Musings About the Term “First Mother”

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Regarding the term “first mother”:  I have seen it used increasingly over the past 10 years or so, and as a former linguistics major, I am fascinated with the etymology and semantics of words.  I do not automatically use the term “first mother” myself, but I do belong to a group called the First Mothers Action Group, which is celebrating its 10th birthday as of today.

I admit, I sit on the fence regarding the term “first mother.”  I am not certain whether I like it or not, or whether I feel it is insulting or not insulting.  It is ambiguous, and a little informal poll that I took reflected this ambiguity.

It was only 11 years ago that I first went online to look specifically at adoption-related topics, as opposed to the other online research, website design, and information exchange I had previously engaged in.   What plunged me into “internet adopto-land” was the new reunion with my eldest son.   At first,  I thought that the semantics of the term “first mother”  were that it without ambiguity meant someone who was still a mother, because it has never occurred to me that there was anyone who would ever define me as not being a mother!  Of course I was still one of his mothers, I thought to myself!  That was my reality.

Then I learned about the official definitions of adoption-related words as part of the adoption industry’s “Positive Adoption Language” (or “Respectful Adoption Language”) terminology set.  This is the terminology set which defines the woman who adopts as being the ONLY mother, the sole mother, and hence the woman who has surrendered (PAL term = “birth mother”) is not a mother at all, but only breeding stock:

“Those who raise and nurture a child are his parents: his mother, father ….” (Johnston, 2004)

In her 1979 article that laid out the basis of “Positive Adoption Language,” Marietta Spencer wrote  “Choosing emotionally-correct words is especially important in adoption transactions.”   She follows this with many examples in the article reinforcing the notion of 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.

PAL/RAL thus reduces us to being only important for the biological/uterine purpose of having given birth, and that we are nothing to our children past this point as we are now former mothers and fathers.  And PAL/RAL also officially defines the term “first mother” as only appropriate for women who have lost older children to the child protection system:

“‘First mother (or father):’ This term is accurate only if the birth-giving mother or biological father did some parenting during the postnatal period.  If they never functioned as parents, their contribution was limited to the pre-natal and birth-giving process.  Only in the case of an older child who experienced some parenting from his birth parents is it correct to speak of a ‘first mother’ or “‘first father.'” (Spencer, 1979, p. 456)

Then came a discussion with an adoptive father who was adamant that the term “first mother” was paralleled by “first wife/second wife,” with an adoption being akin to a divorce.  That it indicates sequential motherhood, and being a “first wife” means you are no longer the man’s wife. This made sense to me, that this definition would be the one that many people assumed at face value.  But I wanted to find out how prevalent this meaning was.

So, out of curiosity, to find out the range of opinions, two years ago I asked a question on the Yahoo Answers “Adoption” board  to find out what people thought.  Interesting selection of answers, indicating that some people considered it to sequential, and some, concurrent.  Results seemed to be split about 50-50.

This last month, I took it one step further and wondered “what is the general breakdown of what the general population considers ‘first mother’ to mean?”   I posted a very unscientific poll in a Cafemom forum (“Newcomers Club”) where I took a guess that there might be a relatively proportional representation of the general population regarding how adoption may or may not have affected their lives.  I did not want answers solely from those directly affected (adoptees, natural mothers, “baby brokers,” or people who had adopted or were intending to adopt).  But I did want to get opinions from mothers or those interested in the topic of motherhood.

This was my question:

The term “first mother” has entered adoption-related discourse, and I am sitting on the fence on this one, because I am not certain about what it implies to the “general public.”The term “birth mother” was coined about 40 yrs ago by the adoption industry in order to define a mother who has lost/placed/surrendered a child to adoption as being a non-mother, a mother whose motherhood ended at birth.  The term “natural mother” means a woman who has surrendered a child to adoption but is still a mother, a mother by the laws of Nature and still having that instinctive love/bond with her child.   But what about the term “first mother”?  What does it imply to you?1 – Does it imply concurrent motherhood, like in “first child and second child,” that both the “first mother” and the adoptive mothers are both mothers at the same time to the child? 2 – Or does it imply sequential motherhood, as in “first wife and second wife,” that the first mother of the child is no longer that child’s mother?Whether or not you think one way or the other, please answer this poll, focusing on just what the term “first mother” means to you.

