? That too is stilted and unsatisfactory, and irritates adoptive mothers because they say, it makes them second mothers. They do come into the child's life second, but they are also the fulltime mothers who pulled all-nighters when fevers were high, made countless PB&J sandwiches, and did the hard work of raising a child. However, if we choose to call ourselves first mothers, one would think that considerate people would go along with that. Mostly polite people change with the times. As the N-word became so incredibly offensive, good people cleansed it from their language to the degree that anyone who uses it today do so at his peril. Comedians have been ruined; politicians have been first embarrassed and then destroyed if the word leaks from their lips. But we natural mothers find it is difficult to raise our hands and say--stop calling me anything but who I am: a natural mother. A mother by nature, by biology.

As for the despicable policy of referring to us as BMs, which unfortunately has become common in adoptive parent blogs and Facebook, what really needs to be said? Yet some people have become so inured to using the same shorthand for natural mothers as a turd, they see nothing wrong with it. What's worse, when told it is offensive, often get angrily defensive and refuse to stop using in while a natural mother is obviously reading the post. Perhaps we ought to ask the users of BM in their posts why they are suddenly infusing their bodily functions into the conversation.

When I was deciding what to call the blog, I chose First Mother Forum because I liked thealliteration 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. Newbies looking for adoption information don't search for "first mothers." That will take time, and we're doing the best we can to push that into the language. When I added birth mother to the logo, the numbers of visitors immediately shot up.

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, not your birth daughter, a phrase I find particularly offensive. 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 referred 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.

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 that it can be.

I try to use natural mother in any conversation, especially when talking to social workers, lawyers or adoption support groups where birth mother is the linga franca; I know they note the term I am not using. I did not use birth mother in Hole In My Heart except when quoting others, and explained the language choice of  "mother" in a forward, stating that, in the end, both natural and adoptive mothers are real mothers. Different, but real. In the end, I did not use either adoptive or natural before mother if the meaning was clear from the context.

Some young mothers, evangelicals and Mormons particularly, call themselves “proud birth mothers,” but that comes out of being so thoroughly inculcated into the ethos of their religion where single mothers are seen as pariahs and giving up a child can seem like God's will. Less so than in the past, but still more so than most others. 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.

Four Generations: My mother, Jane, her daughter and me
Many of you know my daughter committed suicide in 2007, a statistical dot among the many adoptees to do so. At her wake, it was clear that some members of Jane’s extended family were not happy with the studio portrait of her with my family--my mother, me and her daughter--that was on display. Let me note here I did not bring it but some member of Jane's other family, or perhaps her husband, did. My husband and I attended, along with one of my brothers (the other was sick, or he would have been there) as well as a nephew, a cousin of Jane's. So be it, I thought. I'm here. With my family, Jane's other family. I'm not hearing about her death after the fact. I had talked to Jane a couple of days earlier, over a troubled weekend.

Jane's friends and immediate family were all friendly, but there were lots of times during the long four hours when I sat alone with Tony, or my nephew or my brother. At some point when I was alone, a woman approached me with a couple of other people. I sensed immediately she was friendly. “Are you Jane’s biological mother?” she asked expectantly. "I knew Jane from Toastmasters." Jane had been a member for a few years, even won a trophy for one of her humorous speeches.

You know, I liked that woman calling me: 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, she offered that the other people--including the town's mayor, had known Jane from Toastmasters. All 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.--lorraine

Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
"Dusky writes the truth, but with a gentle poetic quality which makes those truths easy to understand and accept. HOLE IN MY HEART is beautiful, powerful, and painful. But most of all it is the truth." --Nancy Verrier, adoptive mother, psychologist, author of The Primal Wound and Coming Home to Self 
"Dusky's compelling memoir is a tough reminder of the shame of being an 'unwed mother' in the sixties, as we both were. With lyrical prose and unwavering commitment she advocates eloquently for adoption law reform." --Justice Faith Ireland, Washington State Supreme Court, (Ret.)


Searching ...
by Carol Schaefer
"Yes, you could read this book without reading Carol Schaefer's 'The Other Mother,' but you would not fully understand the issues of all involved with this adoption. Reunion, like all adoption, is a life long process and I am thankful Carol was courageous about continuing to write the story of her family's journey."--Marilyn Waugh, former president of the American Adoption Congress

by Adele
Why? Because I love Adele myself, and she's recently had a child. My granddaughter gave me this album for Christmas, among other things. 

Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists
by Janine Myung Ja  (Author), Vance Twins (Compiler), Michael Allen Potter  (Editor), Allen Vance(Editor)
"Highly recommended for libraries in areas where adoptions are common; highly recommended for universities where students are researching both the long-term effects of being given up for adoption, and growing up adopted. I cannot praise this book enough."--from lorraine's review. 


  1. I am my son's mother. Another woman raised him "as if" she were his mother but she was not. Everytime she looked into my son's beautiful brown eyes she had to be reminded he could never be her son. Nature trumps nurture

    1. Still, without nurture, nature would not get very far. In my experience, anyway. Nature v. nurture is a romantic idea, but I think what's most important is what builds a person's character as they develop and grow. Thankfully, neither of my children inherited my and their father's character and personality defects, and indeed they are largely unaware of the existence of these defects. For this I'm grateful.

  2. You bet it's bunk. It's carefully crafted, manipulative, and based on the same kind of intention as advertising slogans - to persuade and convince. At its core, it reflects the principle that the more you repeat something, the more it gets out into the public domain and eventually can become the norm. Notice how every pregnant woman in a vulnerable situation is now called a "birthmother"? The word was originally invented to describe women who had surrendered children for adoption- and now it has expanded to women who might become a "birthmother", whether or not the woman herself is even considering surrender. Consider the "dear birthmother" letters - a perversion of manipulation. Every time a vulnerable mother hears herself addressed as a "birthmother" she internalizes the expectation of those in power that she will be surrendering. She is manipulated into taking on the "birthmother" identity, and before she knows it, she's a "birthmother" "making an adoption plan", and her child is sold into adoption. I also loathe the whole "triad" or "triangle" language. It's a lie, a mythology. A triangle is equilateral, and believe me, as an adoptee I can tell you I had no equal standing with my adoptive parents. No natural mother of my acquaintance has ever said she believed she had equal standing with the adopters. The whole concept leaves out the puppet master behind the language - the adoption industry. Really, that's the only entity that "prefers" this language and finds it "positive".

  3. I am a mother of an adult child who was taken by forced adoption (in Australia). I am her mother, have been her mother her whole life, and am her mother now. She has no problem stating that to whoever wants to hear...she will tell you she played the role of someone else's child. This does not discount her other mother, it just states her truth...and demonstrates her capacity for love and loyalty.

  4. You're a genius, Lorraine! I think you have come up with new identifiers that truly relate the loss and win scenario of every adoption: "Maker mother" and "taker mother." No question there who the title is referring to. Now, if we can only get people to stop referring to us by the abbreviation 'BM' which is immediately synonymous to me with 'bowel movement.' I have left and been booted from so many search-and-support groups because I (always politely) ask people to please be sensitive of the demeaning, insulting connotation of the abbreviation. Is it petty of me to protest being called a POS? Sometimes I can barely get through a post by an adoptee plaintively seeking my help in finding her BM.

  5. Pris--Why don't you politely write back and ask if why she is asking about her bowel movement?

  6. I do. That's why I've been booted from several groups. Others, like ALMA just remove my posts.

    1. This is what happens when you go after people about their words, but not their intent. You do not get booted from lists for asking "politely" but because of being snarky and intentionally insulting. Clearly the woman who abbreviated birth mother to BM in the context of asking for search help did not mean "bowel movement" and to ask if that is what she meant would only escalate the fight and not contribute to any communication between that adoptee and Pris who sounds like she may be a search angel since people ask her for search help. Would someone who used the abbreviation "FM' for first mother be assumed to be talking about a radio station and taken to task for that?

      If someone is actually calling you a POS, there are good anglo-saxon words for that which do not need to be interpreted. You may not like the abbreviation "BM" but you are the one with the scatological interpretation, not the person innocently using the abbreviation. You need to decide if you actually want to communicate or if you just want a fight.

    2. Maryanne, unless you have been on the Facebook sites and seen how angrily people respond when you ask them not to use BM, you don't have any idea of how Pris or anyone asks not to be called what is commonly known as a Bowel Movement. If you don't want to be abbreviated to a turd--because that is what it reminds you of--shouldn't that be enough?

      By your reckoning, it would be okay for people to continue to use the N-word as long as they said it in a friendly fashion, no offense meant.

  7. Wonderful article. My case is not like that of most mothers I've read about - I've read "Hole in my Heart" and many other books. I was in the sixth grade and the victim of predation when my child was taken from me and raised with another family in our Irish Catholic community. I have an MRI of my brain and there is severe damage to my left temporal lobe. What I remember is - I was devastated, physically weak, alternately laughing and crying uncontrollably, and then suddenly, unaware of my baby of anything surrounding it. I started to suspect that a childhood "kidney" infection was a baby because of body memories I experienced during what was certainly a stroke on an airplane when I was 48 years old. Ten years later, after treatment for post concussion syndrome following an auto accident, I remembered all of it and continue to remember. I reached out directly to my child as soon as I remembered and since have reached out again through an intermediary and heard that their family will think about it. What happened to me back in the 1960's and 1970's and then carried forth in my life is that I was characterized as a "slut" who didn't care about her own flesh and blood. Males from my child's family surrounded me at different times in my life to let me know what they thought of me and because of physical damage to my brain, I never knew who they were. One man told me once that his sibling - my child - considers his mother to be "the hole he came through." This occurred when I was working. I tried to just continue to do my job amidst what seemed like a weird situation. I didn't know. Now I do.

    The system of taking infants from mothers either through not-supporting the mothers and coercing relinquishment depends on obfuscating verbiage to survive. The system seeks to disempower mothers by coercing mothers to characterize themselves as non-victims. I was a victim - 100%...still am. In my case, this system stole my entire life because I was so young and of course, the system will say that because I was so young, I could not have raised the child on my own. True. But if so-called moral religious people told the truth about what happened in their midst, I could have helped raise my child in my family's home just like I helped care for my younger sister and soon after my child was taken, kids I babysat for in the neighborhood.
    We mothers are forced to surrender out children to a system that makes it look like WE decided. I suppose that my parents did what they thought was best for me at the time. In terms of choice issues, President Obama has said a girl shouldn't be punished with a child because of one mistake. I was a rape victim who dissociated during the attack and during my initial and blurry seeming shock over hearing that I was going to have a baby without a husband, I thought I was a miracle girl. The fact that I have survived and am writing this proves I WAS and AM a miracle girl. I've alienated a lot of people around me with my discussion of my own issues. The fact is - I am a mother who was emotionally and physically abused and cut out of my own family...MY own family. I am friends with a woman who gave up a child because of how her very religious family might feel about it - both of us are highly educated and both of us claim that family is the most important thing to us. Neither of us has our "own" families. I plan to continue to address this issue when it arises in my presence and the more I do it, the stronger I feel to do it.

    1. DM,You must have been 12 or 13 years old in 6th grade! what an awful nightmare, and how badly everyone in your family handled it. You are a brave woman to have survived all this, I feel for you and your terrible trauma of rape and forced surrender and brain damage. Take care and continue to recover and speak.

