Category Archives: words

What to Say to a Birthmother on Mother’s Day and a Thought or Two on Birthmother’s Day


There are millions of us. For every adoptee, there is a birthmother. We’re your sisters, your friends, your aunts, your cousins, your teammates, your co-workers, your wives and girlfriends, that person next to you on the plane who’s flying home to see her mom and tells you everything after her 4th rum and coke.

Each of our stories is unique and they’re all the same. What you say to the particular birthmother(s) that you know probably depends on the story. Think about what you know. Step into her shoes. Is she still keeping her secret from others with you being one of the few in her confidence? Is she happily reunited with her son or daughter? Has her child refused to meet her? Is she searching? Does she have other children? Maybe you invite her over for coffee or take her out for a drink. Maybe you tell her you feel enriched by knowing her story, or you give her a card or a take time for a conversation. Maybe you ask her what she thinks of Birthmother’s Day, which is today, by the way, in case you didn’t know.

I don’t exactly hate the idea of Birthmother’s Day, myself. But I don’t really love it either. The phrase Happy Birthmother’s Day pretty much gets stuck in my throat. I’d rather cough up a carving knife than say that, but the idea of commemoration is a good one. We’re here. So, I’m thinking of us and all of our stories.

“A rose by any other name…”

I’ve posted about language before–Here  and Here.  I understand that  words can upset people. Some words are mean to obfuscate or insult or demean.

I got pregnant when I was 16. I kept my secret and I kept it well. Six weeks before my son was born, my mom took a guess at what was going on with me. She told my dad. Then my parents insisted that I tell my boyfriend. My sisters and brothers were kept in the dark. My boyfriend’s parents had no idea. I was hidden in a foster home in the Iowa countryside for eight weeks. Then I came home. A couple of weeks later I left for college.

I told the man I married about my son. I didn’t tell my friends.

After each of my daughters was born, I slipped into an abyss of grief. Then I met a young woman who told me she was a birthmother. Until that moment, I believed myself to be an unwed mother. I loved the word, “birthmother.” Shortly thereafter my new friend took me to a Concerned United Birthparents meeting. Here is what CUB has to say about language:
The terms “birthmother” or “birthparent” were coined by CUB founders, including Lee Campbell, who wrote an article in a 2005 issue of the CUB Communicator describing its origin. It is a term that honors the connection between parent and child, and has never been intended as a degrading or perjorative term.
We are Concerned United Birthparents. We welcome those with adoption experiences to share with, inform and support each other. Whatever terminology you wish to use will be respected here. We ask that you do the same for others, and exercise tolerance when others do not use the words you like.
The #1 search query that leads people to CUB is “birth parents.” That’s what people are typing into the search engines.
From time to time, arguments will occur on the list over the terms “birthmother” or “birthparent.” Others may suggest the use of “first mother” “natural mother” or just plain “mother” with no prefix whatsoever. We respect the use of the terminology you feel comfortable with, and do not impose any particular terminology on anyone. At the same time, we request you extend the same respect and courtesy to anyone who does not use the terminology you prefer.

This is my sentiment as well, and the protocol I will follow on this blog. I moderate my comments, and while I enthusiastically welcome comments that evenhandedly make a case for one word or another, I will not post comments that demean the vocabulary of others. Let us use the words we chose to use, but let’s not allow our words to divide us.