There have been 123 responses (updated on May 16, 2012), and here are the results:

Concurrent. The term “first mother” implies that the woman is STILL a mother of the child who was adopted 33%
Sequential. The term “first mother” implies that the woman is NOT a mother of the child who was adopted 36%
I am not sure. 30%

Looking at the results over the first 13 days in which they gradually came in, there was little variance, only about 5% trending one way or the other.   The comments are also interesting to read.

So, as you can see, the results are pretty divided as to the semantics of the word, but more people consider it to mean “former mother” than “currently a mother to her lost child.”   Of course, this survey is really just an unimportant bit of fluff, and I don’t think it really has much practical purpose in “the real world.”  It was only done out of curiosity.

But, what do you think?  Personally, this to me gives me reason to continue to describe myself using the term “natural mother.”    There is no official legal body of course dictating how words are defined, and even if a person begins using the term “natural mother,” it does not mean that they really do consider us to be mothers.  But to me, at least, there is no ambiguity in this term.

I am a mother to my lost son, and I have not ceased being his mother.   I was not replaced.   I did not stop loving him and we did not stop being related to each other as family. And, maybe I am wrong, but I want my motherhood to be recognized in any terms that are applied to me.   I find it insulting to be relegated to the status of being nothing more than a “breeder.”   I am still of two minds about the term “first mother.”   Overall, I think I find it a bit less offensive than the term “birth mother”  — someone using it might be making an effort to respect me as being a mother — but then again, they might not.   I prefer clarity to ambiguity,  so “natural mother” is my preference.

References:

Johnston, P. I. (2004).  “Speaking Positively: Using Respectful Adoption Language.”  Indianapolis, IN:  Perspectives Press.

Spencer, Marietta (1979). “The Terminology of Adoption,” in Child Welfare, 58(7), pp. 451-459.

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47 thoughts on “Musings About the Term “First Mother”

    Dawn Davenport said:
    January 11, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    What a thoughtful post. It has given me much food for thought. Language can be such a sticky wicket, but then as a linguist, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. 🙂 I’ll post this link on Twitter and FB.

    veggiemom said:
    January 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    As a second or third mother (depending on the daughter), I do use the term first mother when talking with others because it is important to acknowledge that I am not their first mother (we also use the terms Ethiopian mom and Guatemalan mom for people who might need clarification). However, me being the 2nd or 3rd mother (one of my daughters also has a foster mother) does not take away from the fact that their first mother is also very much their mother. When just my daughters and I are talking about their moms, though, that’s the term we use…just mom. Just as I have two daughters and loving one doesn’t take away from the love of the other, they have 2 or 3 moms and loving one doesn’t take away from the love of the other(s).

      Sharon said:
      March 11, 2011 at 10:42 am

      It’s a shame that other 2nd or 3rd mothers such as yourself, don’t think like you! I take my hat off to you for seeing the situation as it really is.

    Jenni said:
    January 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Thank you for this post. I have three children via adoption and I’m currently pregnant. My 3 children all came to us for different reasons and I refer to their Moms as their Mom/Mama or in Amharic as “Enat.” My daughter is almost 5 and this is what she prefers to date since she had the longest history with her Enat and family. My other two kids are too young and don’t have opinion yet. I do like “first mom” better than “birth mom,” but I prefer to refer to their other mom simply as “Enat” “Mama S,””other mom,” or “your mama in Ethiopia” — I don’t feel it takes away from my role and also feel that it is appropriate for our kids life stories. I often see people pause and sense a level of discomfort by them when i refer to Enat or mom, but I don’t get it. Three of my children will always have other parents as part of their life story, I will continue to be open and use this truthful language (of course, I will also respect their wishes when they express them on these matters as they grow). I understand various situations are more complicated and that there are many views on this. However, in some cases I feel like adoptive parents come across as delusional when it comes to living with the reality of their children’s life story. Thanks again.

    luna said:
    January 11, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I agree this is such a thoughtful post on the subject. I think unfortunately there is no good terminology to illustrate the relationship with appropriate respect to everyone’s important role.

    In discussing the issue with the (first/natural/birth) mother of our daughter through open adoption, we agreed there is a third meaning of the term “first” mother. We didn’t think of it as either concurrent or sequential, but rather as a designation of primary significance that in effect diminished my role as our daughter’s every day mother (i.e., if she is primary, then I am secondary). We did not want our daughter believing that either of us were “less than,” but that each of us play an important role in her life. Similarly, she didn’t like the term “natural” mother because it implies that my role as mother is “unnatural.”

