A few weeks ago, I watched The Giver, (some spoilers below) the teen fantasy movie with Meryl Streep and William Hurt. In the story, there are birthmothers whose purpose is to do exactly that - their job is to give birth to babies and give them to others to raise.
When I hear the term, "birthmother," that imagery is what is brought to my mind. A women who becomes pregnant, births the baby, and relinquishes it to a different family. Given the baby scoop era, the term probably more poignantly reveals society's point of view than we are apt to realize.
"Birthmother" as the term for the mother who relinquishes a child to adoption is rife with issues. It takes away the complexity of the relationship, reducing it a single moment. The word erases the child's lineage, demeans the humanity of the mother, and denies the connection between the first mother and the child.
So I understand when a mother who has relinquished a child, takes offense at the term.
That said, I am going to use "birthmother" for the rest of this post just as a point of simplicity. You know who I mean when I say, "birthmother." It doesn't make it right, but it makes it clear to the reader. So, as I analyze it, while acknowledging it's problems, I will continue to use if for this post.
In one way, I think it is a signal of a shift in the culture surrounding adoption that at least we do finally have a singular term. For most of my life, it was a bouncy ball of terms, "natural mother," "real mother" (always used by others, never the adoptee), "biological mother," and so on. At least we are discussing adoption and birthmothers enough for society to recognize the relationship (though spelling - birthmother vs. birth-mother - is still in debate).
Kate and I often discuss the term and what to use and the issues with all of them. We've written about it before - Kate feels the noun of "mother" is the truth and I feel the action of "mother" is more true. And, while I believe I am in opposition to other adoptees on this point, I feel strongly that I have only one mother. I am not willing to share that naming with anyone other than the mother who raised me.
The adoptee that I am wonders if the choice of word should lie with the adoptee. The adoptee has had no choice, no control over their relinquishment and adoption. Giving the name to a relationship grants them one minor decision in the vast chaos of their story.
The feminist that I am wonders if the choice should be in the hands of the birthmothers themselves. As it was their choice, their story, should they be the ones to name what the relationship is in their point of view?
Regardless, of who owns the naming, I do believe in the power of words. That's why I write. And I don't want to use words that are inauthentic or that hide truth or mask prejudice.
So if "mother" is not an option and "birthmother" is fatally flawed, what then?
Natural Mother implies that the adoptive mother is unnatural, which is also demeaning, if somewhat true.
First Mother is gaining in popularity but it doesn't work for me. From my perspective, it implies that my relationship with Kate is the same as my relationship with my adoptive mom, but they're just handing off the baton and taking turns.
The one term I think I like is "Original Mother." I'm not even sure whether it's a term that's being bandied about. But to me that seems closest. Unlike "First Mother," it separates the "Original Mother," and the "Adoptive Mother." It is seated with "origin," which gives reference to the heredity and lineage. It also gives weight to not only the relationship of mother and child but to the burden of the relinquishment. The original mother was the first mother in wholeness, but chose not to mother. It even has some poetic reference to original sin, though I don't have that worked out fully, it just whispers the reference.
Because I read so much adoption-related media, I can't remember exactly where I read a post recently that pointed out that "adoptive mother" should be as much of a term in the adoption story as "birth mother," but I see that should be just as much a part of this conversation. It IS ironic that the adoptive mother gets to be called simply "mother," when that does not capture the truth of the relationship any more than "mother" does for the birthmother. We need to have both terms because by having two separate words, it becomes apparent what is missing - the one simple word, "mother." The adoptee doesn't have one. They have an adoptive mother and they have a birthmother, but they don't have just a "mother."
to view my birthmother's blog on the same topic, go to mothertone
Thoughts? Reflections? Opinions?