    2. I am so sorry your family turned their back on you and your child, DM. Families can be unbearably cruel, and blood relationships are not always what they are cracked up to be. Some families, especially the kind you describe as "so-called moral and religious" and who can't or won't face up to what happened in their midst, are more concerned about reputation and "good name" than the welfare of individual members.

    3. Clearly, DM, you are a strong survivor of relinquishment and should see yourself as that: strong, confident, with something important to say. We salute you!

  8. "In that instant, I didn’t care how Jane referred to me with her friends.--lorraine" I'm a birthmother. I do not care how the "adoption industry" refers to me. I know who I am. It's enough. I am enough.

    1. I do not care how anyone refers to me, I too know who I am, Mike's mother, whether called birthmother, first mother, natural mother, biological mother etc. There are no words that can alter that reality. He also had an adoptive mother,so he did have two mothers once, but she is dead, so I am the one mother now.

      I think it incredibly rude to correct anyone else's language and the lady who told Lorraine that she should say "made an adoption plan" was way out of line. Lorraine knows what she did and should be able to state that in way that is right for her without justifying her own words to anyone.

      I also think it rude to correct anyone's language from the other side when the person speaking is well-intentioned and means no insult or harm by saying "birthmother" or "biological mother". The words do not matter as much as the intent and spirit in which they are spoken, in my opinion.

  9. Pris--I added a graf about the despicable BM usage in the post.

    1. Thank you! After people told me just last week to "get over it" "everyone knows it is short for birthmother," "no offense intended," and "you're just too sensitive," I saw a meme on Facebook that read "Why should I be less sensitive? Why can't you be more sensitive?" and thought it fit perfectly.

    2. Hey! Everyone else seems to be getting a 'safe space' due to their various sensitivities. Why not birthmothers?

      With the social climate being geared towards the sensitivity of *everyone and their brother* these days, I'd say the time is right to strike for our sensitivity.


    3. I think we have to keep speaking up. Politely as long as possible.

      Apparently Quentin Taratino's new movie uses the N-Word something like 65 times. It was after the Civil War when feelings were high. But still, even some linguists are saying that it was unlikely it was used that frequently all the time. It took a sometimes violent and huge movement to get people to really clean up their language.

  10. I don't remember how I ended up here several years ago (but am awfully glad I did!) Anyway, when I came here I had never heard the term "first mother" but when I did I thought..."well yeah, that's what natural moms are". Didn't offend me in the slightest. Which is why I decided on the "nom de plume" that I use here.

    WHY are adoptive parents SO SO insecure????

    As always,
    One of your biggest fans

    1. Second Mom, I wish they weren't. It seems to be part and parcel of the adoption experience. It doesn't seem realistic, but it is there anyway. I can't tell the whole story right now (too long), but the adoptive mother of my two boys was VERY insecure, and they saw her behavior as immature and manipulative. I think she was just very scared of losing their love and their hearts. As a result, they never bonded with her. I just found this out after 35 years, when my younger son contacted me over a year ago. Their adoptive father was secure, and they had a great relationship with him. Sadly, he died, and they chose not to continue any relationship with their adoptive mother. It's very sad, I think. For everybody. I know she loved them, but was rejected in the end (many, many years ago).

    2. new and old - I agree. Insecurity DOES seem to be part and parcel of the adoption experience. And as your son's adoptive mother found out, it can backfire.

      I remember a few years ago when our son was five or so he came back from a visit with his grandparents and said he wished he could live with them "all the time". I said "Heck yeah I felt like that about my grandparents too!" And I laughed and he smiled.

      Probably a silly example, but he seemed relieved that he could say that and not only was I not upset about it, I could identify with how he felt.

      If we squeeze so tight that they feel they cannot love ALL their family then we surely run the risk of losing them eventually. I'm sorry your sons had to deal with that kind of love...

    3. Second Mom--How did the visit with the grandparents go--the after Christmas one/ Please tell us it actually happened.

    4. The grandparents got him on December 29th and he came home on January 2nd. He had a wonderful time and thoroughly cleaned up in the gift department...lol! He also saw his great-grandparents but no one took pictures (!)

      I only heard from him once so that told me he was having a great time. (I don't call him anymore while he's gone, it feels intrusive.) And thankfully he DID get to see his brother and sister after all. His aunt texted me a picture of the three of them out having pizza with her.

      I'm not going to approach grandma. Everything went so well that I figure I should leave well enough alone. He normally goes for Spring Break so that he can celebrate his birthday early with all the family so I'm praying that doesn't get changed. But will cross that bridge when we come to it.

      All's well that ends well - right? :)

      (Thanks for asking!)

    5. Second Mom: Maybe it isn't insincerity of the amom, maybe it's this: " I did all of the hard work of raising the child, I put my dreams/life on hold to do so, and I'm not the mom but a "second" mom? I could see some getting upset, not being insecure. They ( the aparents) did do all of the work, and continue to do so if they're still alive, because parenting ends when the parents dies not when the child turns 18.

    6. Amina:m
      Was your post directed at me, not Second Mom?) It sounds like it? I understand what you are saying and agree. Further, I think he entire situation is a set-up for insecurity. It's very sad as the afather wasn't insecure, and my sons had a great relationship with him. The kids were instructed, though, not to mention the adoption in their amother's presence, as it would upset her. So they all lived with a big and hurtful elephant in the room, while the kids grew up, which I think is really sad.

      I was never there for the good times or the bad times, at any point of their childhood. She certainly was, and my understanding is that both the amother and afather were kind and generous to the kids, lots of toys, bikes, vacations, cousins to play with, younger siblings that were adopted into the family, and they had a great childhood, as far as that goes.

      I feel so sorry for their amother and believe me, I have thought about calling or writing to her - perhaps it would help her to hear from me. But I don't dare, as my kids lost all respect for her and haven't spoken to her for over 20 years or more. She had an affair while her husband was terminally ill, and married the other man very soon after their afather died, and moved him in right away. They saw this as an unforgivable betrayal. I agree and understand - yet being an older person, this is something we hear about time and time again, and I feel sorry for her, she must have been under unimaginable pressure and sorrow, and perhaps, broke under the strain. But she loved my children and raised them to be good men, as did their afather. 35 years later, I can see that. I think of their amother often, though.

      As we beome old, we hear more about, and begin to have compassion for, shades of gray in people. I must clarify though, and make it clear that I don't know the entire situation. I hope that my younger son can talk to me about it in the future, when we know each other better and it isn't as painful to discuss. So many things are painful to discuss.

    7. Second Mom, that makes me very happy. You never know what people are thinking, and sometimes they will surprise you (in good ways as well as bad)! Sometimes it's best to keep quiet and just see how it goes (I know, easy to say.) I'm sorry it was a flaky scene with Grandma for awhile, and so glad that she came through.

    8. Amina, Parenting is hard work! But instead of focusing on the hardships of parenting focus on the joys; babies first smile, babies first words, being their for all of their discoveries and accomplishments, teaching & molding their future. Most First moms would love to be in your shoes and didn't get that opportunity. The good parts & the hard parts are all a part of being a parent. Whatever hardship befell the first mother that she didn't get to do those things for her child, it was certainly your gain. I don't believe anyone wants to swoop in & take over as parent, but not to acknowledge or respect the Adopted child's blood ties to their first parents says they you don't believe that the procreation of that child is important. Without blood ties first, you wouldn't have that child, & it certainly would have been your loss.

    9. Amina - it IS insecurity plain and simple. And I don't think new and old (or myself) meant it as an insult and I hope you didn't take it as one. We were simply stating an unfortunate fact. Not for all adoptive parents obviously, but far too many (just in my personal experience) as well as reading stories on this blog alone. Humans are fraught with insecurities. I think we're all built that way to some degree. What we were trying to say though is that more adoptive parents should not let their insecurities overshadow their parent/child relationship...

      Being a second mom is not my title obviously so I'm not sure what you meant by people calling an adoptive mother that. It's merely descriptive at least for purposes such as I use it here. My son doesn't refer to me that way and neither does his natural mother. We refer to each other as "my son's mom".

      I hope I'm reading too much into what you wrote but you speak of "doing all the hard work" like we (adoptive parents) should get an award or be put up on a pedestal. We CHOSE to do that "hard work". And as Sandy said so well, "the good parts and the hard parts are all a part of being a parent."

      I don't expect my adopted son to hold me in any higher esteem than the two children I gave birth to. Hopefully all three will think their father and I did the best we could - even if they end up in therapy...lol...

    10. Thank you new and old! It made me very happy too! And if they could only see how lighthearted he is when he comes home from seeing them, they would never postpone or delay a visit again. He is truly a different kiddo for quite a while after being with them. :)

    11. Amina, what I was trying to say (and not too well), is that what my son's amother (affair and lack of mourning her dead husband) did was very bad, my kids were so disgusted and broke it off with her. It's understandable, from their point of view. (And my perspective is different.)

      There might have been a chance that they could reconcile with her at some point, or at least the passing of years might have made some difference in a softening of their attitude. But since they never bonded with her (due to her insecurity), their relationship was not able to stand any serious test. What she did is not unique, it has been known to happen in birth families also. Sadly she wasn't able to build up any emotional capital with my sons. Their afather on the other hand, was very secure and even offered to help them find their birth parents when they were older, if that's what they wanted. But their amother put in the same hours, blood sweat and tears in raising them, as did their afather.

      It's a life lesson, if any aparents are out there reading - don't let fear be your driving emotion. There's very little chance your adopted child will desert you for their idealized birth parent, which is an illusion, after all. Maybe their birthparents will turn out to be nice people of good character, or maybe not. All you can do is try your best to be open and honest with your adopted children - there's no other option really - and they will have confidence in you (just my opinion, based on the above.)

      And Amina, I agree with what you said - parenting is lifelong, not just until the kids become adults, and it's a two-way street.

      Please know I appreciate the comments you have made, and hope to hear more from you on FMF.

    12. Ladies, this is Amina: I appreciate your replies I was just trying to see it from a different POV. Second mom: yes, doing the "hard work" is what the aparents signed-up for and willing do it until they die. My point is I could see how a woman/man would be insulted not insecure. It's the perceived lack of acknowledgement they aren't the child's physical, social-emotional parents. I have read on some form (not here) where some bparents have stated that they are the "real" parents and the aparents are "caretakers!" Which, I found not only false, but can imagine very hurtful to hear as parents that did the "hard" work of parenting a child-and still parent even if the child is now an adult. I get some of these bparents are resentful/regretful of what they did ( these are today's bmoms I am speaking of), and lash out against adoption and aparents. But, I wonder if this is why some of their open adoptions have been closed? Would you still have contact ( visits) with someone who is constantly criticizing the way you parent, wants to have a say on parenting decisions, or who insist on addressing themselves as "mommy/other parent" while you're doing all of the hard work?

    13. New & Old: I agree what the amom did was wrong, and I don't blame the children for being mad at her. I wish you the best between you and your children.

    14. Amina, just as another perspective, I'm an AP, and I don't call my daughter's birth mom "birth mom" but rather her "other mom." And by other, I would view myself as the "other mom" if she were talking about me.