    Clearly this illustrates the limitation of language and the meaning we assign to it — i.e., when there is only black and white, or good and evil, etc. For lack of a better word, we reluctantly use the term “birth mother” yet wholeheartedly agree that her role is not limited to the act of giving birth to our daughter but rather how she should continue to be an ongoing part of her life.

    Interesting post!

      Adoption Critic responded:
      January 11, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      Hi Luna, thanks for commenting on my blog post. 🙂 Regarding the term “natural mother,” there is an alternate way of looking at it. Not that it implies that adoptive parents are “unnatural” (I do not consider them to be unnatural at all), but that they are parents by the modern socially-created institution of child adoption, as it was first invented in 1851. So, it’s not an “opposite” of unnatural, but a complementary of “made by modern society.”

      The analogy I sometimes give is that grapes are a natural food, but cornflakes are a modern invention. Both are nutritious. Cornflakes are not an “unnatural food,” right?

      The “opposites rule” (as I sometimes in frustration call it) also leads to an interesting conclusion. What would then be the opposite of “birth parent”? “Death parent.” Ick! 😛

        Mike Fidler said:
        March 12, 2011 at 8:21 pm

        Ironically, the “modern socially-created institution” is predated by “First Nations” practices. As I understand it, we learned adoption from those here before our ancestors.

        This whole modifier issue could stand an injection of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)

        The woman who gave birth is “the mother.”

        Any woman filling the role thereafter is an adoptive mother.

        Simple. Accurate. Respectful.

        Everything else is agenda-related posturing.

        Merely my opinions.

        Cheers,
        Mike

    Amanda said:
    January 11, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Great post. I can’t stand PAL and RAL either.

    I think a mother should be called a mother. The label that is used to let others know her affiliation to adoption and reduce confusion is unfortunate. I am not a fan of the “birth” or “biological” labels. But people dislike the other labels just as much. I have seen APs become upset with the “First” term and see themselves as the “First” parents a child has had, or feel like “First” means “better.” Some people say “Original Mother” implies that she is no longer a mother any more. Some people say that “Natural Mother” means the Adoptive Parents have no natural parenting skills or that the child is an unnatural part of the family (not in a “I wasn’t born to this family” way, but I “I don’t belong anywhere” way”).

    I am starting to dislike the term “Natural,” although I use it to mean “biological” in a kinder and more appropriate way than “biological” is often used, because of its use in history. While in more recent history, surrendering mothers were called “natural” mothers, rather than “birth” mothers, the more distant history of the word is not as kind. “Natural” children and their mothers were one classification of “illegitimate” individuals who could often become legally legitimized. “Unnatural” illegitimates, could not.

    I don’t think anyone will ever agree on the best term any time soon 🙂

    GirlGone said:
    January 11, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Motherhood means procreation. Taking an newborn from its own mother, that is, adopting a baby via the legal extinction of its mother doesn’t transfer or transform a anyone into mother… it is an act of violence, the very antithesis of Motherhood.

    If adopters are deserving, they could have a special title denoting their high status – one that defines their legal (and social) relationship to the children in their charge… truth for the sake of the children’s mental health.

    Carla McBrine said:
    January 11, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Hi there,
    Thanks for the article. I use, and have used the term, “Birth Mother” for the past 20 plus years. It’s just something I learned way back when, and it’s something I’m comfortable with using/saying. It is by no means a derogatory term I use towards anyone else, it’s just what I say when referring to my Birth Mom, the woman who gave birth to me. So, I’ll express myself the way I know how to, and I will allow others to express theirselves the way they know how to, with no corrections or judgments.

      Adoption Critic responded:
      January 12, 2011 at 12:12 am

      As long as you don’t refer to me as being a “birthmother,” I’m fine with whatever term you choose to call the woman who gave birth to you, because the “birth term” is defined as meaning an “non-mother” as an official part of RAL/PAL, as baby brokers first began introducing it to adoption dialogue in the early 1970s. It is up to an adopted person to make the choice as to what term they use for the people in their individual lives. For example, the psycho who “raised” (abused/neglected) me is someone I cannot call “Mom” as she was never that to me. I do call her my mother, but never my “mom.”

      Claire said:
      January 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

      There are a lot of words that were used for many things in the past. Many of those words have fallen from favor and are no longer used. And when those words have been shown to be derogatory, offensive or harmful it is especially important to stop using them. To insist on holding on to those words says more about the user than the words themselves.

