It Matters What We Are Called By

The name of a thing does not matter as much as the quality of the thing.
~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. … When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It makes a positive and lasting impression on us.

I love hearing my sons say “Mom” and my grandchildren say “Grandma”. My oldest son, now 20 years old, sometimes says Steve or Debbie when referring to us but I see this as a maturity thing. Though most of us will still say Mom or Dad even when we are in our 60s, if we are so lucky to have them still living. Back in my early 20s, my young daughter (preschool age) did also sometimes call me Debbie. The children hear other people refer to us by our given names and that is a factual reality, we do carry the names we are given, unless we change them intentionally.

Adoptees are mostly never allowed to keep their birth given names after adoption. Their names are changed and their birth certificates altered. This is the erasing of an identity.

With foster care, the circumstances can be slightly different, as illustrated by today’s story.

Children ages 5 and 6 have spent 1 year with their current foster family. They have been in foster care for 2.5 years. The Termination of Parental Rights has already happened. The current foster family intends to adopt them.

Now the foster mom is crying that the kids keep calling her and her husband by their first names. They insist on calling their biological parents mom and dad. This is totally understandable as those people are their original, natural mom and dad. However, the foster mom says this hurts both of the foster parents’ feelings. Their reason for wanting to adopt is to grow their family. They want the kids to accept that, after adoption, they are the mom and dad now. They don’t want to be called by their first names going forward. They set an example by calling themselves mommy and daddy. The kids continue to persistently call them by their first names. The foster parents call the original birth parents – biodad or biomom – or even by their first names. Kids remain adamant and keep saying my “real” dad or “real” mom.

And the hurt feelings for the foster parents do not end and this matter to them because they’ve never had kids of their own before. They suffer from infertility and after years of trying, they want to become parents by adopting. They’re adopting to become “parents” not simply babysitters.

It upsets them that the original natural parents hardly made an effort to visit the kids and yet the kids still remember them and call them their parents, mom and dad. The foster parents are seeking to drive a wedge between the kids and their original natural parents by saying “A real parent takes care of you. Does not choose an addiction over you or go to prison.”

The foster parents are seeking to intentionally disrupt the children’s relationship to their original parents because it simply hurts them too much to not be called mommy and daddy by these children. The foster mom has said that it has always been her dream and desire to adopt. She is laying down the law !! She will not be called by her first name after adoption.

The foster parents had a fantasy that by now the kids would be happy to call them mommy and daddy. They believed that since these kids are so young, the kids would easily bond with them as parents by now. That after having been in foster care, these kids would be happy to receive a new mommy and daddy.

It would seem that good quality healthy people would not be obsessed with molding a child to be something they are not, when they are supposedly trying to help that child by adopting them. Why would they insist on erasing the factual family history from an innocent, already traumatized child ? Reasons why reform has become such an important concept in adoption and foster care.

The Uncertainty Inherent

Today’s story is about a birth mother who’s daughter, put up for adoption, has rejected contact with her 25 years later thanks to the Dear Therapist article in The Atlantic.

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Blog Author’s note – It’s tough being a vulnerable, under supported, financially struggling birth mother. I get it. In my own family, the two children put up for adoption have since reconnected with this but that does not un-do all the years of living lives separated into other families. Even for my own self, I’ve re-connected with my actually genetic, biological relatives but it doesn’t make up for not knowing each other for decades. It is better to know who they are, it’s just tough building a relationship after so much time has gone by. So I am interested in this response.

Answer from the therapist –

I’m glad you’re curious about why the woman your daughter put up for adoption 25 years ago might not want to meet her birth mother. I say this because you write about your daughter’s pain and feeling of rejection, but I’m not sure that your daughter has a good sense of how her adopted child might feel—not only about this meeting, but about the circumstances that led to the adoption and her life since then.

Something to consider: Adopted children don’t get to choose whether or not they are adopted, or what family they’ll end up in. Adults make these choices for them. Given their lack of choice in what happened, making their own decisions about how to handle their experiences later on matters greatly.

