(Originally posted as a page on Facebook, I wanted to share it with my blog readers here as well.)
Before the term ‘birthmother” was coined, a mother who had given birth to a child was called that child’s natural mother. It was accepted that the mother was a mother by the laws of nature. The myth that adoption was any sort of “ancient” or “natural” act was not as prevalent as today. The truth, that child adoption is a modern legal convention invented in 1851, was not hidden or forgotten. It was accepted that mothers who had lost children to adoption still had an emotional, familial, and social connection to that child and there was no attempt to hide this fact.
The term ‘birthmother” is part of the “Respectful Adoption Language’ terminology set that was invented by the adoption industry in the mid 1970s. It may have been “coined” in 1956 by adoptive parent and adoption promoter Pearl S. Buck, but it was further developed and formally defined by adoptive parent and baby broker Marietta Spencer with the Children’s Home Society of Minnesota. And its meaning is clear: that we are no longer mothers (emotionally, socially, or legally) to the children we surrendered for adoption. That the sole parent and mother of our lost child is the woman who adopted our baby.
Spencer (1979) defines a birth parent as being a “non-parent” by use of numerous examples in her article which validate the sole parenthood of adoptive parents after the adoption of a child, implying that no emotional or familial connection remains between members of the pre-existing family.
“For biological parents, a clear semantic separation … may be helpful in grasping the important fact that their child will no longer be occupying a role of family membership in the kinship group … appropriate language stresses the severance of both moral and legal obligations and emphasizes that there can be no social or emotional role expectations” (Spencer, 1979, p. 456)
Spencer (1980) goes on to state,
“An adoptive mother becomes the child’s parent through the transfer of parental rights. Although she can never become the child’s birth or biological parent, socially, functionally, and finally she does the permanent mothering of the child. In terms of the time continuum, she is the successor to the biological mother (p. 27).
Granting sole motherhood to the adoptive mother as the child’s only female parent (in the case of opposite-sex parents adopting) eliminates the original mother from any claim, either singular or joint, to this title.
Those who raise and nurture a child are his parents: his mother, father…” (Johnston, 2004)
So there is a “role expectation” placed upon us by the adoption agencies, adoption lawyers and other baby brokers (businesses and agencies that provide babies to prospective adopters for a price). No grief, no pain, no loss — nothing “lasting” anyway. Adoption loss as a one-time event, not a traumatic loss that continues on and on for the entire life of the mother and child.
Being “birthmothers,” we’re not supposed to have any feelings for, or emotional connection with, the children whom we lost to adoption.
“… those women who gave into the pressures suffer in a way the others will (mercifully) never know. For the saddest and most horrifying aspect of adoption is the amount of emotional damage inflicted upon the natural mother. To call her the ‘birth mother’ instead of the ‘natural mother’ allows her only the physical birth and denies her those feelings she wasn’t supposed to have.” — Death by Adoption, Joss Shawyer, Cicada Press (1979), page 62.
I always loved the son I was forced to surrender for adoption. I never wanted to lose him. I never “chose” the adoption “option” because I was given no chance of choosing — to have such a choice, a mother needs to recover from birth first with her baby PLUS have access to the resources she requires in order to raise her baby in a safe, secure, and healthy environment (which is her basic human right). If I were to call myself a “birthmother,” I would be denying that I had any feelings for him after his birth. I would be denying that we are related as family. I would be diminishing my role in his life to being only that of a willing gestator. In fact, Spencer also provides the terms “gestational parent,” “prenatal parent,” and “biological stranger” as synonyms for the term ‘birthmother.”
Am I a “birthmother”? No, because I am still a mother to the son I lost to adoption. It’s as simple as that.
- Johnston, P. I. (2004). Speaking positively: Using respectful adoption language. Indianapolis, IN: Perspectives Press.
- Spencer, M. (1979). The terminology of adoption. Child Welfare, 58(7), 451-459.
- Spencer, M. (1980). Understanding adoption as a family building option. Boulder, CO: Adoption Builds Families.
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