      Parents need to get over any insecurities they may project on their children, and that's just part of striving to be a good parent. APs need to get over any hangups they may have about the fact that their child has another, and first, family. It's not about the APs feelings, quite frankly. It's about the adopted child. They are the ones who get to go through life dealing with decisions they had no say in, so I really have little patience for APs who can't find it in themselves to work through their own feelings so it doesn't impact the child. My daughter might want a really close relationship with her other parents someday. She may want to spend lots of time with them. Vacation with them. Invite them to all her special events. Have them walk her down the aisle. Call them mom and dad. I don't know. Who knows? They are her parents, and she will have her own feelings. She's her own person. I can't imagine burdening her with having to constantly worry about my husband's and my feelings when she has so much to process and deal with and handle. I, as an adult and one of two moms who loves her, will deal with it in a way that allows her to be free to live her life in the way that brings her peace and happiness.

      And also, open adoptions should only ever close because of a concern for the well-being of a child that is on the same level as denying a parent in a custody case visitations rights- in other words, a pretty big and serious issue. Otherwise, if there are problems, the APs should get a counselor involved to help everyone work through the issues without keeping a child from their natural parents. It really burns my toast when APs close adoptions just because it got a little hard.

    15. Either adoptive moms or birth moms asserting that they are the only "real" mother and devaluing the other mother's worth and contribution to their mutual child is not helping matters for anyone. It does happen from both sides, as Amina has seen. Even here some have stated that everyone only gets one mother, the biological one, and she is the only real mother. I know that is not the belief of Lorraine or Jane, but statements like that are all over the internet, and probably do contribute to some open adoptions closing. We also see adoptive mothers going to ridiculous lengths to demean and dismiss natural mothers as of any importance at all to the adoptee, equally selfish and wrong.
      Adoptees have two mothers who are each real in their own way, but fill different roles. To assert that either is not a mother or is less a mother just causes problems for all.

    16. Tiffany: Again, I don't think its insecurities, I think that as parents, adoptive parents want to be seen just as "parents/mom & dad," which they are. And Maryanne, you're right one of the reason why OA's close is because "I" think some Bmoms haven't come to the understanding they are no longer the parenting mother. Meaning, addressing themselves as mommy or wanting to have a say in parenting decisions- OA isn't like that. And then, there are some amoms that do have insecurities and cannot/do not want to "share" the child with other woman. It's unfortunate but true, because women are very territorial about their children.

    17. Tiffany: Sorry about the typo, I meant: "And then, there are some amoms that do have insecurities and do not want to "share" the child with another woman."

    18. Hi Amina - sorry for the late reply. Haven't been online much lately.

      To answer your question from a few comments up, yes I would most certainly still have a relationship with my son's first mom even if we had differences. I would discuss the differences and find some sort of solution. Even if we had to "agree to disagree" on some facet of parenting. I agree with Tiffany. The only reason an open adoption should close is if the well being of a child is in jeopardy. (For me that would mean if drugs or criminal behavior were involved.)

      Simply disagreeing over parenting styles or what the child calls his first mom or dad is no reason whatsoever to close the relationship.

      I've seen the same comments that you mentioned about "real parents" and "caretakers". For me personally, I try to understand where the person is coming from. For example if I see that the person saying it is an adoptee who had lousy adoptive parents, I can understand their viewpoint and I don't take it personally. Not that it didn't sting at first, but as with any other topic, once you come to an understanding about why the person feels the way they do, it's easier to accept what they're saying. Hope that makes sense. :)

  11. So much of the current adoption terminology I see on social media makes me cringe. Terms like "forever family" which should really read "substitute family" or the phrase "born in my heart", which must be so confusing and scary to a child. This language may make the adults in the adoption world feel better about themselves and what they are doing but it is all just so damaging and toxic to the children who are born into this.
    The reality is this "feel good" language is being used to persuade mothers to give up their babies so that other people can have them as their own. They work very hard to convince these mothers they are doing the best for their child by giving them away to another family. They tell them how courageous and brave they are to make an "adoption plan" which only means give me your child so we can "build our family" and we will give you updates of all the fabulous things we are doing with your child like taking them to Disney World. Too bad that child will never understand why their mother was not allowed to go on that Disney vacation with them. That was never part of the "forever family" plan.
    Dishonest terminology is not in the best interest of the child or the mother or the adoptive parents. Adoption is complicated, it's emotional, it's painful and these facts have to be acknowledged. Adoption has had a fairy tale story attached to it way too long, it is time to be honest about the reality of it.

    1. "Forever family" may be in response to foster care placements, but...those "forever families" can be broken up by a judge's decree. So much for "forever family." The only true forever family is one that nothing can break. We may end up not speaking to other family members, but we can't erase the blood ties.

    2. My "forever family" wasn't, since my adoptive father re-homed me when his wife died. It was done against my express wishes, but no one cared what I thought or wanted. The abusers I ended up with hated me (the feeling was mutual) and I was miserable/suicidal the entire time I was forced to live with them.

      Re-homing isn't uncommon, especially for older children or those who've been adopted from abroad -- and in too many cases there's minimal oversight from the courts and children's services organizations.

      As long as adoptive parents can give away children they tire of or "can't handle," then the term "forever family" is simply a lie.

  12. Adoption language was invented for adopters and baby sellers. It has as usual NOTHING to do with we adoptees. I have always called my real mother my real mother. Because that what she is. Maybe I should call her my only mother because human beings and all other life forms only get one of those per lifetime. Period. Other adult woman in a child's life can be a caregiver but never a mom (even though because they spend money on us, women who adopt us demand they be considered our mothers, which of course reflects how selfish they really are).

  13. When you are dealing with a sensitive topic such as adoption it's almost impossible to get the terminology correct for each person. What's offensive for one person isn't offensive to another. Context is important but I think the best thing we can do is ask each person how they prefer to be referenced. Making the effort can mean a lot to the other person to show them that you care and are trying to be respectful.

    1. What you say is true but there are many ways in when someone is not directly referred to...such as trying to wipe "reunion" out of the lexicon so that it loses the meaning of a mother and child coming back together.

    2. I have not been aware of anyone objecting to the term "reunion". Where is that happening? How stupid! No matter what you call it, mothers and adoptees are finding each other and getting together whether others like it or not.

    3. Not being Black, it is not my place to say when it is ok to use the N. word, and I don't use it, but I have heard Black people use it ironically among themselves. Did you see the recent movie about the 80s rap group NWA? That stands for N.....s With Attitude, and they sold a lot of records in their day and have been commemorated with a popular movie last year. My kids had their album back in the day and they are anything but racist.

      Correcting other people's use of words makes them defensive and escalates a fight, especially if they meant no insult and were trying to address another subject like getting search help. The internet is full of things abbreviated to initials. It can certainly be annoying, but it is not always the perceived insult that some make it. I am not on Facebook partly for reasons of attitudes like this. Again, I am sure that anyone who wanted to call someone a turd would come right out and say it, no need to resort to initials.

      Just a thought, which statement is more insulting?:

      "I hate natural mothers, they are all skanky sluts" or
      "Please help me find my BM,I'm eager to meet her."

    4. Here's a link to a chart dated 1989 setting forth "positive" terms side by side with "negative" words. "Reunion" is in the negative column with "making contact with" in the positive column. http://www.adoptlink.com/language.htm

      I've seen this chart on other sites. It's used widely by the adoption industry to train the media to use its preferred terms.

  14. The message put out by the adoption industry is propaganda, pure and simple. Phrases like "make an adoption plan, "our birthmother," and "grew not under my heart but in it" are like knives in the guts of natural mothers. I use "natural mother" to describe myself, and my son, who uses the common lingo, refers to me as his birthmother. I don't care; I understand what's meant by all the terms used to describe me. What troubles me is the nearly universal assumption that adoption is a positive and beautiful thing, when the reality is far different. We desperately need to change the public assumptions about adoption and be more realistic about its difficulties and complications. Most folks mean no harm when they take the positive attitude put out by the adoption industry; they just need to be educated. This will take time, as all significant social change does, but the whole truth needs to be known. If we had legal guardianship instead of adoption, the relationship between the "parent" and child would be clearer. A piece of paper doesn't turn a woman into a mother in the same way a marriage license turns a woman into a wife. We need to be clear about exactly what is what.

    1. Pam: you're right a piece of paper doesn't make you a mother: actively raising, loving and nurturing the child makes one a mother/parent. Anyone can make a child ( unless infertile) but not everyone can/wants to lovingly raise a child.

    2. Amina, I actively raised, loved and nurtured my neice. That doesn't make me her mother.

  15. I never bought that politically "correct" language. I'm an a.mom and I never would use that term "adoption plan." I wince when I hear it.

  16. Great post, Lorraine. PAL is bunk, no matter how you look at it.

  17. In a letter in the Oregonian Monday, January 4 Erik Bergman criticizes the Oregonian article I was featured about Oregon opening up court records because the reporter used the term "give up their babies." Bergman who is an adoptive father and board president of an adoption agency claimed "give up" is a negative term and "the adoption community" uses "place a baby."

    Here's my response which the Oregonian is publishing Friday, January 8.

    Adoptive father and adoption agency board president Erik Bergman criticizes the use of the phrase "gave up" a baby that appears in a feature article on opening adoption records. Bergman claims that "the adoption community no longer uses the negative term 'gave up' a baby" and that the preferred term is "placed" a baby.

    While "gave up" is not an accepted part of the adoption industry lexicon, it is commonly used by natural mothers who do not see it as a negative term but as a term which accurately reflects their feelings. The term "placed a baby" suggests, as Bergman says, "an act of love by a woman who cannot parent." This may give comfort to adoptive parents and practitioners, but it disguises what can be an act of desperation or ignorance. Mothers often lose their children because they are unaware of resources which can help them keep their babies; the research of child welfare experts, which finds that children are best off when raised in their biological families, if possible; and the lifelong pain they will endure.

    In truth, mothers give up.


    1. Great letter, Jane, and let us all be glad they published it. From his letter, we gained an opportunity to educate him as well as the public!

  18. When I was leaving the adoption agency after signing the consent giving up my daughter, the SW asked "how do you feel?". I answered "terrible." She said with faux brightness, "You're making a plan for your baby." I looked her in the eye and said with my last burst of pride "I'm not; you are."

    1. Whatever happened to "surrender"?

    2. Surrender and relinquish are descriptive as well, reflecting the powerlessness of mothers.

      These words are used in adoption law. In agency adoptions, mothers surrender their child to a licensed adoption agency for placement with an adoptive family. In private (attorney orchestrated adoptions) mothers relinquish their child to xyz, the adoptive parents.

    3. Great response Jane, to a dumb question from the social worker.

    4. My mother always said "surrender" was very accurate in describing her situation. She surrendered to her mother, her boyfriend, and ultimately, the agency.

  19. By the way, in my writings and conversation, I use "gave up" and "lost" and "relinquished" (which I think I use the most frequently) and "surrendered" all of which are appropriate.

    1. Many adoptees, myself included, are extremely bothered by the term "lost", as in "I lost my child to adoption."

      As one person so eloquently put it, "Lost? What am I, a set of car keys?"

      "Lost" makes the act of giving away a child sound accidental, which it most certainly wasn't.


    2. Yup. I understand that. I try not to use "lost" any more although I used to use it all the time. I can see from the adoptee's point of view how it is evading responsibility for the mother's part in the surrender, and we mostly do bear some responsibility, however complex, although so do the others around us, parents, agency, boyfriend, Church etc. who were pressuring for surrender. I did not lose my baby, I gave up on myself and gave him up, for which I am eternally regretful.

