Nowadays, most adoptive parents eventually find their way to some sort of online forum for whatever specific area of adoption they are participating in. These can be hugely valuable resources, as many questions and concerns can be answered and alleviated in short order. There is always lots of talk about the specifics for the "paper chase", the details of traveling or escorting to bring new children home, and sharing news of the latest steps in each family's process. My favorite part though, is the discussion about how to actually parent our new children when they get home. Obviously, this includes as many different points of view as there are families participating in the group. It is VERY important to remember the "shopping cart" technique when reading these posts. Take what you need and works for your family, and leave the rest behind.
Today, the topic of proper terminology when referring to "first families" came up. Is it best to use the terms "birthmom" and "birthdad"? Would it be better to say "first Mom" and "first Dad"? Quite often I find myself doing a lot of lurking on these forums, with very little chiming in. However, today I couldn't resist. So, for what it's worth, here's my take on the "Birthmom Controversy"....
My family comes at this issue with a slightly different perspective, but I think we have something valuable to add to this discussion. My husband and I were both widowed before we met (about 6 weeks apart). We both had children with our late spouses, and therefore had to figure out how to handle many of the same things that come up in adoption in our newly blended family. It would have sounded terribly strange to refer to their first Mom and Dad as "birthmom" or "birthdad" when talking with our children. They had been raised for the first few years of their lives by these parents, and they needed continuity in the way we referred to them. Since the children had begun to call their new (step) parents Mom and Dad, we also needed to figure out a way to cut down on the confusion in our conversations when speaking about two different Moms and Dads. We ended up adopting the terms "Mommy Karen" and "Daddy Jeff". This made it clear which Mom or Dad we were all referring too, and kept their first parents in that special place that the children needed them to be in.
It is 6 years later now, the children are all quite a bit older, and these terms have definitely stuck. It is very common for us to discuss Mommy Karen and Daddy Jeff. Even our son that was born to my husband and I in our new marriage, refers to them this way. Now that we have adopted our youngest daughter from Ethiopia, we intend to continue this tradition. As she gets older (she is only 15 months right now), I expect that "Mommy Etenesh" will become a regular part of our families discourse. It is so important to us to make sure that all of our children, regardless of the circumstances of their loss, know that we hold their first parents in extremely high regard. None of them would be able to be the cherished part of our family that they are, if it weren't for these three great people.
On the other hand, there are times that my husband and I are faced with the need to discuss "first parents" with people other than our children. Using our family names for them would be just a tad confusing, and I dare to say, weird. How can we possibly expect strangers or casual acquaintances to know what we mean when we say Daddy Jeff or Mommy Karen or Etenesh? This is where the terms "birthmom" and "birthdad" enter the picture. Neither one of us have ever used these terms meaning any disrespect. It is simply a way to differentiate and explain our situation to those that don't have intimate knowledge of our family's special terminology. We are always sensitive to our children's feelings when we talk about these things, as you never know when they might be overhearing every word.
Updated to add: This is something I didn't think to include in my previous post, but was reminded about it by another parent on our local adoption list. We also keep pictures of our kids' first parents up at our house. Each child has a photo of themselves, with their parent, in a special frame that they got to pick out themselves at the store. They all keep them in places of honor in their rooms. This really helps when the time comes that memories start to fade a bit. All of our children have come to the place where they couldn't quite get a picture in their head of what their birthparent looked like anymore. The photos immediately eliminated the problem, and seem to be a source of comfort and reassurance on a regular basis.