Why the Term ‘Birthmother’ Should Never Be Used
“The word “birthmother” is a derogatory, degrading, and inhumane term which was devised by adoption professionals to relegate a natural mother as a biological incubator for adoptive parents and further to imply that the sacred bond of mother and child ends at birth in order to facilitate and further the adoption agenda .”
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 legal adoption is a modern legal convention was not hidden or forgotten. It was accepted that mothers who lost children to adoption still had an emotional, familial, and social connection to their child and there was no attempt to hide this fact.
Upon investigation, it was found that Pearl S. Buck used the term as early as 1955 in her article “Must We Have Orphanages?” which was published in Readers Digest in November of that year. Subsequently, it was learned that the term became more widely used in the 1970’s when U.S. social workers colluded to define adoption terms that would be “palatable” to their adopting clients.
Those who were adopting children no longer wanted to use the original term “natural mother” which had been in use for decades and was widely accepted. Their arguments are that use of the term “Natural Mother ” were:
- They wanted to be recognized as being the sole parents, and the term “natural mother” indicates a respect for the mother’s ongoing loving bond with her child.
- They wanted the mothers’ relationship to her child to end at birth, and the term “natural mother” recognizes that the sacred mother/child relationship extended past birth and even past surrender, and
- The term “natural mother” was falsely accused of implying that the adoptive mother was somehow “unnatural.”
It was not in the interests of the adoption industry for adoption to be considered unnatural. Those who were adopting children felt uncomfortable with the term “natural mother “ or “real mother” as it implied that their children had a family who cared for them somewhere else. They did not want to be reminded of that fact, and social workers wanted to reassure adopters that they would be the “only mother” of the child. Adopters were promised that the child would be “as if born to” that “no one will ever come for the child” “the real mother will not be able to find the child”, this is “your child and no one else’s”, this child was “born in your heart.” Calling a natural mother by her true name was intimidating and threatening to adopters. The “natural mother” had to be destroyed.
The work of Marietta Spencer (a Social Worker at the Childrens Home of Minnesota St. Paul and Co-Director of the Adoption Builds Families Project) became the model for the adoption language in use today. Her work strongly supported the use of the term “Birth” for mothers, fathers, sisters, and any other relatives of a child who was being adopted.
The adoption industry began to use the terms “Birthmother”, “Birthfather” etc. These terms were meant to assign the mother’s relationship with her child to that of simply giving birth and ending at that point; relegating her role to that of a biological event . In Marietta Spencer’s work she applauds any term that implies only a biological tie. “Birthmother”,“ Bio-Mother” are terms embraced by the study.
The adoption industry not only adopted these terms but went further and called the new language “Respectful Adoption Language”. However, these terms were devised to be respectful to adopters only and disrespectful to natural families and in particular to natural mothers.
As a bonus for the adoption industry, the new term “birthmother” psychologically destroyed the “natural mother”. This destruction was necessary for those who adopted to feel secure and superior in taking these babies home. She was just the “birthmother” they were able to tell themselves. “It is just biological”, “They aren’t the real mother”, Did anyone really care about the baby”, they were able to say. They became heroines and heroes in their own minds which helped them to conceal their own fertility inadequacies and live a kind of fantasy existence. This was entirely encouraged by the adoption industry as it created the climate for adopters to believe the fantasy they were being sold and to see themselves as “rescuers” of a child who, in reality needed no rescue.
In addition, the term “Birthmother” or “The Women Who Gave Birth to You” was suggested as being useful in explaining birth to a young adopted child; and in so doing became part of the psychological warfare used on our children to further separate and break the sacred mother/child bond.
This new language not only psychologically destroyed the very existence of the natural mother, but today it is used as psychological warfare on young pregnant women and youth for adoption coercion. Calling a young pregnant woman a“Birthmother” BEFORE birth, is yet another weapon in the arsenal of the adoption industry. An expectant mother is not a “birthmother” however, when this term is applied to her while pregnant she is being psychologically groomed for adoption and being given a “role to fulfill” upon the birth of her child. Her natural instincts of motherhood begin to be suppressed as she is encouraged to “separate” from her developing baby. These young vulnerable women begin to think of themselves as “Birthmothers” before they have even held their own babies in their arms.
Websites promoting “Birthmother Packages” are now the norm in the United States. These packages offer everything from all expense paid trips to designer maternity wear. An entire satelite industry has emerged selling Birthmother jewelry, gifts, clothing, stationery, and more. In Canada there are adoption websites calling out to “Birthmothers” to choose families for their children by reading “Dear Birthmother” letters from prospective adopters. Adopters refer to these young mothers as ”our birthmother” and talk about them to others as if they are chattel. These same adopters are present in delivery rooms aiding in the delivery of “their” babies - and these vulnerable mothers, their natural maternal instincts suppressed, actually hand them their children.
The term “birthmother”, which is being widely used by society, governments, and even by mothers themselves (who do not know or understand the true origins ) is akin to many other words which we do not use in society today. The difference is that groups have rallied together and fought against inappropriate terms applied to them by society. These groups have fought for new terms which are acceptable TO THEM.
For example, terms such as African American, Disabled, Challenged, Little People, or First Nations are new terms which replaced others that were inappropriate, degrading, and disparaging for those groups. Society acted appropriately to change these terms when these groups educated society with respect to the fact that these terms were not acceptable. Any term applied to a specific group should be appropriate to THE GROUP THEMSELVES, otherwise it becomes disrespectful. Specific groups in society should have self determination with respect to any term applied to them.
Once we understand how and why the term “Birthmother” was applied to us, and how it is used today to coerce young vulnerable women, it becomes impossible for us as a group to embrace this term in any way. This is not a term that we created for ourselves, this is a term that was created for us by the Adoption Industry.
The thousands upon thousands of adopted people in the world who are searching for a mother for which they have no conscious memory are a testament to the miraculous bond between mother and child which extends forever, beyond birth, beyond relinquishment….we are Mothers.
It is time to abolish these “Birth” terms in our modern vocabulary.
Marietta Spencer is the author of the study which was embraced by all Social Agencies in the United States and Canada, and her terminology is now widely used and accepted as THE respectful adoption terminology.
“Choosing emotionally “correct “ words is especially important in Adoption transactions “ followed by an example validating 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” – Marietta Spencer (1979)
“It is essential to make sure that the language of adoption is understandable to the nonprofessional, and that attention to vocabulary is always in the interest of the persons involved in the adoption itself. “ Marietta Spencer (1979)
“Natural Parent”. This term, used primarily in legal contexts, implies that the adoptive parent is somehow unnatural, “artificial”. Marietta Spencer
“Birthmother or Mother of Birth. These terms are useful in differentiating the biological process and the child rearing process. ” – Marietta Spencer
Valerie Andrews 2009-07-11
Copied with permission Copyright Valerie Andrews 2009.