Tag Archives: adoption terminology

The Adoption Museum Project

This photo of me was taken by my son’s birthfather a few months after our son was born.

In my morning scroll though Facebook, I stumbled across a post that had to do with The Adoption Museum.  The what? I said. The what? The Adoption Museum Project?! The initial exhibit back in May of 2013 had to do with birthmothers (yes, there was an ensuing controversy about the term) and I had no idea that the project existed or that the event occurred. I missed it.

In 2013 I was still adjusting to my first year as a caregiver. In May I was obsessing over my mother’s CPAP machine.  All of that. My life as a caregiver, living with my mother, weekends with the man who loved me visiting us, doing what I could to support my younger daughter as she worked on her master’s degree. All of that seems so long ago as if the four of us here together in this house was a dream.

I suppose there are plenty of days that the memory of giving birth to my son and then giving him up resides in the background too. But some days the experience lives inside me close to the surface–not just his birth and the subsequent relinquishment or even the two decades of secrecy or the visceral memory of shame and grief. It’s that girl–the girl I was then. I was a different person then. The other big events–the deaths, divorces, estrangements– happened to the person I now know to be me. But that girl. That girl in the photo above. A visit from her is like time travel and space travel rolled into one. She’s an alien. And she is me.

Anyway, there are still ways to get involved and a newsletter you can subscribe to. They are open to feedback.

So I’m just shouting it out. And thinking about what feedback I’d like to provide–where to begin, actually. I am nothing but feedback when it comes to adoption.

Complicated Family Trees


I enjoy reading about complicated family trees. I found this story interesting, given my perspective as a birthmother. It opens with a pair of sisters, one who served as an egg donor for the other’s pregnancy. It’s this story from England. Of course, there are probably a zillion other children who’ve come into the world in this fashion. Egg donation began in the 1980s. In addition, there are certainly women who’ve raised a sister’s child as their own.

A multifaceted family tree

School children are often asked to make a family tree. That’s cool. If there’s honesty and actual facts involved. It would be a fantastic way to discuss the way families are formed. It could segue into talking about two mothers, two fathers. Blended families. Kids being parented by grandparents. Or foster parents. This one lesson on the family tree could lead to a lot of discussion.

The child in the story above has a multifaceted placement on her family tree. Biologically, she is the daughter of her aunt. While the mother who is raising her is actually her aunt.

None of this complexity is anything new to me.

My family tree

My family tree would amaze you. Get out your whiteboard and some colored markers.

My father was married before he married my mother. And this previous wife of his was married before she married him. She had a daughter from that marriage. And together my father and the wife had a son. My father and his wife raised the daughter along with the son.

The daughter had a daughter of her own when she was only 16. My father and his wife helped the daughter raise her daughter. In fact they adopted her. But the wife died. My father remarried. He married the woman that would become my mother. By then the first wife’s daughter was grown up. However, the daughter’s daughter was still a kid and she went to live with my mom and dad who raised her.

I came along and thought of this girl as my sister. Or my half-sister. Actually, she was my adopted half-sister. We called her biological mother my step-sister. We called the son my half-brother. It was all kind of weird and not talked about much. I think that was because we lived in a very small, conservative Catholic town. But we knew who was who. At some point.

That small Catholic town is why I gave up my son when I got pregnant at 16. I kept my pregnancy a secret. It was necessary to survive. Only my parents and my boyfriend knew about my son.

Another complicated family

After I found my son and we planned to meet, I needed to tell my daughters they had a brother. My husband thought they were too young to understand. They were two and five. “Let’s tell them he’s a relative, and explain more when they’re older,” he said. I wanted to tell them the truth. The truth won out. I showed my daughters a picture of me and my son’s father at our senior prom.

“Mommy was in love with another guy before Daddy,” I said. “We had a baby. He’s all grown up now and he’s coming to see us. He’s your brother.” They understood perfectly. And they were super thrilled to have a big brother.

There are so many ways to form a family now. So many ways to make a baby. We need straight talk. Honest talk. The truth. If we are not ready to have conversations about egg and sperm donors, surrogate mothers, and about birthmothers and birth fathers, I believe we are doing a disservice to the child who is the result of these adventures. How can we so dearly want the child, but not his or her genetic history? Not their true story? Let’s open our arms to all of it.

My family was beyond unusual for its time and place. But I grew up loving all my siblings. And none of them was 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.


More about words

The word chosen is part of the language of adoption. Not everyone likes it.

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

She doesn’t like the word “chosen.” I hadn’t thought about it before, but the images it calls to my mind should not be used for babies. Pet store window, shelf of dolls or maybe the roster of eligible men I occasionally peruse on my favorite internet dating site. But not children.
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 in the beginning. But later on it’s just one more thing that dances around the truth. And people get hurt. Because it ignores the hurt.

Adoption Words

A word about words

Adoption words. Let’s have a word here about the adoption words so prevalent in any discussion of adoption.

Birthmother, an adoption word

I’ve been looking at other adoption/birthmother blogs and general adoption sites on the internet. What I’ve found is that 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.  Which was I can’t believe this is happening, but it is happening and there’s no way I can stop it.

Birthmother seems appropriate for other reasons, too. I gave birth to my son. I’m his mother. The mother who gave birth to him. Even if he has an adoptive mother. 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.

Relinquish, another adoption word

The word “relinquish” also interests me. It was the word used by my social worker in 1970 as I prepared to give up my son. It’s in common parlance today as well. I use it, but maybe 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. I don’t, however, have a better word. Which is the problem about these adoption words. Looking for a better word when there might not be one. What if the focus had been looking for a better resolution to the mess we birthmothers found ourselves in. That solution should have been not considering it to be a mess at all. That solution should have been being able to keep our children if we wanted to. That however would have required a different world, not just a different word.