Reflections of the Conference Part II: Language*
There was a concerted effort throughout the conference, as noted in my previous blog, not to use birthmother for an expectant mother as mentioned and acknowledgment that to do so was coercive. This is a nice step forward. However, there was, of course, confusion over what mothers want to be called as over the past few years there have been a plethora of phrases suggested by various groups and individuals: first, original, lifemother, exiled mother. . . or the accurate, but a bit lengthy and awkward “a mother who surrendered a child to adoption.”
I noted in a critique of this year's Adoption and Culture Conference, "Encountering New Worlds of Adoption" the issue of language, and entitlement, also came up there. MaryAnne Cohen posted on the CUB ALL list that on: "a very interesting panel on adoptive parent language that included a discussion of how many adoptive parents say and believe that they were 'fated' to get a particular child. I put in my two cents as a birthmother on how repugnant this concept was, considering that the adoptive parents' good fortune or fate was predicated on the suffering and loss of the
birthparents. Happily nobody there was pushing the 'fate' idea and everyone, adoptive moms included, gagged at Rosie's 'wrong tummy' story."
And, so while there are efforts from all involved in adoption to do and say the right thing, there remains resistance to the use of the word mother as confusing and “mother who surrendered a child to adoption” as too lengthy and cumbersome. And yet, while this statement of fact is avoided because of its wordy nature, I couldn’t help noticing that many times throughout the conference adoptive parents identified themselves as a “parent of Guatemalan child” someone having an “interracial family” or, often: “Mother of x number of kids, x number of whom joined their family through adoption.” It seemed quite apparent that 1) they did not want to identify themselves as adoptive parents, and 2) they preferred language they chose, that softened reality with phrases indicating that the child “joined their family” as if it was the child’s choice to do so.
While this may not sit well with some of us, they will identify themselves as they chose. Mutual respect therefore demands that we continue to self-identify and not fall prey to feeling the need to use their defining terms for us, and continue to educate triads members, professionals, and the media on the language of our preference.
Helpful to this process is clarifying what it is we want to be called, and that has been evolving and led to a great deal of confusion. OriginsUSA has a very simple, honest solution for this dilemma, and that is that we are mothers with no prefix.
In an effort to clarify this for all involved, in adoption today both grassroots and professionals,OriginsUSA has prepared A Journalist's Guide to Accurate and Honest and Adoption Language and a more detailed explanation of the language of motherhood, in the explanation of our motto: “Motherhood is Forever:”
The motto of OriginsUSA, a national organization promoting family preservation and advocating for family members separated by adoption is “Motherhood is Forever.”
A mother is simply defined as one who has conceived and borne a child. Every person has one, and only one, forever mother. Our mother remains our mother throughout life...even if our parents divorce, even if we have a step-mother, and even after our mother is deceased. Nothing can or should change nature's truth. A mother is still a mother after her child is deceased. Even mothers who murder their own child(ren) do not lose their motherhood or become "ex" or "former" mothers.
The termination of parental rights, without which there is no adoption, is the legal severance of the relationship between mother and child. Adoption adds a legal caregiver and creates a new familial relationship for the child. Neither the relinquishment of parental rights, nor the adoption which follows, however, severs the emotional or genetic bond nor the biological reality of mother and child. No more than the le dissolution of one's marriage, or re-marriage makes a mother less a mother or a father less a father. Despite the fact that the law makes her a persona non gratis where her child is concerned, in her heart, a mother knows she is the mother of her child.
When a mother is made to believe that it would be the most loving and unselfish thing for her to do to allow others to raise her child through adoption, she still remains that child's mother. She no more becomes a "birth" mother or any other hyphenated designation of anything less than a mother, than any other mother who is not currently mothering.
No prefix or descriptive modifier is needed to describe her role in her child's life. Adoption, which thrives on pleasing those who pay to adopt, is predicated on the myth that adoption is "the same as if" the child was born into the adoptive family. Birth certificates thus become state secrets, and states issue falsified birth certificate naming another woman as the "mother" who gave birth to the child, in an attempt to obliterate the reality that every child has a mother prior to any adoption.
Our language and laws need to reflect and respect the reality that a mother is forever, and every adopted child has just one mother.
The term "mother" should remain intact and the caregiver -- the additional, legally created role -- given a hyphenated term with an adjective to describe his/her role, such as step- or adoptive parent or legal guardian. If any further description is needed to describe child's mother to resolve any confusion, she is a "mother who has surrendered" (as in the case of "persons of disabilities" rather than a "disabled person").
Terms such as birthmother or birthparent (as one word or two) diminish the reality of the relationship that is unchanged by the legal fiction of adoption. In a sense, all mothers are birthmothers, but when used for mothers who have relinquished - or worse expectant mothers - it is dehumanizing, reducing them to a breeder, surrogate, handmaiden or incubator. Mothers who have relinquished need to have our feelings and ability to self-identify respected, as we respect people of various ethnicities and races to choose how they prefer to be identified.
Those who adopt or become legal guardians for children are not made any less by allowing their child's mother to remain his mother, as they maintain the day-to-day connection of caregiver, protector and decision maker. Nor is there is any need for concern that children who are adopted, fostered or in a guardianship would be confused being taught to use respectful and honest terminology in addition to whatever terms of endearment one might choose to bestow upon those in close, daily, personal relationship. Young children seldom call their female parental figure "mother" but use terms of endearment such as Mom or Mommy. They will thus not be confused at all to have a Mom and a Mother. There is thus no need to use contrived terminology like "tummy mommy" or "natural" or "birth" mother, or "the woman who gave birth to you." There is, in addition, a need to leave the legal documents of one's birth intact and stop state committed fraud in falsifying such documents.
* Tomorrow: Reflections of the conference Part III: Ethical Accountability to Mothers Who Have Surrendered