Category Archives: adoption terminology

My Family Tree Will Amaze You

Caveat re this post: Blogger and iPad are not a happily blended family. They are the Hatfields and the McCoys. I cannot get my links to post. Worse news: I will be in this deadzone of wirelesses for 2 more weeks. I will update this post upon my return to civilization.

There have been two articles in the New York Times recently that I found interesting, given my perspective as a birthmother. The first, which opens with the example of a pair of sisters, one who served as an egg donor for the other’s pregnancy, explores the question of the the child’s multifaceted placement on the family tree. Biologically, she is the daughter of her aunt. In the conventional familial sense, she is the daughter of the mother (the “aunt’s” sister) who is raising her as her own. This complexity is nothing new to a birthmother.

I gave up my son when I was seventeen, but I never stopped thinking of him as my son. While few people in my life knew of his existence until two decades after his birth, and I never spoke of him during those bleak pre-reunion decades, in my own internal monologue the only word I had to describe him was, “son.” Now, at a point in our personal history, when we will soon be reunited for as long as we were apart, I still refer to him simply as, “my son” though I fully acknowledge that I am not the only woman who claims him as such. There is no word in the English language that means, “son who I gave to adoptive parents,later re-united with, and now have a happy relationship with.” It’s probably just as well since the nuances of every birthmother’s story are different. Some might make a case for the term, “birthson,” but it seems awkward to me–a dichotomy perhaps since I am not loathe to employ the much debated term, “birthmother.” To me the difference lies in the fact that my son has two mothers–the mother who raised him and me, while all along, there has been only one of him.

It’s my hope that highly visible articles about these differently formed families make birthparent reunions more acceptable and less often construed as the skeleton in the closet, but in order to accomplish that we need teachers more adventurous and open-minded than the one quoted in the article. If we are not ready to have conversations about egg and sperm donors, about birthmothers and birth fathers, I believe we are doing a disservice to the child. Want the child, but not his or her genetic history? It seems dishonest to me. Why not open our arms to all of it?

I’ve written about my own complicated blended family here: I am happy to explain it to anyone who has an hour and a whiteboard and several colored markers. I grew up loving all my siblings, and none of them seemed any less lovable to me. When I was a little kid, I was confused about us a bit, but once I got it, I loved my family even more.

As for that second New York Times article, check back. It deserves a blog post all it’s own.

More About Words

I have  a friend who is adopted and after she read what I had to say about the words birthmother and relinquish, it started her thinking about the language of adoption, too. She says “it’s like  a dance society does as it continually steps on toes.” 

She doesn’t like the word “chosen.” I hadn’t thought about it before, but the images it calls to my mind are pet store window, shelf of dolls or maybe the roster of eligible men I occasionally peruse on my favorite internet dating site. It seems to me that adoptive parents choose to adopt, but they seldom choose the baby (or at least they didn’t in the 50s, 60s and 70s. ) Telling a child she’s been chosen has implications meant to candy coat the fact that  she’s been given up.  I can see why parents would do that.  I can see that a young child might like that story……for a while even though it’s not accurate.  But later on it’s just one more thing that dances around the truth–and people get hurt.

A Word About Words

I’ve been looking at other adoption/birthmother blogs and general adoption sites on the internet.

There is no consensus among birthmothers about what we want to be called.  Some of us think the word “birthmother” is derogatory and implies being used as a breeder.  The word birthmother is sometimes a hyphenate, sometimes a compound word.  I like the word birthmother in its run-on one word fashion. There’s something headlong about it that describes my personal experience–the I can’t believe this is happening, but it is happening and there’s no way I can stop it or change it. Birthmother seems appropriate for other reasons, too. I gave birth to my son. I’m his mother–even if he has an adoptive mother whom he thinks of as more-his-mother than me. The other terms out there include bio-mother or biological mother, first mother, exiled mother. I desire no squabble with any woman who has had a child and relinquished it for adoption–let her call herself by the name she prefers and let us not divide ourselves from one another.
The word “relinquish” interests me.  It was the word used by my social worker in 1970 as I prepared to give up my son and it’s in common parlance today as well. I use it, but I would like to break myself of the habit.
Relinquish according to Webster means to withdraw from, to retreat from, leave behind or give up–and here’s the part that pisses me off.  It “usually does not imply strong feeling but may suggest some regret, reluctance, or weakness.”  I wonder if adoption professionals got together and handpicked this word.  I find it far more insulting than “birthmother” or any of its alternatives.