Of course, different adoptees will make different decisions, for all kinds of reasons. But too often, adults try to dictate how they should feel and what they should do with regard to their birth parents. Sometimes it goes something like “You shouldn’t try to find your birth parents; after all, your mom and dad will be so hurt.” Other times it might be “Don’t search for your birth parents, because it might disrupt their lives or that of their families. They chose a closed adoption for a reason.” Or: “You should definitely search for them, because you’ll regret it later if you don’t.” Or: “How can you refuse to meet your birth parents? Don’t you realize how lucky you are that they’ve reached out and you have the opportunity to know them?” None of this, of course, respects the feelings of the person who was adopted.

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be much regard for your daughter’s biological child’s wants or needs—your perspective seems to be all about your daughter’s desire for this relationship. In fact, there’s so little regard for this young woman’s feelings that your daughter, despite knowing that her biological child has consistently said she’s not interested in meeting, reached out to her on Facebook.

As for why someone who was adopted may not want to meet her birth mother, the reasons are as varied as the individuals involved. Some adopted children feel angry or abandoned by the birth parents, especially if there are other siblings who stayed with one or both biological parents, as is the case here. (This may feel like being the “unwanted child.”) Some adoptees don’t have those feelings—they are living a perfectly happy life—but there’s fear of the emotional turmoil such a meeting might bring. It could raise new questions of what might have been; it could reveal information that the adoptee would rather not have known; it could start a relationship that doesn’t work out, resulting in a loss that could be quite painful on top of whatever feelings of loss the adoptee already has.

I’ve also heard from some adoptees who have met their biological parents that they found the experience disappointing. Despite imagining that they’d have a lot in common with their biological parents, upon meeting they felt as though these people were aliens with different interests, worldviews, personalities, and values—leaving them with a sense of emptiness. Some have told me that they would have preferred to maintain whatever fantasy they had of their biological parents rather than be faced with the much starker reality.

All of this is to say: A lot can go wrong, so it makes sense that some adoptees would choose not to be in contact with their biological parents. But whatever this young woman’s reasons, she doesn’t owe your daughter an explanation. It’s not her job to meet your daughter’s emotional needs.

Instead, gaining a better understanding of what those emotional needs are might help your daughter feel less pain about not meeting her biological daughter. I imagine that she has a lot of complicated feelings about the adoption that perhaps she doesn’t fully understand, and talking to a therapist about them might not only lessen the intensity of the longing but also help her consider what she’s asking of her biological daughter and why.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that your daughter’s biological child may feel differently about reaching out at another juncture in her life. She may have some questions about the family’s medical history one day, or decide that she wants the experience of seeing her biological mother face-to-face. If that time does come, it will be important to focus on her needs. There’s a difference between a phone conversation and a meeting, and between a meeting and embarking on a relationship. The less this woman worries that her biological family might want more from her than she’s willing to give—which is likely how she feels now—the more open she might become one day to making contact. But even if she doesn’t, the most loving thing you can do for her is to honor her choice.

Evolving Perspectives

Bernice Dittmer, 1989

The topic came up with my husband last night as he is organizing lots of family history and photos into labeled binders for our sons if they ever should become interested “someday”. How should he label my Grandmother Dittmer ? I said adding Adoptive was just too cumbersome though it was necessary in certain communities and situations.

I was so excited when after 60+ years of living I finally knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted, they died knowing next to nothing about their own origins). I realize I am fortunate to have achieved so much in so little time. My dad’s mom was unwed and his father would have been lost to all of us but she knew who the father was and left us breadcrumbs. DNA has done the rest.

For awhile since, when I think of grandparents, I think of these original ones. They are the blood and genetic lines I am honestly related to – but I never knew them. I know “some” about them from meeting cousins and an aunt (though most not in person) and receiving photos and stories from these relatives that I am truly more grateful for than my words can ever express.

Lately, something else has happened in my evolving perspective. I am able to re-own my adoptive grandparents. After all, they were the only grandparents who reside in my childhood memories. They had a great deal of influence on me in so many ways. Primarily, that had a lot to do with the proximity I had to them that sadly my own grandchildren now do not even have them me and much to my own sorrow that the circumstances of all of our lives as such.