    3. I totally get it about "lost," and I wonder if I have actually used it in reference to adoption--but I did lose my daughter via suicide....We got an email from a mother who says she uses lost. What I don't like about lost is that it makes it seems like an unconscious act, when no matter what happened, no matter the family and societal pressures (which were often one and the same), mot of us were conscious. Thanks for the reminder that "lost" is a poor choice.

    4. for many years, at CUB meetings, I would hear BSE mothers (and later era) describe their adopted-away children as "lost to adoption." It seemed quite clear who they were talking about and why.

      The first time i ever heard anyone take offense at the word "lost" used in reference to an adoptee was one time when an adoptive mother called and said, "these children are not lost: they are adopted." Of course, the child was not lost to the adoptive mother. The child was living with the adoptive mother.The adoptive mother gained the child.
      A natural mother who tried to keep her child, as I did, who sought help and was refused,often lost her child. A mother who did not believe that adoption was right but could not find another way to raise her child, was under age, and had no support was going to lose her child. That child would be lost to her.
      Courts would terminate parental rights because we had no place to go with our children and no support. Adoption would follow.
      There are different meanings for "lost" and I think it is an appropriate term as you have stated here. Natural mothers who wanted their children do lose them in adoption. Sometimes the loss is obvious in that the mother obviously is fighting to keep the child. Other times, the mother seems to be going along with the adoption perhaps because she feels there is no other choice, or because she really believes it is the right thing for the child. It is still a loss.

    5. I wanted my child very much but was not emotionally strong enough to articulate that nor to take the chance to just take him home from the hospital and cancel the foster care plan I had agreed to before his birth when I could not even discuss adoption. Post-partum depression plus abandonment by his father did that to me. Had I just brought him home my parents would have taken us in after some initial hand-wringing, but I did not even have the courage to ask. That is my piece of responsibility; others, my parents, his biological father, have theirs and suffered for it all their lives as well.

      I have recently been in touch with his father and sent pictures and story of our recent visit. He is utterly alone, retired, two failed marriages and one younger son who is estranged from him. I feel both sorry for him because he is not an evil person, and still angry for how he treated me years ago. we both screwed up royally when it came to our son.

      My son was lost to me, but it was finally by my own hand on the surrender paper when I literally gave up. I do not use "lost" any more in reference to my oldest son because he is no longer lost, he is found. Like the hymn " Amazing Grace", he "once was lost, but now is found". I have known for a long time where he is, and for a shorter time had a mutual relationship. Now he is no more lost than my other kids who live far away and I see once or twice a year, but we all keep in touch. I regret that I gave him up and did not get to raise him, but I no longer grieve or mourn because he is alive and well and our lives have come back together again in a miraculous way.My personal belief is that it is wrong to mourn the living; there is enough grief in our lives over those lost to death, more and more as we get older. Life needs to be affirmed and celebrated, even when it is not the perfect life we once envisioned.

    6. Lorraine - I also lost my only child to suicide. There truly are no words to describe the grief and pain that follow the death of one's child.

    7. Kaye, I agree, and know this from sad personal experience. How I wish it were not so.
      Please accept my condolences. Nothing can compare with the death of one's child.
      with care,

    8. Maryanne,
      thank you for this response. I used to read your articles in the CUB newsletters over the years and your love for your son was always clear. I hoped that things would work out for both of you and am glad that now he is in your life.
      The Amazing Grace hymn rather describes how I used to see it, too...my son was "lost" and then he was "found." During the 18 years that he and I were together, before his death in 2007 from cancer, I no longer thought of him as lost.

      But, now he is lost to death. Like you, I do not believe in mourning the living and I used to celebrate his birthday when he was alive, even when I did not know where he was. And i still do...even though he is gone now.

      I am grateful for the time we had. Those 18 years still happened and my granddaughter (his daughter) and I still are glad for what we have.

    9. Kitta, I am so sorry for the loss of your son. There is nothing worse. I have several friends who had a child die in terrible accidents, and their grief is more than anyone should have to bear. May your son rest in peace, and you and your granddaughter find a way to go on in his memory.

    10. Including Kaye in condolences on your son's death with the extra pain that it was suicide. My husband lost two sisters that way. Thankfully their parents were already gone. I am so sorry that this has to happen to any family.

    11. I was 16 when I gave birth to my son and I lost him to adoption as I was unable to choose otherwise.

      I have spent 30 years taking responsibility for a decision I had no control over.
      No more.
      No-one - whether PAL-addicts, adoptive parents, birth parents or adoptees - is going to mangle my telling of my own experience with their preferences.

      My sister had a child who died before he was born. We both always respected and acknowledged the birthdays of each other's lost son. It never crossed either of our minds that one of us hadn't lost her son.

  20. Thank you Lorraine for fighting PAL. My daughter prefers first Mom or her Mom in China. PAL can build up a barrier between adoptive parents and the adoptee. My daughter's family in China made her. I want to instill pride of her roots and help her internalize the value of being their descendent. I do get the pleasure of nurturing.
    No one should ever refer to any person as a BM.

  21. I never use the terminology "gave up" when speaking to my first mother. I'm not sure what happened, from her point of view, back then. I know she was in her senior year in high school. I assume that she had parental pressure. But it does seem at odds with the lack of pressure that they seemed to have had on her in other ways before and after that time. If I were to use the terms that my adoptive family uses to describe the situation, they spoiled her. (I do not adhere to this thinking and I think it's a negative culture - but the description conveys a lot about how her parents capitulate to her desires vs. applying constant pressure.)

    Having observed my mother, and those around her, I venture a guess that it is more likely that she gave into social pressures. And that her parents were ambivalent - okay with what she wanted to do either way. I know she went to a home for unwed mothers - and was visited a few times by my father there. I assume she felt humiliated. I assume she felt conflicted. But she hasn't really explained that.

    She has said that after she realized what she had done, she felt humiliated that she could have done such a thing. And that she has trouble facing her parents on this subject because they know this awful thing about her. (me.) that does show that she felt and still feels the need to impress them, live up to some ideal she has, and thinks that they have or had, to some extent.

    But she had never used the words, relinquished, gave up, or of course, made an adoption plan. One time she described the day of my birth and she said, "I remember talking with the nurse before she took you, before you left, and I was shaking so bad, i couldn't drink my tea. The nurse said that you were sick and I asked if it was serious, and I was secretly hoping that you would die."

    so I don't know what words to use. In talking with other first moms, I usually try to say relinquished, because some might be sensitive to the words "gave up," as if it were a flippant, thoughtless act.

    1. Kaisa, I wish your mother had been more diplomatic and sensitive when speaking to you. I hope that you don't take personally her confessions or treatment of you. I have said this before, and it's what I really think.

      Sometimes first mothers can say things that will not help them or their position. There are many things I could say to my son, or to my other son if he were speaking to me, but I feel I must be very careful and think first before dumping any information on them that might hurt them.

      My youngest son seems kind of scared of me, and I think he might be just very worried that I'll say something that will not sound good or will be too intense or too hurtful. So I try to be as sensitive as I can manage. Sometimes a question will come in e-mail from his wife, and I can tell she is asking on his behalf, as the answer might be too much for him to hear directly.

      Best wishes to you - It sounds like you are being very sensitive toward your mother's feelings, and she is not able to return the favor. But it seems you are working your way through it, and that's great, I'm happy for you.

    2. New and Old, you say so many wise things, which obviously come out of great suffering in your life, things many of us have not had to know, but you have come out of it with compassion and love. I am still afraid of saying something my son might find hurtful, even though he seems really tough and not sensitive in that way.

      Kaisa, your mom saying she was "secretly hoping you would die" is horrendous, much worse than "gave away." I did not care if I died in childbirth, being very much the drama queen, actually healthy as a horse, but I so wanted my baby to live no matter what happened. He was so loved, even though I was in no condition to take care of him. In making a doll dress for my adopted granddaughter, I suddenly remembered hand-stitching little baby clothes when I was pregnant with Michael, couldn't use the sewing machine because my mom might see. I do not know what happened to those things, probably the agency threw them out.So much wrong was done then.

    3. Oh Maryanne, that is such a sad story, that you were making baby clothes in secret.

      When my daughter was born, she weighed under five pounds and at the time, that was considered a dangerously low weight. My social worker at the non-sectarian agency who really was my friend and counselor, asked if I wanted her baptized since she ... might die, was the implication. That totally freaked me out. I went bananas--you can't die now! you have to live!--had her baptized and was held down while I was injected with some powerful drug that knocked me out.

      When I awoke--hours later, I was in another room with an unmarried teenager. The worst time in my life, in all our lives.

    4. thanks new and old, and maryanne, for the responses. maryanne, strange how memory works? ... i'm sad to know what you went through. Lorraine too. well lots to think about here, thank you.

      I do just wanna add, while on the topic of language, the nuances between 'give up' and 'give away' seem semantics... not worth making a fuss over how they are different. to me the preposition isn't as descriptive as the verb - giving a person, a baby, making a gift of a person or baby. no matter how happy someone might be to receive said 'gift' - someone, some family, some society, thought it was okay to give that person, baby, away, up, down, sideways, in a box with a fox, etc. net result to me being that i lost all of my family members and the opportunity to grow up with them.

      although we have never talked about the policies of the adoption industry and implications, etc., i believe my first mother and i both now agree, and safe to say, with the exception of my uncle, that the rest of my blood relations on my mom and dad's sides, would also all agree that it is not okay to do that.

      therefore, i have always used the word 'relinquished' because it sounds more to me like someone did what they thought they were supposed to do regardless of their own feelings one way or the other. it also sounds to me like something someone might do because of outside pressures, morals, economic, familial, etc. (that is just my personal feeling about the word, i don't require any particular words from anybody on these matters, i don't enjoy policing any person's language but i do analyze everything to death i'm sure.)

  22. I guess "birth mother" can sound clinical, like an anonymous laboratory animal. I don't mind being called that though, as birth is extremely painful and women deserve some acknowledgement and recognition for that. It is taken too much for granted. Men don't understand how painful and dangerous it is to give birth. I once had a man say it would be kind of like, breaking an arm?

    And as the Planned Parenthood ad of a few years ago said, ". . . and 100% of them (men) will never get pregnant." I think it's important to remind people that birth, although natural and expected of us women, is traumatic and not a pleasant stroll through the park! And we deserve some respect!

    "Natural mother" is OK with me, but it sounds kind of vague? Like a goddess out in the forest or a deer passing by? It doesn't say enough, in my view, and sounds antiquated and not direct enough.

    I don't mind saying "giving up" a child, I have used that from time to time myself. The only term I don't like is "giving away," which I have heard from adoptees and in fact as stated by my oldest son (who wants nothing to do with me). I understand the reasoning, but that simply is not the case. I suppose it can seem to an adoptee as a flippant, thoughtless act, I understand that. The actual truth is less sad, though. Like all birth mothers, I placed, I gave up - but I didn't give a person away. I deliberately tried to protect my small, vulnerable children, as I feared for their future and safety. I think all mothers are like that, whether relinquishing at birth or later.

    I'm more sad for my son, than me, that he sees it that way, I wish for him to be in less pain, irregardless of whether he wants to know me or not. And I hope reading this will help any adoptees out there who also think they were "given away." If you investigate . . . maybe not.