      Sharon said:
      January 22, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      Very interesting your post!!! Does this mean that your ‘birth mother’ calls you her ‘birth child’? If not why not?

      Sharon said:
      March 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

      No corrections or judgements, just a small question, are you then her ‘birth-child’?

    7rin said:
    January 12, 2011 at 12:04 am

    I use amom and bmom, adoptive mom and biological mom.

    I like it because it describes the functions rather than the amount. I didn’t have one, but if I had’ve had a foster mom too (I was only a few days off being there when my APs came and took me), I’d be using fmom as well.

    I don’t use natural because those I’m maternally biologically related to, myself included, don’t have the first fruckin’ clue how to raise kids properly, and we’re far from natural parents. Amom however, seems to’ve been designed that way, parenting just comes naturally to her. Kind of in the way that we get people described as natural athletes, and such like.

    First I don’t like ’cause it’s “just another number” then. My moms mean more to me than just another number.

    Myst said:
    January 12, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Great post. I don’t really like the term first mother. Really, I see all of this talk of terminology rather ridiculous. A mother is someone who has given birth; an adoptive mother is someone who has become a mother through adoption. I think the fact so many adopters cannot accept this speaks loudly to their own insecurities and thus they need to put mothers in their place which has seen the emergence of PAL and RAL and all this rubbish.

    I SOOO love your point about “opposite” language. Obviously those who had to attack the term natural mother did not think all their terms through properly… so next time someone calls me a “birth” parent I will definitely use the point that adopters must be “death” parents. Love it!

      GirlGone said:
      January 12, 2011 at 5:34 am

      Myst

      Lov your more accurate opposite! Infant-adopters really are death-parents since they NEED to erase and even attempt to kill off Mothers. There are only Mothers and not-mothers…. even the new spouse who has kids already is a step-parent.

      Are Adopters so ashamed of infant-adoption that they NEED to re-label it, to cover it up so to speak? Why lie about it? Why make up ugly stories about the Mother they try to erase and replace?

    Reena said:
    January 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Hi, I am an amom. What I have expereinced is that different people prefer different terms– some prefer to use “first mom,” some prefer to use “birth mom or birthmom,” some prefer “natural mom,” some prefer to use “mom/mother.”

    I try to find out what a person prefers and use those terms. I do not subscribe to the opposite definitions that some adoption ‘professionals’ talk about. With my daughters adopted from China I tend to use the term first mom or their mommy in China. I suspect these terms will evolve over time as they mature and make their own definitions.

    Denise said:
    January 12, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    This is such an interesting question. The worst thing about RAL/PAL is that it ASSIGNS us a name or word and meaning. We should never accept being called something that offends or diminishes us, in any part of life. I have the right to be called what I prefer, as do others.

    I’m going to link to this post, hoping more people in the general public (the majority of my followers) will read it.

    A few years ago, I wrote this on the topic. It was published in the Post-Adoption Center for Education & Research newsletter, and recently, a shorter version in the AAC Decree.
    A Mother By Any Other Name

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Suz Bednarz. Suz Bednarz said: RT @adoptioncritic: Musings About the Term "First Mother": http://t.co/VzVWfs1 […]

    angelle2 said:
    January 12, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Sorry to say as I hate to be negative but based on my experience watching my son’s mom ride roughshod over her adopted kids, girlsgone has it right.

    If there is a compelling reason for a child to be adopted then great – it gives the child a home and one hopes a nurturing environment.

    But to erase the truth through condescending nomenclature is a real disservice to the child and invalidates the adult adoptee as a human being on one level or another.

    Von said:
    January 13, 2011 at 12:33 am

    I find first mother and former mother both offensive..no-on ecan be a’former mother’, once a mother always a mother, to me.
    As an adoptee I called the woman who gave birth to me mother, the one who raised me was an adopter.