My dad’s adoptive parents taught me humility. They were poor and god fearing Church of Christ people. Since learning my origins, I also realized the “miracle” that my mom was not sent away as a high school student un-wed at the time of my conception to have and give me up to adoption as well. I believe I have my dad’s adoptive parents to thank for that and primarily my Granny. I also have her to thank for waking me up to leave an unhealthy long-term romantic relationship which opened the way to meet my husband (now for over 30 years). We spent many weekends with these grandparents and attended church on Sunday many times with them. I honestly do love them both.

My mom’s adoptive mother (shown in the image above) was a wealthy, formal kind of woman. My mom called her “Mother” to her dying day and we called her “Grandmother”. She taught us the manners of the upper class and what life is like for them by taking us on fabulous trips as her companions after my adoptive grandfather dropped dead shortly after his retirement in his 60s. My adoptive grandmother lived to over 90 years. She could be very difficult and cruel in her judgements. I respected her. Love might not be the best word but she had good intentions. She grew up in Missouri in much the same circumstances as I live now. By the strength of her own will, she made her life better than the world she originated in.

So, I can acknowledge today, a subtle shift – I have two phases of grandparent. My childhood grandparents who were that for decades of my life. And my actual grandparents who are forever lost to any ability on my part to know them in person but I am somehow – who and what I am – because of them.

My Dad with my Granny & Granddaddy

“She Said – She Said” Stress

An adoptee reunion is tough enough without family making things harder. Today’s story –

My daughter will be 18 on March 11th. My aunt adopted her. She had the money and a judge sided with her for custody.

My aunt told her bad things about me. That I was a drug addict for 10 years (became sober in 2014).

The aunt has not allowed me any space in my daughter’s life. But at age 18, she is mature enough to make her own decision about contact with me.

I know my daughter has had some mental health issues. I don’t want to make things worse for her but I do want to reconnect now that I can.

How do I do this well ?

So, there comes this advice from a woman who just finished a clinical rotation at a women’s recovery center and worked on this topic a lot! It was recommended to many of them to have these types of conversations with a family therapist as a 3rd party if possible, or have the child/adolescent have at least a session or so with one following the information. This can help alleviate some of that “she said – she said” type of stress from the conversation. A professional has the empathetic perspective to guide regarding the right things to say.

I understand having a professional can be financially difficult and complicated by COVID. Many therapists are doing TeleHealth appointments now. Please know that there are a lot more affordable options than there previously have been!

If that’s not something that’s possible – just remember that this is confusing for her, and to be gentle with the approach. She will likely be able to tell if anything doesn’t feel genuine because she’ll likely be on high alert in her nervous system expecting a difficult conversation. Be careful not just drag your emotional feelings about your aunt’s behavior into your conversations (I know that will be difficult but it is important). Come from a place of love, positivity, and most importantly, showing her respect will go a long way.

Congratulations on your sobriety, that’s a HUGE accomplishment and I truly hope you’re proud of yourself. Best of luck! Your daughter is lucky to have you!

Someone else had similar advice – I suggest you find a therapist with experience working with adopted teens. Your story has many layers and you may find working with a therapist will help guide you through the coming years. It’s hard to walk the path of reunion alone or alongside others who are struggling. A therapist is trained to guide your journey.

From another adoptee’s own experience – I was back in contact at 17 (almost 18) with my mama. Very much like it has been for your daughter, I was told horrible things about her growing up, some were true, some were not. She was a drug addict as well. When we first met, she wanted to clear her name. She really laid it on thick – how this and that wasn’t true, and this excuse and that excuse. The entire time, this made me very uncomfortable and nervous. I remember just feeling like she was talking to me – not with me. What I wanted was for her apologize, to tell me she loved me, to ask about me, to show interest in me… the main thing I wanted was just to be near her, and feel important to her. My advice, from my adoptee point of view is – just apologize, go by her lead, answer questions honestly but don’t put too much on her at one time. Don’t play the victim card (even if you truly are). Everything doesn’t have to happen in one day. It takes time for separated person to regain trust in one another and build a new relationship. Go slow. Adoptees want the truth but it is also true that we cannot always handle all the weight of the truth at one time… Good luck Mama, you already are taking a great first step in reaching out for guidance, before going forward.