    1. I've never heard anybody use the term, giving away. I agree it sounds so different from "giving up." I'd never compared the two terms before to see how different it sounds, and feels.

      I grew up with natural mother, in this regard, and I simply use the term and try to avoid birth mother. But I will admit sometimes the word slips out of my mouth too. And I don't get crazed if someone says it of me, or correct them.

      The way an adoptive mother corrected a friend of mine after she referred to "my daughter." My friend had known my daughter from nearly the time she came into my life, and my friend was talking to my husband shortly after we had returned from my daughter's funeral in another state.

      But before my friend could continue speaking, the other woman piped up with "Birth daughter."

      My husband and my friend ignored her. Her comment said more about how she felt about her adopted daughter's mother than she would ever have to explain. And she wondered why her daughter had said she was not interested in meeting her natural birth mother.

    2. As I posted upthread, I was given away -- by my adoptive father -- when he decided he didn't want the responsibility of caring for me on his own.

    3. BTW. natural mother archaic? Maybe, but then...maybe I am too! It sounds odd perhaps to younger ears that grew up with birth mother. I know many people don't mind it at all, but it has always bothered me a tad, though I don't go ballistic, as you know and it slips into FMF every now and then and--hell, the title!

      If it's a choice between birth and biological, I guess I would go with biological. Direct and to the point. Not fuzzy at all.

  23. After my reunion with my son 6 years ago I began reading as many books as I could on the subject of adoption, because I was going through some extreme grief that I was not expecting to have. I noticed there were a lot of roles/labels/titles to categorize everything that is unique to the adoption world. Months down the road my son's adoptive mother was at my home & her 94 yr old mother called her on the cell & asked her where she was, and I could see she was scrambling to figure out what to call me. She just blurted out,"I'm at Sandy's, Ryan's biological mothers home". I wasn't offended, but I became aware that she seldom thought about what my role/title is in my son's life. But I was just learning too. I'm not sure what she calls me now, because we don't speak..ha. When I googled, PAL, I was surprised at the terminology these agencies are trying to change. Negative - Natural Mother, Really?, This does offend me. It's offensive that these people at these agencies have the gall to determine what mothers should be called. Being the natural mother is just that, the natural mother.

    There is a very good article online, www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2016/01/07/unsealed-adoption-records-reunite-families, and it speaks about all the positives to open original birth certificates in Ohio, and there was a statement, "we've mostly heard of lots of happy reunions". Apparently using the word 'reunion' instead of 'making contact with'(PAL), hasn't caught on yet. I don't like the fact that Adoption Agencies are trying to make adoption in our society look like its a normal way to have a family because the child and the mother are the ones who get hurt, while the Agencies are making big bucks off of our children. Positive Adoption Language is disguised rhetoric to help the adoption agencies sell the fairy-tale & help make the AP's think that adopting is the same as raising a biological child, and it's just not (the child comes with their own dna and medical issues - that may never be known). Adoptive parents need truth and education to help their child, not lies from the agency. They also need to know that the First parents are a very important part of the equation in that childs life, and using any type of derogatory labels/title to imply they are just a baby-vehicle is wrong. Everybody needs to be told the truth, Potential Adopting persons, the unsuspecting pregnant mother(who is told she is doing such a beautiful thing for someone else), the Adopted Child and then the Adopted Adult.

  24. I am not too persnickety about what signifying prefixes and names I use, although I do try to avoid those that might insult.

    As far as "preferred adoption language" goes -- whose preference, I would like to know.
    I shall continue to use the words I prefer and consider most appropriate to the occasion, not language imposed upon me by know-it-all others, whether by adoption agencies, adoptive parents, or even mothers like myself. Some language, to quote Bartleby the Scrivener, "I would prefer not to".

    Fortunately, nobody in real life has reacted negatively to my use of language. But when I was first reunited nearly sixteen years ago, I was thoroughly and viciously thrashed in an on-line support/reform group for first/birth/natural/ biological mothers for using the dreaded B word -- which, at the time, was the only word I knew that had the kind of precision that seemed necessary to describe my situation. I was told in no uncertain terms, that "natural" was the only correct terminology and that if I didn't conform I could get the hell out of there. So I got the hell out of there on my own terms.

    I am not entirely comfortable with the term "natural mother" because of its associations. "Natural" was a word used in parish records, along with "bastard" and "illegitimate", to label children born outside of marriage. In the not-so-far-distant past, Christianity depicted nature as a fallen state from which humanity required to be redeemed. Sexuality, as a part of nature, was the preserve of beasts, wild, dangerous, untameable and "red in tooth and claw". In humans, it was sin, and sexual impulses between men and women had to be curtailed and redeemed by holy matrimony. Nowadays, the children of unmarried people are no longer stigmatized as tainted with original sin, nor are their mothers generally regarded as sluts, except perhaps within the more extreme religious circles.

    Of course mothers should be able to use the term "natural" to describe themselves if that's what they want. In our times, Mother Nature, once a chthonic tyrant and agent of chaos, has been transformed into a beneficent goddess who can do no wrong. As a result, "natural" holds a positive meaning for many. But for some of us the stigma lingers on, and "natural" remains an archaic and equivocal term.

    The language police come disguised in all sorts of different uniforms to instruct people on how to express themselves. But language has a life of its own, and like Nature Unredeemed, will never be entirely contained.
    I'm all for people using whatever terms they want, even if, sometimes, they offend.

    1. I too have had the experience years ago of being banned from some online groups for using the "wrong" language. There was also the infamous incident of adoptee rights expert, author, and advocate Betty Jean Lifton being ordered not to use the word "birthmother" at dubious conference or be banned. That was just shameful.

      Whether it is adoptive parents insisting on "positive adoption language" to hide the more painful aspects of adoption, or adoption reformers insisting on their own "correct" terminology, all this does is weaken our movement and keeps us fighting among ourselves over language rather than uniting and working together on the real serious issues of what needs reforming in adoption.

      We have all seen numerous self-righteous splinter groups who only permit the "right" words, whatever they are at the moment, and will not have meaningful dialogue nor listen to anyone not echoing the party line. This hurts us, not our opponents, and is really just what they want. Divide and conquer, and battles over language are divisive and go nowhere but in circles.

    2. Religious and social custom do affect language, so these words will continue to "evolve."
      I was curious to see what the legal terms were back in the 1960s when I signed the "relinquishment/surrender" papers. Since I was able to get copies of those papers I only had to take a look to see how mothers were defined.
      Apparently, at least for that particular Cali agency, there was no favored term with descriptors for mothers because the papers simply said "mother" and "parent" and that was all.

  25. Lisa,
    I understand where you are coming from and how "natural" sounds archaic after years of birth mother (which to some mothers and adoptees doesn't sound offensive in the least) but...when you get the to last sentence,

    .."I'm all for people using whatever terms they want, even if, sometimes, they offend."

    I have a question: would you say that to an black/African American?

    And let us note that there is disagreement over the use of AA v. Black ..because as someone I heard once noted: Charlize Theron is an African American.

    Best way going forward: Work to not offend, but if someone uses birth mother in conversation, let us ladies not faint and just go on.

    In writing H♥le, I dropped any qualifier before the word "mother" when it was very clear whom I was talking about--So when I didn't need to say "adoptive mother," I didn't; and when I didn't need to say "natural" mother I didn't either. No one has any trouble figuring out who the subject is.

    I quoted people as they wrote--so birth mother is used in the book when quoting.

    1. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear. When I say people should feel able to use whatever terms they want, even at the risk of offending, I mean solely in the context of the kind of wording used to differentiate between adoptive mothers and mothers whose biological children have been adopted. I certainly do not mean racial slurs.

      The way I see it is that intention is cruciall, and a message needs to be read and understood in its entirety to establish intention.

    2. Lisa, why is it okay to use terms for a mother she finds offensive?

      But not for other groups?

    3. I'm all for people using the N word if they want to. I'm not playing devil's advocate, either. Express yourself the way you need to, verbally, but prepare for the consequences that await you.

      Should it be illegal to call anyone a nigger? no, i don't believe so. should others be permitted to respond (legally) in ways they find appropriate? sure..

      there's what i believe is right for me and what i think is a general rule for everyone and somewhere in between is what i will put up with. I wouldn't stand idly by if someone were to refer to first mothers as 'BMs' in spoken language, nor would i find it to be professional in a book, but i think it is entirely adequate - and maybe only merely so - in informal online communications. but it's entirely cool to respond to it, too. :)

    4. The contexts in which Mothers who surrendered find the term Birthmother or the abbreviation BM offensive are usually such that no offense was meant or even imagined by the speaker,like the situation Lisa described, and the offended parties tend to go to extreme lengths to berate anyone who would use the term they do not like and impute all sorts of evil motives to that person, and almost magical power to "the B Word".

      It goes way beyond briefly and politely saying they would prefer to be called something else to a witch hunt against anyone who dares use the term birthmother or BM instead of whatever their favorite designation of the moment is. This is accompanied by a sermon on why the word is evil and makes mothers surrender just by hearing it spoken or triggers fits in those who have already surrendered. It gets pretty ridiculous. Sometimes being hypersensitive and demanding others to use your preferred terms does not get the desired results of making others more sympathetic to your cause, but instead turns them against you and your beliefs.

  26. I didn't say it's "O.K". I agree we all have a moral obligation to be respectful of the feelings of others, but free speech is a right. PAL is just one among many ways of trying to suppress that right, but it is without authority.
    I believe the most effective way to resist the language police is to continue to encourage both mothers and adoptees to self-identify, using their own terms. Unlike PAL, no "correct" terminology, just individuals thinking and speaking out of their own experience, for themselves.
    Even so, there is always the risk of causing offense. That is part of the price we pay for freedom of speech.

    1. i agree with what you say and what maryanne said too. :)

  27. I wrote about the disagreement between "birth" and another other term for mothers who relinquished in June of 2013:

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

  28. ... The phrase “real mother” as in, “Are you ever going to search for your real mother?”—which comes out of mouths of many not schooled in adoption-industry lingo—drives most adoptive parents around the bend, yet people being people use it and know what it means, and they also know that the adoptive parents are the ones who do the day-to-day mothering. Both women who give up their children and the women who raise them are real mothers. Different, but both real mothers. --from the forward to H♥le in my Heart

    Sensitive adults don't use "real" mother I think in reference to one's biological mother. I think it's mostly children and teens who use it, saying what they feel. As I recall, adoptive mother Jay Iyer left a comment here (or it was in an email to me) that her young son used "real mother" and she wisely did not correct him but let it be. Making a fuss over the word with a child would thoroughly ingrain in him the idea that talking about his other mother in that way, in the way that he meant--the woman I was born to--would instill in him that he shouldn't talk about adoption with Mom, because her feelings got hurt. Mom would be the person who took care of him, even if he used the words "real mother." In time, it's likely that he would learn to use an alternate word without Mom correcting him. And that would be the best way.

    1. Hello there! This is a great post, and a rich set of comments accompany it. It is important to bring up PAL from time to time, to remind us that words can elevate or denigrate a class of people (in this case, in the adoption community) and we should be careful in our use of them. Someone in this string mentioned that intent is important when somebody uses a word, and I only agree to an extent. Before I encountered Lorraine and Jane's blog, I freely used the word "birth mother" to describe an adoptee's natural / first / biological mother. There was no malicious intent behind my use of the word, being new to adoption I just followed the most common usage at the time. However, if hordes of adoptive parents like myself continue to use "birth mother," even assuming most of us are simply ignorant and not malicious, it creates an atmosphere that denigrates first mothers and relegates them to the status of a mere birther who pops out a child and has no lasting link to that child. So, usage of words, even innocent usage, is important to fix as it can create impressions, however subconscious, that are negative. I appreciate the education I received from this blog!

