Sunday, November 13, 2011

Q&A: Birth Mom Terminology

Christa's Question:
You know, as I go through the process of adoption I wonder what we should call our birthparents in front of our child. To say "birth" mother would raise questions about birth itself and at Ty's age I wouldn't want to explain the birds and the bees. "Biological" seems too big of a word but even "first" mom doesn't sound right. It implies you're second and may also imply there would be more moms to come after you, like a third and a fourth mom, at least from a child's way of thinking. "Real" mom to me is inappropriate and something I would never use because to me we're both real. Neither mother is fake. My social worker recommended using "biological" but I was wondering whether you and Ben struggled with the same ideas of introducing adoption terms to Ty. 

When Ben and I first dipped our toes into adopting waters, we asked a lot of the same questions and I don't know that we had answers pre-Ty. For me, adoption is such a progressive process that continuously changes the way I view my family and the world. Ben and I are super laid-back people and we decided from the beginning that the topic of adoption would be wide open conversation in and out of our home. Rebekah and her family are an extension of ours and we talk about them often.

When it comes to adoption lingo, I believe that it, truly, comes down to security. If you are secure in your role as mother, than there is no threat in terminology. We did ask Rebekah in the beginning of our friendship what she envisioned Ty calling her. It was her idea to use "Miss Rebekah" and whether we called her Ty's birth mother or first mother, she didn't have a preference.

Today, we use them all interchangeably. Because Ty understands Rebekah's place in his life (as much as he can at 2 1/2), when him and I talk about her, I simply say, "Miss Rebekah". If I'm talking about Rebekah with friends I call her by name, but if I'm talking about her to someone that doesn't know our story well, I most often refer to her as "Ty's mom."

The use of Ty's mom, used to bug some people around me, but I have never been threatened by it. She is Ty's mom and deserves to be referred to as such. Calling her mom, doesn't make me feel any less the role.

When Ty talks about Rebekah, he often says "My first mama," which I find completely endearing. It warms my heart every time I hear those words. For me, it represents a well-rounded kid that understands his beginning, as well as his present.

So far, Ty has not experienced confusion. He loves Rebekah because we love her and talks positively about adoption because we do. Open dialog and God-centered confidence make the complications of adoption a natural topic in our home.

If you have a question, feel free to leave it in the comments or email me directly. I am certainly not an expert, but will write openly and honestly from our experiences so far.


  1. We have always said "birth parents" and called her by her first name. It was explained to us that if you said "real" parents, than what were we..."unreal". If they were first, are we second and will there be more? You're so right that attitude is everything. I sometimes say "mom" as well. You will explain this relationship over and over. Once my second son asked me whose tummy he grew in: his birth mom's or birth grandma's. Lots and lots of explaining.

  2. The problem I see with saying "Ty's Mom" is not in security as his mother. It is in perpetuating the terminology amongst those not in the adoption community that your "Mom" is the one who gave birth to you, when that is not true at all. Hearing "where is her Mom?" is offensive to an adoptive mother because her Mom is standing right in front of you! The purpose of Positive Adoption Language is not to split hairs or to be "politically correct" it is to be sensitive to how all people involved perceive the terminology. The fact of it is this, Rebekah is not raising Ty. You are not sharing parenthood no matter how close you are as friends and family. He is not a child with "two moms" like a lesbian couple would describe themselves. He has one Mom, one Dad, and birthfamily. It is very important for adoptees to be claimed as their parents "own" and terminology DOES matter.

  3. We use first names but say, X is your birth mom. :) I am well aware my girls may choose to call their birth moms something else someday, and that's ok!

  4. I like your approach Rebekah. I thought I would also share ours if it is helpful to anyone, as well.

    We adopted two of our children through foster care. They had been through several homes and had many people they called "mom" before coming to our house. My son, who was adopted at age four, understood that I was not his birth mom. When he first came to our home, he would often say, "I call you Mom, but you are not my real mom." I would then ask him to touch my arm. After doing so, I would say, "Can you touch me?" "Yes." "Then I am real. I'm your real mom." Never in a critical tone of voice, but in a lighthearted way with a smile. Then, we would (and still do) openly discuss that he has a belly mom. He was born out of his belly mom, but we got to choose him as our son and adopt him.

    Calling her "belly mom" has consistently helped us communicate in our house and outside of our house. It also helps the kids understand that I know they came out of someone else's belly - I acknowledge their history. But, I also focus on the fact that we got to choose them as our precious son and daughter and they were the best gift God could have ever given us. They can openly share any memories they have and is totally safe and yet feel secure that they are in their forever home, never to be rejected again.

  5. I really appreciated this post. Our son calls his birth mom by her first name and very affectionately, I might add! I have struggled with the titles too. Her and I both agreed that we would stick with b-mom, but I do wonder if that's best. It's complicated, but you seem to handle it so well! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Good answer. Love the pic of Ty with the hat. So, so adorable.