Another woman amplified this message – your actions will show who you are over time to her as she grows a relationship with you. Give her baby steps and gentle love – without a ton of defending yourself, or defaming auntie. You can only prove yourself with time and character!! Invest in her and listen to her. You got this, momma.

Always Connected

Birth moms never lose their connection, even when the baby has been adopted.

The perspective of many adoptive moms is that they have paid tens of thousands of dollars to have their own baby – the birth mom never mattered in their own calculations.

Inside their savior minds, the baby is now theirs. Adoptive moms tend to make everything about themselves including the adoption. When this graphic appeared in an adoption group, the adoptive moms criticized it as being disrespectful of them. It is also the truth – about every baby ever born of a mother (which all of them are at this time in our civilization – thankfully, we are not Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – yet.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World written in 1932 there is a scene at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre’s Embryo Store, where embryos gestate ectogenetically under dim, red light: “The sultry darkness . . . was visible and crimson, like the darkness of closed eyes on a summer’s afternoon. The bulging flanks of row on receding row and tier above tier of bottles glinted with innumerable rubies, and among the rubies moved the dim red spectres of men and women with purple eyes and all the symptoms of lupus. The hum and rattle of machinery faintly stirred the air.”

Embryos need to develop, a process that for each is best carried on under dim light. But the representations of embryo culture in Brave New World extend the comparison, for they reveal a heavy dependence on a variety of visualization technologies, from microscopy to cinematography. Thus the tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre features “the yellow barrels of the microscopes” lit by the winter sun; the Director’s description of how fertilized ova are transferred, in their embryonic culture solution, “onto the specially warmed slides of the microscopes,” where they are “inspected for abnormalities”; and a description of how x-rays are then used to trigger the process of embryo budding, or “bokanovskification,” which produces up to 96 identical embryos.

Thankfully, we continue to develop inside our mother’s wombs. One can only wonder what human beings devoid of that human connection during development as a fetus would be like but one thing is certain – in such a “brave new world” no mother would have to relinquish her infant to a stranger and any couple who wanted to adopt would have a ready supply but I for one am not willing to go to that world. I hope we never do.

One adoptive mom (bless her clear sighted heart for knowing this much) wrote – I just don’t understand what is so difficult of a concept for adoptive parents to grasp that a human being can love more than one person. Why is it such a big threat for a child to know and love their freaking parents! And how in the hell could this saying be disrespectful? It is TRUE. And just because they(we) are now raising the child does not deem them(us) worthy of more love or any kind of additional respect!

White Fragility

This is a very personal post about me and my daughter. We got into a huge fight last night over the n-word.

We were driving in the city listening to her songs. I personally found the songs disgusting and demeaning to women. Every other word was p—-y, Ho, b—ch and especially nig-er. Not nig—a. But nig-er.

To me there’s a huge difference. And I told her that NO ONE, black or white, should ever use that word. I also told her that I think it’s disgraceful to hear singers use it in their songs.

My daughter told me that I was acting like a racist. She said white people can’t use the word. But that black people can because they are taking back the word. They are taking ownership of the word.

I have no clue what that means. And if I’m wrong I’ll be the first to admit it. But I think using that word under ANY circumstances is wrong. And that includes rap stars.

I’ll be blunt. I think the way these rap stars talk about women is despicable and demeaning. They are NOT ho’s, bitc—s, and nig-rs.

They are beautiful women who deserve our respect.

So, wonderful that he cares about this young woman and wants her treated well. But it appears that he’s trying to tell her she can’t use words from the culture she’s scrambling to belong to because she’s been raised outside of it ? If you are the Caucasian parent of a Person of Color, it matters not what way, shape or form, it is NOT your place to tell your children about their own culture or what is racist to them. As a parent, it is ESPECIALLY your job to listen.

Confusing Lust As Love

A less common definition for Lust is a passionate desire for “x”.