      And yes, Lorraine, you are right, my son often refers to his first parents as his "real parents" - and, sometimes, as his "old parents." We have had some very intense conversations about his adoption this past summer, 99% of it being him doing the talking and me doing the listening. To the best of my ability, I am letting him internalize his adoption in the way that he feels works best for him. As far as the words he chooses to use, he is the adoptee and I don't think about PAL or anything else, he gets to use the words that track what he is feeling. He shared so much of his frustration and sadness with me this summer (and periodically since then) that I hope it means he feels free to express his emotions and not worry about hurting us, his adoptive parents. Part of that, definitely, is to not impose restrictions on the words he wants to use.

      As for the insecurities of adoptive parents, insecurity is only part of it. For example, I feel that some of what Amina is alluding to comes from expectation, the expectation that your child (society) will show appreciation / gratitude for the nurturing you provide. All parents have that expectation, but I think it is heightened in adoptive parents because of the added element of feeling, however subconsciously, that they must be acknowledged by the community and especially the adoptee for "saving" a child by giving him / her a home. I think that's where Amina's use of "insulted" is coming from, from a feeling of wanting appreciation. I was lucky enough to be raised by a father who said "you have children because it is your choice, there is no associated right to expect anything from them in return." That wise philosophy helps me curb my feelings when expectation rears its ugly head. My son did not ask me to nurture him, I do it because it brings me pleasure. How my son responds to the nurturing is entirely up to him - he owes me nothing.

    2. Interesting point, Lorraine, and so very true. I get the opposite. I have had people go out of their way to say to me, when they hear about our open adoption, "But you are her real mother, of course." As if I need them to somehow validate the relationship I have with my daughter! (Insert eyebrow raising emoticon here!) I always say that my daughter's other mom IS her real mom. And I'm her real mom. No competition here. I don't see why if I can have two children, one of my children can't have two moms. Pretty logical to me. I'm with Jay- it wouldn't matter to me if my daughter used "real" with me in regards to her other mom.

      What I see as a potential concern is other people, especially children, asking my daughter who her "real mom" is because I think that can be isolating and hurtful to a young adoptee. When we were visiting my husband's family over Christmas, one of his young nephews came running up and asked out of nowhere, "Where's [daughter's name] from?" We were both puzzled, and asked what he meant, but he didn't know how to rephrase his question. So I said, "You mean, what is her background? She was born in California, but has x, y, and z, heritage." My daughter has been making up words or play ideas lately and saying her x ancestors taught her them (we talk about her racial heritage as it is different than ours), so I realized she was probably doing that with her cousin, and sure enough, she was. But the question was odd, and I'm sure he first asked it to her and she didn't know how to answer that kind of question. It was a very innocent question, but it made me realize that we are entering the age of navigating these murky waters where I will not be able to shield her from other people's more careless words.

      That's more my concern with the use of real. I think APs need to develop a thicker skin, but we should encourage wording from others that doesn't make adoptees, especially younger ones, feel hurt.

    3. Very good point, Tiffany. My son was so forthcoming with me this summer about the sadness and frustration he feels being an adoptee (not fair that someone took me from my real parents, who gave the judge the right to take me away without asking me, I can easily live with my real parents and just say No if they offer me drugs, etc.). And yet, when I asked him what he tells his friends about being adopted* he teared up and said he just wants to be like everyone else and doesn't like to bring up his adoption with his friends. He is 7 years old, and I certainly want with all my heart for him to feel that he is just like all the other kids, that he is not "defective" because of his status as adoptee. I hope that eventually he will come to understand and accept what happened through none of his doing. But right now, at this tender age, he just wants to be / feel like all the other kids at school. So yes, I would be concerned and unhappy if he is bullied about not being with his "real parents." It has already happened once, and we very matter-of-factly told the child (bully) in question that our son has two sets of "real" parents.

      *As an aside,

    4. Oh, whoops! My comment is incomplete. What I wanted to say was *As an aside, I was having this conversation with my son while we were reading an excellent photo essay, "A Forever Family," written by an 8 year old girl adopted from foster care. It was balanced and expressed feelings in that forthright way one often sees in a child. I think it helped my son realize other young adoptees like him feel torn up the way he does.

    5. Tiffany: Again, I don't think its insecurities, I think that as parents, adoptive parents want to be seen just as "parents/mom & dad," which they are. And Jay, "I" think many parents would like to be appreciated and acknowledge for the sacrifice and hard work of nurturing a child ( because we all know parenting ends when the parent dies, not when the child turns 18). I wouldn't like to be thought of as a "caretaker/fake parent" to my child when I am the one doing the work because I wanted to-not many people want to put their life on hold to raise a child. Which is why there are so many children in foster-care, or many wounded souls walking this earth, because their "parents" didn't care about their well being. So yes, I could see an aparent/step-parent who is raising the child become angry/hurt. It's not about insecurities it's about raising a child who you love and chose to nurture because you wanted too.It's like being a step-mother to a child that you've raised from infancy whose bio-mom is not in the picture, suppose the child is grown, success and thriving and the bio-mom comes back bragging ( as if she raised the child): "MY child this and MY child that" wouldn't you be upset too? Especially if the child/adult started calling her "mom/mommy" and she wasn't around to raise them?

    6. Hi Amina, I understand that you want to be appreciated and acknowledged for the work you put into raising a child, and for the "sacrifices" made. Personally, I don't really feel any sacrifices are made when you adopt by choice. A sacrifice is one that is made when it is something you didn't sign up for, or didn't want to sign up for, yet you do it. Most of us parents, adoptive or natural, are not in that situation.

      As for appreciation and acknowledgement, speaking for me personally, I don't need it from the community at large, and I am not bothered if people want to call me "adoptive parent." As long as I feel in my heart that I am doing my best as a parent, that is fine for me.

      Now would I feel hurt if my SON didn't appreciate my input into his upbringing? Sure I would, I am human. But I also know I would suck it up. I made the choice to raise and nurture this child, and it brings me pleasure. If he thinks I have done nothing for him, then that is how he feels - he owes me nothing.

      And if his first mother some day pats herself on the back for my son's accomplishments, she absolutely has a right to, even if she is not raising him. Her contributions to the person my son is are glaringly obvious, and I am not just talking looks.

      I wouldn't even care if she says I have nothing to do with his accomplishments, everything I do is to honor the lineage my son brings with him. There is so much destruction in his natural family, if my son can shine and do them proud, it would be a turnaround that would give me immense pleasure - because he, presumably, could then pass along that influence for generations to come. I am happy with what I am doing, I feel incredibly privileged that I get to raise my beautiful boy, that I get to have him as a son (just - wow) and that is more than enough for me.

    7. P.S. Amina, regarding my son calling his first mother "mommy," as I wrote in my earlier comment, my son calls his first parents his "real parents" and I am not bothered by that. All summer long, he only wanted pictures of his first parents on his night stand, not mine or my husband's pictures. I allow him to express the way he feels.

      Of course, my son has no contact with his first parents, so one could say I have not really been "put to the test." But I have experienced with my former foster daughter what it is like to put several years of love and nurturing into a cherished child, only to have her call someone else (her actual mother) "Mom" and be asked to remove myself from the picture. It was heartbreaking for me to do that, but I was able to see the good in that reunion and move on. So, when my son does reunite with his first family, if he decides they are now his only family, I believe I will be able to handle the hurt and move on. But I will not tell him how he is supposed to feel, to acknowledge me as his mother, etc.

    8. Jay, I've forgotten--at what age was your son adopted? Does he have lots of memories of his parents, or belongings from that time?

    9. Jay, do you feel you are his mother? No mother should tell her kids how they are supposed to feel, but can you tell him how you feel? You seem to be anticipating the worst,not expecting him to think of you as mother, that he will grow up and reject you for the birthfamily, that he cares more about them. You are already preparing to grit your teeth and bear eventual rejection. Why are you thinking that way at this point when he is only 7? I do not remember your whole story, how long have you had him? Did he spend a lot of time in foster care or with the dysfunctional bio family? Did he witness the foster child being taken back by the birthmother? Poor little guy, a lot of trauma in a young life.

      I am very interested in this as my son and wife are in the process of adopting half siblings from foster care, and the boy is 7, girl is 4, from a similarly dysfunctional background. They are African American, my son and wife are white. I know they will face many challenges even under the best circumstances. The kids seem to be doing well so far and the parents have shown both patience and firmness which they need. They are getting all the information they can on the birthparents and being honest with the kids. I can see from what you and others have said here that this can be a hard road to follow. As a mom and grandma I so want it to work out for all.

    10. Jess, my son was placed in our home as a foster child at the age of 11 months. Before that, he was in another foster home. CPS took him from his first mother when he was about 2 months old.

      Thus, I doubt he has any recollection of his parents - they were not together at his birth, he was with his mom and his dad saw him one or two times. He has a couple of things that his mom gave him when he was a baby, and birthday cards from his mom sent on his first and second birthdays, but that's about it. He however talks a LOT about his life with his "real parents." He tells us elaborate stories of what he did with them, the types of foods he ate, what his mother likes, how his father once got sick because he ate too much candy, how he didn't see his dad as often as his mom because his dad has an important job that has him traveling all over the world, and so on.

      I have since read that this is not uncommon in adoptees, to imagine that they had an idyllic life with their first parents before they were adopted. He has no memories, he has created a story. We (my husband and I) have not corrected him on any of this, we just let him talk and we listen. It gets hard sometimes when he gets upset that he got taken away from that "perfect" life, but we have mostly been able to handle it by saying Yes, your parents were great in lots of ways but they could not keep you safe and that is why the judge said you needed to be removed from their home. It has been a balancing act, helping him maintain a positive image of his first parents while giving him age-appropriate information about what led to his being in foster care.

    11. Thanks, my daughter was adopted at 12 months 2 weeks and had memories of her foster family with whom she had stayed her whole infancy. We located them later and correspond with them. I'm trying to figure out how to send her grad video because I don't think they have e-mail. I'll probably put it on a flash drive. She won a boatload of awards and I really want them to see it! They were the best foster family you could ask for. Good luck with everything.

    12. Jess, congratulations on your daughter's accomplishments! You speak of your daughter's foster family. The foster family who took care of my son from 2 months old to 11 months old (before he was placed with us) also is amazing, they provided Lenny with much love and excellent care. And he DOES have real memories of them and their home where he lived from infancy through beginning toddlerhood. His foster mother looks forward to his high school graduation. It's a long way off, but I hope we can celebrate that together.

    13. "If hoards of adoptive parents like myself continue to use "birth mother" even assuming most of us are simply ignorant and not malicious, it creates an atmosphere that denigrates first mother and relegates them to the status of a mere birthed who pops out a child and has no lasting link to that child."

      Jay, I don't care for "birth mother" and rarely use it. However, I consider it a courtesy to use the term when responding to others who do use it in good faith.