    Shannon LC Cate said:
    January 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    This semantics stuff is tricky, because most of society assumes there can only be one mother to any given child. My partner and I had given it a lot of thought before our kids arrived, and because we’re both women, so with two mothers already, three was not a stretch for us. But how to differentiate which one you mean when talking about them?
    So I usually call my children’s first mothers just their “moms” or “mothers” when talking to people who know the context is adoption. I say “other mom” (as in the one who is also raising them but isn’t me) when talking about my partner. To the kids, each of their mothers (all three, I mean) has a mother-term (Mama or Mom) plus a first name, to tell who is who.
    I switch between first mother and birth mother when talking abstractly about adoption, because those are most readily understood terms, but neither is really satisfactory.

    unicorn said:
    January 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    My son tells people he has 2 mothers. If he introduces me to anyone, he says I am his mother. He won’t use anything other term such as first mother as he feels we are both important and both have “motherly” functions. As he points out, people have 2 sets of grandparents but we don’t say first grandparents and second grandparents – they are both grandparents. They don’t need a prefix.

    heatherrainbow said:
    January 16, 2011 at 5:32 am

    “They” don’t consider that I am anything to my daughter. Nor does my daughter if she believes what they say.

    I thought it was interesting about the replacement… first wife / second wife. While first wives do sometimes have certain preferential rights, the thought of being divorced and subsequently replaced doesn’t sit well with me.

    Language is definitely a very powerful tool. I like natural and plain mother, myself, though I had used first mother before. After thinking it over, I don’t think I will use it any more.

    You may also find it interesting that the NCFA no longer uses the phrase, “Positive adoption language” because they are concerned about the opposite being implied, that there may be some negative attached to adoption. They are now calling it, “Accurate Adoption Language”.

      GirlGone said:
      January 16, 2011 at 3:39 pm

      Gads, NCFA must have a full-time PR team for ‘truth’ control.

      “Accurate Adoption Language” might as well read “Preferred Fantasy Terminology” – keeping infant-adopter delusions afloat on the stormy sea of infertility.

    Diane Ward said:
    January 16, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    First mother and second mother sound like best mother and second best mother to me.

    My adopted son recently traced his birth mother and two half-sisters. We now simply speak of them by name or I might sometimes refer to his ‘other family’. It’s not a problem.

    Fran Scalise said:
    January 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    I like the term “first mother” because that is ho I am…My son was raised by an adoptive mother, but she was not “first”, I am. She would not have had my son had it not been for me. Even though I did not have the privilege of raising him, he shared more with me than he eve did with her. Now that I am in reunion with my son and she has passed on, I am his only mother.

    Fran Scalise said:
    January 16, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    who I am…ever

    Sharon said:
    January 16, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I just wanted to say that personally I find the term ‘birth mother’ abhorent! First mother originally sounded great to me and I am a member of Firstmothersreunited yahoo group. However, more recently I think that the term ‘nautural mother’ is more suited to what I am. I came to this when discussing these terms with a friend who is an adoptress. She said if I am a first mother then what does that make her? When I said natural mother, she said, so I am an unnatural mother? So I said well you can’t be the natural mother, now can you? No matter how much adopters fool themselves, they certainly are not thier adoptees natural parent. Not in my book in any event. Your work sounds very interesting good luck.

    Stephanie said:
    January 16, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    This is indeed a very thoughtful post. I appreciate it very much since I’ve been using the term Firstmother to refer to myself as an option other than the detested “birthmother” label. You have raised some very valid points that firstmother is really no better. I can only add that reading this has made me realize that I have embraced the term “firstmother” because down deep inside I still don’t feel I am allowed to be my daughter’s mother.
    The fact is I was am and will always be her MOTHER period. Nothing will ever change that. Not even the unnecessary and wholly criminal act of separating us. A mother is a mother by giving birth to a child.

      nancy said:
      January 17, 2011 at 5:41 am

      This is an interesting topic. I am a reunited mother who lost her son in the early 1960s during the baby scoop.
      I never thaught of myself as anything but his mother in all the years we were forced to be apart. My son is as much mine as the daughter I had later and brought up.
      To me first mother implies the true mother is replaced. I was never replaced, that would be impossible, you have one true mother. It feeds into the “as if born to myth”.
      Because of unethical tactics used on a young girl who didn’t know her legal rights during a time when social workers would do anything to get babies for the market, I lost my son to adoption. He had two adoptive parents growing up, but I was always and still am his only mother.
      I feel any adjective used to with mother when refering to the true mother is an attempt to downplay who we really are.

    carol chandler said:
    January 17, 2011 at 5:17 am

    I prefer natural mother, but I’ve evolved over the years. I remember actually referring to myself the way the social worker did – as an “unwed mother” back in the 60’s. Until I began going to support groups in the 1980s, I had never heard the term birthmother, but I was a member of Cub and everyone was calling us bmoms. It took me time to realize how insulting the term was. I never really felt totally comfortable with First Mom either…I just feel more comfortable referring to myself as mother or if it’s necessary to differentiate, then I’m the natural mother. Linguistics is certainly interesting.