A woman in my all things adoption group wrote – To love someone is sometimes a decision you make every day. Between posts from Second Chance Adoptions and adoptive parents in other groups, I’m seeing a lack of unconditional love in adoptive families. How many times have we seen from hopeful adoptive parents “I’m in love with a child I haven’t met yet.” That’s not love, it’s lust. Some people are seriously confused about what it means to “love.”

Another woman notes something I have long know is true of how most people do define love.

Most people sadly place conditions on their love. I love you as long as you love me. I love you as long as you do what I say. I love you as long as you never upset me. I love you but only if you never struggle. I love you until you say you hate me. I love you until you say I’m not your real parent. I love you until you decide to go live with your biological mom. And the ultimate one, “I love you as long as it’s convenient and beneficial for me.”

I am an unconditionally loving person. I can love even the worst scoundrel on some level. But I agree with this remark – unconditionally loving someone, doesn’t mean, I have to do things for him or her that hurt me or my family. This is where I have sadly had to arrive with my youngest sister, who traumatizes me and leaves me obsessed if I have too much interaction with her. I do love her. I wish her well in the most obvious definition of that word but I have to also care about myself and my other family members.

Another woman defined it this way – Real, true unconditional love has no conditions. True unconditional love comes with respect, compassion and understanding. True unconditional love says that no matter how something may make me feel or how it may make my life harder, if you need it, I will do it for you because I love you.

I think the operative word there is “need”. Sometimes what someone needs is very hard for us to do but we do it anyway. Like when I had to ask the court to determine my sister’s competency to manage her own affairs. That was all that was required, that I ask it be looked at. Of course, she didn’t appreciate it but with our parents both dying, it was something she needed and a family member had to ask for it. Then it was the judge, the social worker and the psychologist who made the determine how much assistance she should have. I am glad that wasn’t a determination I had to make. I do value freedom and self-determination and I never wanted those taken from my sister and for the most part, the judge has left her free except in the overall management of her finances. She is still able to spend her budgeted allowance any way she choses.

Another woman stated her honest opinion – Oh, I hate that shit! “We’re so heartbroken that the biological mom decided to keep her baby. We were already in love with her.” Like, baby isn’t even born yet but don’t tell me you wouldn’t take absolutely ANY baby.

To which, another affirmed – Right. They’d just move on to the next. It doesn’t matter what baby, as long as it’s a baby.

Then there is the “I chose you” facade so many adoptive parents perpetrate –

My adoptive mom used to tell me that they got to pick me and that biological parents just get the kid they’re given. It’s bs. They didn’t pick me! They took the first baby available. They would have taken the next baby in line if I’d been given to someone else.

Which comment elicited sympathy – I can’t even begin to imagine how it feels to know that. I’m sure most domestic infant adoption adoptees know that, and I’m sure y’all just wish your adoptive parent would at least be honest.

I found this a good analogy – As I told an ex once, “You weren’t in love with me, just with the *idea* of someone to fit the role you envisioned.” I know it is possible to become deeply attached to what someone represents, without unconditionally loving that person. 

Even When Trying To Do The Right Thing

Adoption can be a tricky needle to thread, even when one is trying their best to do the right thing. Today, I bring you the story of an adoptive mother who is trying her best to do what’s best for the children she is raising.

My husband and are the adoptive parents of two children (domestic), placed with us at birth after their original moms chose us from our profiles. The adoptions were supposed to be “semi-open,” in that we exchanged letters and other communications through the agency only, and didn’t share our last names or the towns in which we live. This was the policy of the agency, and it was the moms who chose the agency.

I naively assumed this process was driven by the mom’s wishes (we did not “choose” the agency… our first placement was very sudden and via a connection that our home study social worker had at the agency).

After the first year with our eldest child, communicating through the agency, we took the lead from his mom and stopped using the agency as middle man (and also shared last names and the specific location where we live). We now correspond regularly and directly with her, and take her lead for the amount of contact she wants. We would do more, but also we respect her choice regarding how much contact we have. If and when our son has more questions or wants more contact, we will facilitate that.

