Actually Birth Mother Fits

Me and my Sons in 2009

I’ve been thinking about writing on this topic recently and having learned that today is National Sons Day, I decided it was appropriate for me to just go ahead and write about my thoughts.

In adoption circles, “birth mother” is no longer the preferred term for a woman who gives up her child to be adopted by strangers never to see that child again. These women increasingly prefer first or natural mother for their role in their birthed children’s lives. For many, some kind of reunion takes place after the child has reached an age of maturity. Such reunions are becoming common place. Some are happy and others are heart-breaking.

When I embarked on my journey to discover my own genetic roots back in 2017, I really didn’t know much about adoption. In fact, it was the most natural thing in the world for me and my sisters because both of our parents were adopted. They really had almost no idea of where they came from and varied from one to the other regarding how they felt about the situation. Now I know what my parents didn’t know the day they died, I know who their parents were and a bit about each one of them.

Back in 1998, when my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary, he surprised me with the announcement that he wanted to become a father after all. I had become a mother in 1973 within my first marriage. He had always been glad I had been there, done that, no pressure on him. Now he was instigating the unthinkable and it proved to be almost undoable as well. We tried all of the advice and used ovulation predictors but could not achieve success. A nurse practitioner in my GPs office referred me to her own OBGYN who delivered the good and bad news to us. I had an egg developing that would prove to be my very last. He gave me a shot of something or other to give it a boost but to no avail. At that same initial meeting he told us there was another way for us to become parents – donor eggs.

We found our donor and everything was simply agreements between the three of us. The first son was the only successful pregnancy out of 4 that the doctor tried to assist that year. We had no idea he had so little experience. We also never anticipated that inexpensive DNA testing would come along or prove so popular and accessible. While still in the maternity ward, recovering from a necessary c-section due to me being positive for hepC to prevent transmission to my baby, my husband was already saying – “Let’s do it again.” We had some leftover embryos and tried that but it failed.

We weren’t certain our previous donor would agree to “do it again” but to our undying gratitude she did and we were by then at a very experienced clinic in Las Vegas with a doctor who’s reputation for success was very reassuring and we did – succeed. We now have two sons that are fully genetic and biological siblings and they are wonderfully close and appreciative of each other. Each one has some of my husband’s traits but each one is also very individualistic. The older one has an artist’s soul and has gifted us with many dvds starring himself and his brother as reminders of their childhood days. The younger one turns out to have a genius IQ and a natural aptitude for composing music and takes to all things computer oriented like a fish in water.

Thankfully, we never hid the boys method of conception from them but we never made a big deal about it either. We have visited with the donor on more than one occasion but distance and financial constraints have prevented us from getting together for quite a few years now. Enter Facebook. Thanks to social media I remain in contact with her and the events that take place with her and my son’s half siblings born to her. I show my sons photos of them when appropriate.

One day, I discovered she was doing 23 and Me. I had also done that DNA testing as had my daughter and my nephew and assorted relatives from my original grandparents that I have since made contact with. So that year, I gifted my husband with a 23 and Me kit. Then with the older son turning 18, I gifted him with a kit and decided to go ahead and gift the younger one as well, so that all was reconnected on a genetic basis. This also allowed us to reiterate the boy’s conception stories to them now that they were mature enough to understand them fully.

So, this brings a unique circumstance into all of our lives. At 23 and Me, the egg donor is shown as the boys “mother”. Neither myself nor my daughter nor any other genetic relatives of mine are shown as related to my sons. Only the younger one has expressed any sadness that we are not genetically related but the truth is, they simply would not exist nor be who they are any other way and they have a happy life as near as I am able to judge that. We have a happy family as well. Generally, I’m not very public about this because I don’t want people to be cruel to my sons but it is the truth and I am able and willing to face that. The egg donor is available now to each boy privately via the messaging system at 23 and Me, if the boys want that, and I’ve told them both she is willing to receive any contact they wish to initiate. She has always shown a caring perspective about them, while understanding with phenomenal clarity about her limited role in their lives.

So where does that leave me as their mother ? Birth mother fits pretty well because by golly I carried each boy in my womb for 9 months and they each nursed at my breast for just over a year. We have never been separated as mother and child such as occurs in adoption. I am the only “mother” they have ever known and I love hearing them refer to me as “mom”. We are very close, I do believe, though the older one is now 20 and forging a bit of independence. We did not fully foresee all of the ramifications of our decision to conceive them at the time we made that decision – we were not inclined to adopt someone else’s baby – and so, we used the only method available to us and I am grateful we were successful because from what I know only about half of all couples who try this method are successful.

While I may not have been fully aware of all the effects of our decision, having these two boys has been a tremendous gift. When my genetic, biological daughter was only 3 years old, I was forced by financial hardship to allow her to be raised by her dad, who subsequently remarried a woman with a daughter and together they had yet another daughter. My daughter has half and step siblings in a yours mine and ours family. I was unable to give her a family life during her childhood and by the time I married this husband she was well along into high school. Never-the-less we are as close as most mothers and daughters may be but without very much childhood history, which I recognize I have lost and can never regain.

I considered myself a failure as a mother and though I’ve done a lot of soul searching over the years, I still do feel that way in regard to my lack of mothering her. I failed her and the effects have been somewhat similar to what adoptees experience within her own life. I am grateful she doesn’t hate me for it. She seems to understand the situation I found myself in at the time. What these boys have given me is proof that I am not a failure as a mother and for that I will always be grateful. It is my hope my sons will always be grateful for the life they have. Some donor conceived persons struggle with their reality. I understand this now, though I didn’t know then what I know now about so many of the messy complications of life.

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.