    Kathy said:
    January 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful post! In a kind and caring way, you have touched on one of the most painful issues of being a mother of adoption loss. Losing my daughter changed me in so many ways. But I never thought that I was losing my motherhood. I made her, grew her, and birthed her. Yes, I lost her for 26 years, but for the last 12 years, I’ve been able to be in her life again and actually mother her. I like the term “first mother” because it is the truth of what I am to her. Adoption is so full of lies, deceit, and coercion. There should be some truth in what I am called. I lost my most precious baby girl. I shouldn’t be denigrated for that. I am her mother. Always have been, always will be.

    gayle momlost 66 said:
    January 17, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    all of the ladies here have just about said it all
    I am with you all but my thinking is a little different I am my sons mother no if and or buts about
    it I carried him for 9 months gave birth to him so I
    will not be called anything but his mother I suffered
    a great loss when I was forced to surrender my first born

    Semi-Feral Mama said:
    January 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    This is so very complicated. I tend to think in opposites, so whether it is linguistically correct or not the term natural mother bothers me (because in my head it makes adoptive mothers unnatural). However, I am just politically correct enough that I will call an individual or group of people by whatever title that feel fits best. I have no right to label someone in a manner they find offensive.
    Now, my dilemma, I am raising one child I gave birth too, and I am raising one child I adopted. Sometimes I find it necessary to describe their origin. Is it offensive to call the daughter I birthed and am raising, my bio-daughter? What is a better alternative?

    Anne said:
    January 25, 2011 at 4:13 am

    Open adoption makes this more complex and honestly makes the need more pressing for a respectful and comfortable term for everyone.

    I am a mother who adopted but we adopted a school aged child from foster care and opened up our adoption, at our request, over the years. Our adoption is now completely open.

    Discuss this in terms of theory and what loaded words mean to people because of their past usage is interesting and important. However when you have a child who was adopted who has two moms in front of them and needs to explain to someone who they are, those kids have to have something to say. At least adults may manage the situation better while my sweet young lady just doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

    My child’s first/birth/bio/natural mother could not raise her anymore due to the choices she made in life but that doesn’t negate their relationship.

    But for a child living in a home, they are going to call those parents who are raising them ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. Kids aim for simplicity.

    Our daughter often refers to her by her first name + momma, her first name alone or as her birthmom. She picked that term up in foster care before she came to us and it has stuck around. Her first/birth/bio/natural mother made a sad joke once that she really doesn’t care what she’s called – she’s just happy to be called.

    We are not all baby snatchers, we are not all trying to adopt white babies or manipulate young women to take their babies. Some of us genuinely care and want to find a way to bridge the gap between all mothers.

    We have a part of this generation of adoptees coming up who have their biological connections at least somewhat intact (even if it is tenuous). My kid knows exactly where her original birth certificate is, has her medical history and made the decision to change her last name. She can call her half-siblings anytime she wants, I texts her first/birth/bio/natural mother to let her know when something is up and her first/birth/bio/natural grandmother has become a good friend. Last big event in her life, she had both her moms there and proudly showed off her first/birth/bio/natural mother to people who hadn’t met her yet.

    For us, that is our normal. And for others, that is the new normal too. Where do we parents who are trying to do things right in open adoptions go from here in terms of ‘terms’?

    Personally I vote we find a new term.

      Sharon said:
      March 12, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      Anne – I think that you are a true adoption mother if you have taken a child from foster-care and opened the adoption to include that child’s natural family then I take my hat off to you and hope that you will become the majority rather than the minority that you are unfortunately in at the moment.

    Lorraine Dusky said:
    January 29, 2011 at 2:25 am

    Personally, I don’t mind any of the terms anymore but in some circumstances I have come to prefer biological…I used to feel it cut my off from the rest of my daughter’s life, but it also says I can never be cut out.

    I only added “birth mother” to the logo of First Mother Forum (which I chose for the alliteration) because people Google birth mother more than “first mother.”

    About the language, the one that obfuscates the most and is actually quite humorous: “made an adoption plan.” Yeah right. I was drowning and there was a life preserver called “adoption” and I said, Gee, I’ll make a plan to swim over there and save my life.