For our younger son, the agency told us after 6 months to stop sending letters and pictures for his mom because she had moved and they did not have a forwarding address for her. I assumed this was her choice too, so while it made me sad for our son, I stopped sending the letters. Now I am not so sure about any of this. I have a handful of reasons to believe that the agency was very badly administered and evidence that, at best, they were sloppy with record keeping and filing. I do not trust that it was his mom who declined contact. What I am sure of is – it’s my responsibility to know as much about our child’s first family as possible, and to share what I know as/when our child asks for it.

And here’s the sticky part where I don’t know how to balance what is ethical and what is best for our child: While I was not supposed to know his mom’s last name, I learned it in the first week of our child’s life (there was an extended hospital stay, and the hospital revealed it… I didn’t go looking for the last name). When the agency told me to stop sending letters, I easily found our child’s mom and extended family on social media. I feel like the agency should have done this, and not simply accepted the lack of a forwarding address as an indication from the mom that she didn’t want the level of contact stipulated in the adoption agreement. But they did not, and thus I have been checking in on her through social media all these years, collecting whatever information I can for our child. I am now wondering if, because of my suspicions that the agency was negligent, I should reach out to his mom directly and ask her if she wants any contact with us or updates.

What I don’t want to do is violate her privacy or wishes… but also I want as much information for our child as I can gather. Of the two children I’m parenting, he is the one with the most questions about/interest in his first family, and while I care about his mom and her wishes, I don’t feel I actually KNOW them. And, of course, our son is my priority. He’s approaching the age where his questions are becoming much more specific, and I want answers for him.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to get a clear picture of his mom’s true wishes (not her wishes as filtered through the agency’s policy and negligent administration) before he gets to the age where he can find her on his own. While I know I can’t protect him from the traumas of adoption, I can support him, and I don’t think putting him in the position of being blindsided by whatever he finds would be the best way to support him.

The first response to this story came from a woman who surrendered her child to adoption and I do agree with her simple answer – Reach out to her. At this point you have nothing to lose.

There are many many answers and most are encouraging the attempt to make contact. I’ll just share this one from an adoptive parent –  I think you can make contact to verify her wishes, but when she tells you what she wants, respect that. And understand that your son may be blindsided regardless of what you learn now—like everyone, the wishes and life situation of his mom may change by the time he’s older and wants to know more.

Follow your instincts and respect whatever you learn. At least you can say you made the effort and if the effort closes the door, you can then put the question into the mom’s box to answer – when that day comes.

Good Intentions, Broken Promises

I can’t even begin to count all of the sad stories I have read about open adoptions that don’t stay open. So many original mothers, who surrendered their baby for one reason or another, with expectations of continued contact, at the least photos and updates, who discover too late that they’ve been dismissed by the adoptive parents.

Here’s today’s story –

Her son is 4 and a half. She gave him up for adoption at birth to what she believed were the perfect adoptive parents. They promised her they’d keep her updated with pictures, texts, phone calls, etc. She just wanted to remain a part of her son’s life at a distance. She didn’t want to steal their thunder. She just wanted to know something about her son as he grows up but always intended to respect the adoptive parent’s relationship. The adoptive parents agreed to that expectation of the original mother.

They knew her situation, which was that she was single mom with 3 children to support. She had zero family to help her. She simply couldn’t afford another baby. Her son’s father (she also has a daughter by him) is from India. She knew he’d never be a part of his son’s life, as he isn’t even involved with his daughter.

Within a month of giving them her son, they stopped all communication. They won’t respond to any of her texts.

She is beside herself and doesn’t know what to do. She signed 50 pages of documents at the hospital, in a tiny room with 15 other people present as witnessed. They rushed her to sign the papers without giving her any time to read what she was signing first. They even had a taxi waiting outside for her and told her she needed to hurry up. She doesn’t have no clue what she signed.

She is at a loss as to what she can do now. Her son will be 5 in May. He has black hair, black eyes and beautiful golden skin. He doesn’t look anything like his adoptive parents, so it is likely he’s going to ask questions. She doesn’t want to step on any toes or ruin anyone’s relationship.

She just wants them to keep up their end of the deal. She admits that giving him up was the hardest decision she ever made. She only wants to be able to see his pictures. See how he’s doing in pre-Kindergarten. She just wants to know her son is alright.