      For many who relinquished around the mid 20th century, "birth mother" does not have the same negative connotations as it does for younger mothers. For these older women, the prefix "birth", taking as it does, pride of place before "mother", augments, rather than denigrates, their status. It enables them to feel proud, not about the relinquishment of course, but of having given birth to their children. Carrying a child to term is a long and onerous business and giving birth is not called "labor" for nothing. It's hard demanding work, more often than not painful. So, for these mothers, the "birth" prefix can be a badge of honor. It doesn't mean that they were willing handmaidens or that they passively relinquished ("pops out a child and has no lasting interest in it"). It establishes and confirms their identity as mothers precisely *because* they have given birth. I think that they, as well as adoptees from that time, many of whom helped to build the of foundations of adoption reform, deserve to have their choice of language respected.

      We know that language is always in flux. "The old order changes, yielding place to new . . . etc." No need to use PAL as an excuse to assail traditionalists, just because their terminology offends contemporary sensibilities.

    14. I am not sure where that first quote comes from, Lisa, but I relinquished in 1966--before birth mother took hold in the language. I don't flinch when it is used, but I don't like it myself. Is it younger mothers who don't like the term? I see and hear them use it all the time.

    15. The quote is from Jay's comment of Jan.12 2:52 PM.
      It is the implicit assumption that the term " birth mother" necessarily relegates a mother to "a mere birther who pops out a child has no lasting link to that child" that bothers me. That interpretation is not gospel and not all mothers who relinquished see it that way.

      You are right to remind me that the term wasn't in common usage during the '60s, although it was used by social workers during and before that time. As for "younger birthmothers", that was a generalization on my part. I should have said that there were some. Certainly there is a subset of younger women who oppose the term -- I am thinking of Facebook as well as a particular blog that has strongly inveighed against it -- but there are many older mothers who express dislike of the term too and I think their influence has filtered down.

      No doubt time and attrition will take care of the controversy. "Lest one good custom should corrupt the world." And there will be new disagreements and new conflicts to distract us from the real issues.

    16. That quote comes from me (with "hordes," instead of "hoards"). And if there indeed is a traditional, complimentary use of the term "birth mother," then I was unaware of it but Lisa's point in that case is well taken.

    17. I gave up my son in 1968. The only term I heard was "natural mother". Biological mother was also coming into vogue, but I was never addressed as such. That did not mean I was treated with any respect by the agency I dealt with. I felt I was invisible to the social worker that everything was just boilerplate standard issue that was applied to every unwed mother that come into their office. It took no notice and had nothing to do with me or my baby as individuals. This was not about language, but about actually seeing the mother before them and caring what she actually wanted, not what every middle-class girl in her situation was supposed to do.

      I never heard the term "birthmother" anywhere until I got involved in the founding of CUB in 1976, and Lee Campbell introduced as a preferred term rather than "natural" or "biological". I really did not and do not care one way or the other what term people use, it does not change the fact that I gave up my firstborn son. I got used to the term "birthmother" but it really has no strong positive or negative resonance to me if people prefer to use it or not. I did give birth, as Lisa said, that is huge thing, and never felt the word implied that caring for my son stopped then, or ever.

      What got me to defend the term "birthmother" was the ridiculous attacks on use of the word that began online in the 90s. It was all so overblown and gave such malevolent evil power to a mere word that existed only in the minds of those who demonized it, not in the intent of most people innocently using the term. Let all mothers who surrendered call themselves anything they want without fear of censorship or correction. Saying it again, fighting over words is counterproductive to actual reform.

    18. Jay said, " If there is indeed a traditional, complimentary use of the term "birthmother," then I was unaware of it . . . "

      The fact that some mothers use the term to describe themselves is good enough evidence for me. If they thought they were describing themselves as "mere birthers" who "pop out children" and have "no lasting links" to their children, they would not use it. Also remembering that some of them have actively sought reunion and are successfully reunited.

    19. just call me oscar(ette)January 18, 2016 at 11:28 PM

      Tiffany in your comment on January 12 @ 5:24 p.m. you said, "...where I will not be able to shield her from other people's more careless words." I don't feel their words are "careless". I think they care very much. They are working off their own experience.

      How can that be "careless"? Many people see the parents who brought them into this world as their, "real" parents. Whether they are absent in divorce, or dead, or just plain missing. Try to tell someone who's parent died young, that they are their "birth" parent and their current parent IS their parent. Uh, no.

      This is for whomever. Can, according to proper adoption lingo, Can those who use the word 'real' be dismissed and shut down so they never ask an adoptee (who usually doesn't wear a sign saying, "I'm adopted please be sensitive.")or any other person (not an adoptee) who may take offense at their 'sperm / egg donor', who or where their "real" parent is? Or demand they never say the word real when speaking of their biological parent? Since when does PAL get to rewrite 1000's of years of "these are my real parents?"

    20. My daughter's first parents ARE her real parents. And we are her real parents. I would never, ever tell her that her other mom and dad are anything less, and further, I will understand and support her views of her family as her own and her right to have. I have no idea, can have no idea, how she will feel about all of this throughout different stages of her life, and I 100% support her right to feel and label and call things as she sees them because she is at the center of it, and no one else has a right to tell her how to feel or how to talk.

      That's pretty much what I was trying to say, but maybe it didn't come out right. I want to shield her from people trying to tell her what she should and shouldn't say by the way that they phrase things. I disagree that all people care very much. The random stranger who grabs my arm at the farmer's market when he asks if my children are "sisters" (to which I shortly replied, "Of course they are") and then says "no, I mean real sisters. They can't be. There has to be a story there." is absolutely not a caring person just operating from his own experience. He's being a nosy jerk. I could list tons more instances where people were being far from caring in their statements, and what they said was nothing short of ignorance and meanness. That's never ok.

      I could also list instances where well-meaning and good-intentioned people used offensive language, but I kindly and gently corrected them, with a smile. I'm ok with that, but I won't let it slide just because it's well intentioned. My MIL is a sweet, loving lady, but I still correct her, in a nice way, when she says, "Oriental people." She's not being rude, she's just ignorant. But I can't let that slide when it comes to my daughter.

      That is what I was referring to. Not to trying to use agency approved language to tell adoptees and first parents what language they personally have to use to talk about themselves and their relationships. I hope that clears it up.

  29. Jay--See the current post--What is an 'open' adoption?

    for in it I wrote about the "gratitude" aspect of being adopted. And mentioned your name, having no idea that you would be commenting at the same time I was writing. Synchronicity.

  30. Maryanne, I absolutely feel I am his mother. I am overwhelmed with love for him. Years ago, I was pregnant with a little boy. I miscarried him when I was 5 months along (I believe medical malpractice may have been involved, but that's another story). Anyhow, the reason I bring it up is because when I carried my first baby boy, I was a law student and I remember talking to him, in utero, as I drove to and from class. Although I had nothing to compare it to at the time, there was a strong feeling of him and I being just the two of us in this special relationship, mother and son. With Lenny, I am always aware that I share him with another mother. So, in that sense, it is different, but there is love beyond measure. We express feelings of love toward each other frequently and, just two days ago, he hugged me and said "Mom, when I hug you, I feel I am home."

    I am not anticipating future scenarios. Now that Lenny knows the basic facts of his adoption, we do not bring it up in our day to day lives. We let him take the lead on this. When he brings up his adoption, we engage and we don't censor what he says. This past summer, he suddenly had intense feelings of sadness and frustration. He said that his parents "looked fine" in the photos and why did the judge not ask him before taking him away from his parents? He, without any prompting on our part, expressed sadness that he was not living with his real parents, begged us to let him stay with them for a while, asked to put pictures of them on his nightstand, kissed his first mom's picture every night before going to bed. I did not ask Lenny to feel this way, he just did. And there will be more of these feelings, maybe more complex, as he gets older. But as to how he will process his feelings and what will happen when he meets his first family? I have no idea, there are thousands of possibilities in a very grey spectrum. He may still feel that I represent "home" to him, or he may think that his first family feels like "home," or he may feel something in-between. I am not expecting any particular outcome, only time will provide the answer. Any outcome is OK, as far as I am concerned. For now, I just enjoy this marvelous child I am raising, and feel grateful he is comfortable enough to share feelings of frustration and sadness about his adoption.

    Lenny's older half-siblings, who also are in adoptive homes, bore the brunt of the severe dysfunctionality in Lenny's family. Knowing what they went through, Lenny was "lucky," in a sense, because he was removed from that situation at a very young age. Still, he has intense feelings of sadness about his parents, his siblings, being removed from him. He cannot fathom how he and his two half siblings all ended up in different adoptive homes. And yes, my foster daughter leaving our lives abruptly after 7 years has been extremely traumatic for him because they had / have almost a soulmate-like attachment to one another.

    That said, Maryanne, it sounds as if your son and his wife are striving to make things work out as well as possible for the two children, given the circumstances that led them to foster care. I am glad that unlike Lenny's situation, the half siblings are together! Lenny also is African-American, and we are not. In a few short years, he has gone from being embarrassed by his curly hair (which my husband and I do not have) to feelings of pride in his culture. The biggest turning point came about when my husband and I went to an 8 hour class (yes!) on how to care for African-American hair (highly recommend for your son and his wife, if they can find such a class). For our son, us taking proper care of his hair marked the beginning of him taking pride in his African-American heritage. Also, he has fantastic African-American godparents who are very involved in his life (positive African-American role models for your grandchildren also are a great thing). Yes, it is a challenging road, but an enriching, loving one.

    1. Thank you for your reply, Jay. It sounds like your son has had a lot to deal with, especially the removal of his foster sister. It is too bad you could not do more to keep her with you. It does not sound like she will have a safe or good life with the bio mother. That is tragic. Kids cannot wait for their screwed up parents to get it together.

      My daughter in law learned to do black hair from a friend, and once took her daughter to have cornrows done by that friend for her birthday, which as you know takes hours. The little boy has his hair done by a barber familiar with black hair and he always looks sharp, right now a semi-mohawk look. He is the hero of his pee wee football team so he gets a lot of positive feedback from his peers. Little girl is in a small nursery school where there are also other adopted and foster kids. So far so good. They are both gorgeously good looking in proud Grandma's opinion:-)

    2. Maryanne, your grandchildren sound much loved and well cared for (and good looking to boot!). And, above all, they are in a stable home, which is so important for children.

      My foster daughter's situation is very sad. She is being moved from shelter to shelter by her mom, whose mental illness has escalated. I know where she is right now, and have pondered talking to someone at the shelter about indirect ways to help her (she cannot know it is me helping her as she is paranoid I will take her daughter away from her). In the past, I spent enormous amounts of time, energy and money on a fierce vocation to rehabilitate Nina's mom and set her up in a stable life. Many friends helped me, we devoted so much to trying to help her for so many years. I now realize that the demons of her mental illness are too strong and she is doomed to be homeless or maybe end up in a mental health facility.

      I also now strongly feel Nina should be with us, in a stable environment. We would not adopt Nina - as my son says, "For Nina, her mom is home." Much as I love Nina, I do not regard myself as her mother and cannot imagine severing her mother's parental rights in her. But I do think she would be better off (more stable, that is) under our guardianship, with frequent visits to her mother.

  31. Hi, Jay: It's Amina. What I meant by sacrifice is when you are raising a child ( adopted or not), one does sacrifice a lot to ensure that the child grows-up to be a happy well-adjusted adult who is thriving within society.Not many parents want to make that sacrifice or can't because of issues with substance abuse, alcoholism, mental illness or repeated dysfunctional poor life style choices. On another note, I've often read that some aparents fear the child returning to the bparents when grown. However, I' ve read that it's VERY rare for adoptees to do so because they see the aparents as their parents-mom & dad, which they are.