    Call me A Natural Mother

    Lorraine from First Mother Forum

    Lorraine Dusky said:
    January 29, 2011 at 2:26 am

    Interesting post, btw.

    Margie said:
    February 8, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    I’m late to the party but will share the wisdom of my now 21-year-old son. He was five at the time he told me that he had five moms, his first mom in Korea, his second mom in Korea (his foster mom), his third mom (me) and then his godmother and grandmother to make give.

    Definitely concurrent in his mind.

    Excellent post.

    Linda Volk said:
    March 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I prefer the term natural mother to first mother, I guess because I think it implies my role as my son’s mother is over. Birth mother is definitely out and I don’t like biological mother either. But my spouse thinks all of these are incorrect and insulting. I am my son’s mother, that is a fact which legal papers cannot extinguish. I only use natural mother when I need to distinguish from his adoptive mother. The name that makes me feel most included and important, and seems most accurate, is just plain ‘mother’.

    Sunnygal said:
    March 20, 2011 at 12:20 am

    I think the term birthmother was coined to get rid of the term “real mom” and “real dad” (or mother/father whatever). That would be painful for the aparent. And as a first mom, I really think we should not use the term adopter/adoptress. That sounds plain evil, seriously. My son’s first adoptive mom died when he was young and he was readopted by his father’s second wife and we went round and round trying to figure out if I was his first mom or first and forth mom or third mom or what. But really, when I decided to place him, I was trying to do what was best for him. I blew off the Catholics when I found out he would be placed in foster care, found a lawyer who would have the aparents at the hospital when he was born and hold and love him from the get-go. So, I carried him, ate as healthily as I could, did all my prenatal care, gave birth to him, I planned and tried to do what was right for him and provided him love, nurturing and support in the best way I could. I think that makes me his mother, his first one.

    ncmaru said:
    April 4, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I’ve read this post many times, yet feel compelled to reply only just now after two meetings with my son. I am introduced and referred to as his biological mother and birth mother; he addresses me by my name. He says his a-mom is his first mom, his piano teacher is his second mom, and I’m a third mom, although I think he realized this was silly and recently said SHE is his third mom. I just want to roll my eyes at the whole thing. Either way, it is obvious that for him I am not his MOTHER.

    Simply Mom « One Urban Nest said:
    November 22, 2012 at 1:47 am

    […] after we adopted, I started seeing the phrase first mother appear in the blog-o-verse.  I’m not sure that the concept of a first mother is any more empowering than birth […]

    Miha said:
    March 13, 2013 at 7:43 am

    I know I’m very late in posting my comment as I just came across this article today. As a mother who adopted two children I read all the comments and was saddened by all of the bitterness and negative comments towards adoptive moms. We are painted as evil baby snatchers who have no right to be called mothers. Not all of us “snatched” babies from their mothers. I adopted my two children through foster care. We were their foster parents. Their bio/first etc. mother called the state and willingly gave them up. She also CHOSE to have a closed adoption even when we were willing to have an open one. Judging by all the comments, as an evil adoptive mother, I should’ve just left them in foster care and let them slip through the cracks because their “real” mother didn’t want to care for them. Evil/selfish me is giving them love, a home, an education, comfort, safety, and a happy childhood. But, I apparently am not fit to be called a mother. I am an “adopter”…Way to encourage people to adopt from foster care!!! Let’s make sure the kids stay in the system and are in limbo for the rest of their lives so as not to affend the “real” mothers..

      Sharon said:
      March 27, 2013 at 6:48 pm

      I really don’t think you read all the replies above, otherwise you wouldn’t have said what you did. We aren’t all bitter and negative about the part that fosterers take in a child’s life. However, none of you can ever be their ‘mother’. A person only has one mother, the one who gives birth to a child. Whether the mother is ‘good’ or not is the part that wicked and yes, evil people, have played in yes, snatching quite literally our children especailly during the BSE. No one is saying that one should not take in foster children, but adoption NO. Why should you change their names, their identities?? Why should you cut them off from their blood family? It may well be true that there are the few who have ‘asked’ for a closed adoption, but they are few and far between believe me. If you had bothered to read my comments above, you will have seen, that I congratulated a lady who took foster children. We however are talking about babies. Do you know how many millions of women had their babies snatched from the delivery tables? I doubt it otherwise you would not talk as you do.

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