She adds – “I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink. I don’t party. I’m a trauma bay RN and at the time, single mom struggling to feed my 3 kids and keep a home for them. I refused an abortion. I wanted my son to live a good life and accomplish something. I’m now engaged to a wonderful man that knows my struggle.”

This is a cautionary tale for any woman who is pregnant and contemplating giving her baby up for adoption because she has a set of prospective adoptive parents promising they will keep her updated. I’ve seen too many of these stories of the adoptive parents then closing communication. This woman ends her story with “How I wish I could go back in time and change my decision.”

The Correct Terminology

My mom was adopted.  She referred to my maternal grandmother as her “birth mother”.  My mom died in September of 2015, but if she were still alive, I would not have attempted to correct her own terminology. There is no way for me to second guess the meaning an adoptee or a such a mother may place on the role of that event in their lives.  I am not either one.

Certainly, a woman who has given up a child for adoption is going to have a preference.   How she might be identified by others would matter to her.  After I began learning who my genetically related grandparents actually were (both of my parents were adoptees), I soon learned that in the mature adoption community “birth” mother is no longer considered the best choice when referring to any woman who gives up her child for adoption.

An adoptee might refer to her own self as a “surrendered daughter” but never as the “birth daughter”.  Many times, her mother will have had other children subsequently, who she did raise.  That mother would not call those children her “birth” daughter or son.  When an adoptee goes into a reunion with the woman who gave birth to her – to that woman – she is the mom, though one who lost one of her children for a little while and now has her child back in her life.  I understand such a sentiment.  I lost (physical custody of but never legal custody of) my daughter for a little while during her childhood.  I am grateful she is still in my life and accepts me.  Very often, the adoptee (and this was true for my own daughter as well) will be expected by BOTH mothers to refer to them the same way, ie “Mom”.  My daughter did not call her other mother “step-mom”.  The adoptee (or my daughter for that matter) has no difficulty in keeping the two of them separate in her own mind.

I believe such issues are the truth for every person who’s family dynamics are complicated.  Everyone who has been a part of that person’s life is “real” to them.  My relatives due to the adoption of my parents – the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – were always “real” to me.  Duh.  Hello?  They live and breathe (or did, if now deceased).  No one is more or less real than anyone else is.  Everyone who was involved in an adoptee’s existence and their nurturing on this earth is “real” I do not refer to the people I now know were my grandparents (deceased) or the still living aunt or cousins (who I have been fortunate enough to locate and meet) as “real”.  But they are my genetic, biological relatives and the adoptive ones are not.  This is a fact of DNA.

What the terminology I am highlighting here is intended to be focused upon is referred to as person-first language–a way of speaking about others that puts them first.  In this regard, how we refer to someone else is informed by following their cues or asking them how they identify.  This is being considerate or respectful.

So I did learn new terms when it came to referring to the people I am in community with in an adoption related group (all aspects).  I now refer to parents who adopted children as “adoptive parents.”  And so, now I call the people who raised my parents (who I viewed as my grandparents for over 60 years of my life) as the adoptive grandparents.  I call parents who have surrendered children “original parents” – or the “original mother” or “original father” – the people who were the ones who conceived and gave birth to my parents, for example.  “Adoptive” and “original” are the terms that make the most sense to me.  I feel they are the most accurate in general and totally clear as to their reason and meaning.

The truth is that “birth parent” is still the most commonly recognized term for those not steeped in the issues around adoption.  Too often, adoption places an overwhelming importance on the role of original mothers for their reproductive ability because this enabled someone, usually an infertile couple, to have a child to raise.

I believe that ALL original mothers matter to their sons and daughters. I am a feminist who has become aware of the stereotypes and issues of gender and class when it comes to the practices of adoption.  Therefore, I have grown uncomfortable using the “birth” label in discussing adoption.

I believe all women should be valued by society; and sadly, too often they are not.  Women are not here on this planet to simply give “birth” more human beings.  A woman’s value is greater than her ability to reproduce.  All of this is an explanation regarding why the label of “birth” has fallen out of favor with those in the adoption community to whom it matters the most.