  32. Jay, ETA: When I mentioned the part about adoptees seeing the aparents as their parents, I mentioned it not to suggest that you should have no worries, but to say that it's a fact well known.

    1. Amina, what you say is probably true and I think there is a good chance our son will regard us as his parents for life. But my main priority is to try and ensure he does not feel that he has to hide his feelings out of fear of hurting me. In a way, I felt good this summer when he cried and told me he missed his real parents and it was not fair he didn't get to live with them. It showed me he is not afraid of hurting my feelings, and I want him to continue to have that level of comfort with me.

  33. Jay, are you all in any kind of family therapy around how to deal with Lenny's issues? He may need someone other than you to talk to so that he can learn to differentiate fantasy from reality. He is getting old enough to know the difference. Not that he has to give up the fantasies that comfort him; that is where creativity comes from, but that someone reinforce that the perfect family he thinks he remembers is not real and they are not there for him to return to except in his mind. Of course he does not need to hear the whole gruesome story for many years until he is old enough to handle it, but I wonder if the no-comment approach and tacit agreement that his fantasies are actual memories is really helping him or leading to more confusion?

    1. Maryanne, although my comments tend to be quite detailed, they are perforce but a snippet of our lives. I don't think I provided a complete picture of Lenny describing fantastic details, but he absolutely knows the difference between reality and fantasy and he absolutely knows that the details he relates about living with his first parents are not true. While we encourage him to share his thoughts, we don't encourage him to believe lies (there is no such "tacit agreement" that you refer to). Overall, his fantasies help him minimize what he knows was a bad situation that led to his adoption. When he relates stories, for example, about raiding the pantry at his first parents' house, we just smile and say to him something like, of course you couldn't have done that at 2 months old. And he smiles too.

      The more difficult thing to explain to a 7 year old is how drug abuse creates an unsafe environment for a child and he needed to be removed to be safe. Because he was removed when he was 2 months old, and has since lived in drug-free, safe environments, he cannot comprehend what drug use is, what addiction is, why he couldn't live in a home where his parents abused drugs. It is impossible for him to relate that to his current life, except to envision that his parents would offer him "drugs," much like I offer him cookies on a tray, and he could simply have said Yes or No. That is why he asked, this summer, if he could go live with them and if they offer him drugs, he can just not take them. I have tried to explain that sometimes when people have taken too many drugs, they forget to feed or clothe their children, taken them to school, etc. and he accepts it, but it is not easy for him to fully comprehend. And it is the reason why he has doubts that the removal from his first parents was really needed.

      I anticipate that some day we will need to talk to an adoption specialist. Drug use is a very small part of Lenny's story, there are other far more painful details. I feel that we will need to speak with a therapist who specializes in adoptions, to get advice about at least two things: (1) when is an appropriate age to reveal the details; and (2) how to convey the details without making him feel he is defective in some way.

    2. Jay, you are in the San Francico Bay area, is that correct? There is a group there called PACT that specializes in transracial adoption and help for families that have adopted transracially. You may already know about this group and be in touch, but in case you are not:

      They may have resources that you can use, and perhaps Lenny can benefit now from help in dealing with losing his foster sister to a mother who sounds unfit. Sometimes biological relatedness is not enough and if for Nina the chaotic life she is forced to live now with her ill mother is "home", that will leave her with a very skewed and negative view of what "home" means. I know you want only the best for both of these children, but sometimes that means choosing the wellbeing of the child over endless sympathy and empathy for the biological family.
      Sometimes you can't do both.

    3. Thanks Maryanne, there are similar resources in Southern California, where I am. As for Nina, I think it is far from ideal for her to be with her mother right now. As my husband says, Nina's mom needs to be "heavily propped up." Remarkably, she trusted us and stayed stable for 7 years. I thought it was ideal when we supported her and Nina while they lived together. I would love to continue to do that but, given that she is rejecting all offers of help, it has put Nina in a detrimental situation.

      That said, Nina's mom does not meet the threshold requirements for CPS to remove Nina from her care. So, there is nothing anyone can do, none of us have the right to step in and take her daughter away from her. I will try to provide something to Nina anonymously but, whether appropriate or not, Nina's mom has all legal rights to her.

    4. Oh, I had thought you were in NoCal. I have a son and family in Los Angeles. Good that there are resources where you are. If CPS can't step in to help a kid living in various homeless shelters with an unstable mentally ill mother, perhaps their guidelines need to change. That sounds outrageous and frustrating. It seems unlikely there is anything you can do anonymously. What a heartbreaking situation, especially for Nina and for Lenny.

      A question; how did you get pictures of his birthparents? I have never heard of that before in a closed adoption. It must make them more real to him.

    5. Jay: In regards to Lenny, maybe now is the time to start explaining his story to him. 1) It will allow you to introduce the harms of drug abuse and how "sometimes" addiction can run in families. 2) By explaining how alcohol/drug abuse is genetic, this will allow him to have more insight about NOT doing drugs during his teen years ( I'm a believer of explaining now so it won't be a problem later). 3) Explaining in an age appropriate way will not make Lenny feel "flawed/less than" but will help him see, as he ages, people have choices in life, and doing drugs and abusing alcohol is one of them. 4) The choices his bparents made have nothing to do with him or their love for him. They made bad choices in life and addiction is a consequence. I hope you don't mind me putting in my 2 cents?

    6. Thanks, Amina, that is exactly what we are doing. As I said in my previous comment, however, drugs/alcohol are a VERY small part of Lenny's complex story and we will need professional help on how/when to disclose the rest of the details. It would be incredibly naive of me to go with your blanket rule of "explaining now," the nature of the information being conveyed must always be assessed. And Lenny, at 7 years, is definitely too young to be told additional details, beyond the drug / alcohol abuse.

    7. Jay, you're doing a great job. The little man has adult stuff to sort through, bless his heart. I don't think his greatest need right now is an understanding of why he was removed from his home or separated from his half-siblings or why Nina is with her mom... Children aren't always looking for an answer when they ask why. I think his greatest need is proof that he's safe. That he isn't destined to a life of here today gone tomorrow. Every single day he's with you his foundation gets a little stronger and before you know it he's going to be running and jumping on it without fear of breaking it. And what a compassionate child you have. Multidimensional stuff here. Even if a 7yr old had the ability to understand what most adults aren't able to understand, it wouldn't change what I'm interpreting as a lot of concern for the emotional wellbeing of his biological parents and siblings. It sounds like he's worried that they're sad and that makes him sad. I imagine his sense of loss from his foster sister leaving is projected onto his natural parents. Time, age and a sense of healthy stability is just around the corner. He sounds like a very smart kid and he appears to be in very competent hands.

    8. Anon, I so appreciate your kind sentiments! I know that I try my best to educate myself and to nurture Lenny. My best is not always enough, but it is all I can do.

      Lenny, from a very young age (I first noticed it when he was 2), has shown a quality for which he got an award just last week: "Most Empathetic Student." In his case, he truly, truly deserves it - he has SO much empathy! Makes me proud, but also worries me because the empathy causes him much anguish sometimes.

  34. Amina (going to cut and copy here instead of replying so much further up), you said, "Again, I don't think its insecurities, I think that as parents, adoptive parents want to be seen just as "parents/mom & dad," which they are."

    I disagree. I think in some or many it is an insecurity as well as perhaps a jealousy. I have seen some on the first mom side state that adoptive mothers cannot be mothers, and are only guardians. I disagree with going that far, especially in that I don't know any IRL adoptees who feel that way- I've only ever encountered it online. Even my adoptee friends who don't have a great relationship with their APs still consider them their parents. So I think in part you may be referring to that, and I agree with you that I am more than a guardian to my daughter, and I would be doing a giant disservice to her in the eyes of her other parents if I raised her as if I was not her mother. But I feel a better articulation of what I have seen from some adoptive parents (and first moms, to be fair) is that they want to be the ONLY parent/mom/dad. I don't call myself "adoptive mom" IRL- that's just for explaining purposes. I'm just mama to my daughter, and that's just that.

    To continue with that, you then said, "It's like being a step-mother to a child that you've raised from infancy whose bio-mom is not in the picture, suppose the child is grown, success and thriving and the bio-mom comes back bragging ( as if she raised the child): "MY child this and MY child that" wouldn't you be upset too? Especially if the child/adult started calling her "mom/mommy" and she wasn't around to raise them?"


    I'm the one who calls my daughter's other mom "mom." It wouldn't bother me in the least if this was continued, and forever, I will continue to think of my daughter's other parents as just that. And no, I wouldn't at all be upset should they be proud of who she is and who she becomes and brag on her and take credit for her accomplishments. I WANT them to be proud of her! I share her accomplishments with them all the time, and I take care to share the things that relate directly to their parentage of her and have nothing at all to do with me. That nature aspects as opposed to the nuture. She is so much like them in so many ways, and I am proud of that, actually. When people comment about how we maintain a relationship, they sometimes say things, and I always respond with, "Should my daughter turn out exactly like her parents, I will be so proud. They are amazing people."

    I agree with much of what Jay said. The bottom line is this: my daughter is a person, and she has a right to her feelings and her life. I have a responsibility to both of my children to be the kind of mother they want to remain in their lives once they reach independence. If my adopted daughter was to want me out of her life as her mom, well, I'd seriously take a hard look at myself and make some big adjustments because I feel that would be on me. I don't know many people who cut out caring and loving parents with absolutely no provocation. I will never make her choose, and maybe I'm lucky, I don't know, but I know absolutely that her other mom would never make her choose, either. I'm very far from perfect, but I hope I am and can be enough as long as I always allow her the freedom she deserves to handle her adoption her way.

    I don't need thank yous and accolades for doing my job. If my children grow into successful (and I use that word loosely because I think there's many definitions of success), kind, intelligent, compassionate, and content women with a deep sense of self-worth and respect, then I will feel that I have my appreciation for all my hard work and sacrifice. (I'd note that I willingly took on that hard work and sacrifice, too, and they did not ask me to do so.)

    1. As you said Tiffany you don't need accolades but...I have to give you a round of...

      {{{{{APPLAUSE}}}} for everything you said.

      Totally agree. :)

  35. just call me oscar(ette)January 18, 2016 at 11:44 PM

    If "real" makes adoptive parents "un-real", what the heck does "birth" parent make adoptive parents? The opposite? Really?

    I'm not sure whether this is the blog or the previous one that pushed my buttons on the, "it's not ownership" thing. If it is truly not about "ownership, claiming, you are mine and mine only, forever" "I did the work, you belong to me", then what is the fuss about guardianship?

  36. Just call me Oscar(ette): Again, it's not about "ownership" it's about acknowledging credit where its due. If a woman thinks: "my child is better off in another family without me as the parent," what does that tell you? So, for her, or anyone for that matter, not to acknowledge the amom as the "mom/mother" is an insult. Many adoptees will tell you ( if they have/had good parents) their aparents ARE THEIR parents-end of subject! Because their fiercely protective of their aparents.

  37. When I found my natural mother in 1978. I simply called her "mom". Whether she raised me or not she is my mom. I still call her mom today in 2017.


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