  7. From an open adoption, birth mom perspective, I am refered to by my name. If I am being introduced to someone new, It's generally "this is Amy, Paige's birthmom." Paige is 6 1/2 years old and this is how it's been from the beginning. The only thing I sometimes struggle with is how I refer to her. Birth daughter just doesn't sound right, the baby I placed for adoption is just a mouth full and sounds really insensitive (in my opinion) and so for the most part, I just refer to her by her name.

    I definitely think there are positive and negative terms to use with adoption. However, it's always a personal choice and one that should be decided between the parties involved.

  8. I am adopted. I am now 33 years old and have no issues or unresolved feelings about being adopted. My mom is my mom and my dad is my dad. I have no negative feelings toward the woman who gave birth to me...all is well and I am very close to my brother. (Also adopted, different birth parents) He also reports zero negative feelings. We ALWAYS knew we were adopted, but for us, it really was the fact that my parents were NOT always talking about it. Sure, if we asked they were open and honest and they told us from the moment we were born and we had a book etc about "where we came from" etc. I rejected the title birth mom around 4th grade as I did not want the word "mom" in the title. My parents were fine with that and for along time I would only say the woman who gave birth to me. Anyway, I echo Rebekah and think it mainly came down to the fact that my parents were so secure in their role. Also, they were just neutral about our birthparents...not overly promoting them and never saying anything negative about them. Just my experience, and one I hope to model for our children. (We are in process of adoption now...) So many right ways to approach it...such a case by case determination. :)

  9. "The problem I see with saying "Ty's Mom" is not in security as his mother. It is in perpetuating the terminology amongst those not in the adoption community that your "Mom" is the one who gave birth to you, when that is not true at all. Hearing "where is her Mom?" is offensive to an adoptive mother because her Mom is standing right in front of you!"

    Wouldn't this problem be resolved if you also referred to yourself as a mom as well. I'm of the opinion though that with open adoptions, children really DO have two moms (and 2 dads if both dads are involved). One mom simply does more of the mom-stuff than the other, but I think Ty's birth mom is STILL a full-fledged mother. Rebekah will still be involved in his life and help raise him after all, just not to the same extent.

    Frankly, the whole rivalry between moms and birth moms and who gets the "better title" only ends up hurting the children. ALL people involved in raising a child up should be considered parents in my mind.

  10. I agree with Susan. It's not about not being insecure and "sharing the title" it's about the truth. I am the mother of an adopted child and yes, my child does have "two mothers", one by birth and one by adoption, but only one set of "parents", me and my husband. My son's biomom is not raising him nor is she helping to raise him, we are.

    I understand the PC mode of adoption, but the fact remains the title of "mom/mommy/parent" belongs to me and my husband because we are actively raising our child I don’t see it as being insecure when addressing the sharing to the title.

  11. Very interesting comments here-- I liked Amy's comment from a Birthmom perspective-- I never thought about how they would refer to their child. I know our daughter's birthmom will refer to her as her daughter but she is only 1. I believe it will evolve and what works for some families may not work for others! Isn't it great we have options!!!???

  12. I completely understand what you mean!! I was adopted at the age of 15 and started out by callin my adopted mom by her name. But it didnt take me long at all to realize that she was truly a gift from God and that no matter what I called her she was my MOM. I still went to see my real mom and my adopted sisters actually went with me to stay the weekends. So I now have a Mom and Mama. That is how everyone in my life refers to them :)

  13. We'll miss you on Thanksgiving. Have a great day with your family.

  14. Seriously Susan? Are you really saying that a woman who gives birth to a child and then makes and adoption plan IS NOT A REAL MOTHER? WOW. I have heard a lot of ignorant comments made about adoption but your comment takes the cake. Because I gave birth to my son at a time in my life where there was no way I could have cared for him takes away that I am his mother? That I was the one who had the morning sickness, the one who watched my belly grow, felt his kicks, gave into his cravings, gave birth to him and felt like my whole world came crashing down when it came time to say goodbye even though I knew he was going to be better off without me...I AM and will always be his mother. Call me birth, first, biological, whatever but I will always be his natural mother and he will always be my son. He DOES have 2 moms and I am sorry that you are too insecure to realize that a natural mother has a place in the life of her natural born child.

  15. "When it comes to adoption lingo, I believe that it, truly, comes down to security. If you are secure in your role as mother, than there is no threat in terminology."

    I have to disagree that the terminology used in a family is about your (meaning the mother's) security. Shouldn't it be about what is best for the child? If you believe that the way *you* in *your* family refer to Rebekah is best that is great. But it does not mean that others who choose a different route are insecure in their role as mother. Just a thought.