Saturday, December 02, 2006

Birthmom...To say it or not to say it?

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.


Mommy said...

Very well put.I feel the same way.

Amanda/MayhemMama said...

Wow. You explained that very well, and certainly your family does have something valuable to add to this discussion. I like the idea of refering to first/birth parents as "Mama Jane" or "Daddy John." It sounds much more personal and close than "your birthmom."

smiliesar said...

I love your post. I have even heard people refer to their birth parents as their blood mother or blood father. Sounds bad to me. I love the mom ___ and Dad ___. It shows who they are to that child. You are doing a wonderful job raising your family.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of something an Ethiopian woman said to us on the plane-ride home with Teeny:

She said that he will have 2 moms just like he will have 2 countries. And that's just the way it is for him - he has two of each and his life will be blessed.

So simple - made sense to us!

Blanca said...

I think I understand what you say,
Here it is usual discuss about to use the word "mother" for the "biological mother" of an adopted child. Some prefer say "the woman that carry you in her belly during 9 months". I think this is very confused for a child. That women was his mother because she gave him the life. As I am just now his mother too because I must look for that life. I think for him is natural to use the word "mother" too. It a pity I do not know her name.

Brianna Heldt said...

Great idea, the "Mommy ___" and "Daddy ____". Sounds much more personal and meaningful. I always want our sons to know we hold Abiyot in EXTREMELY high regard. I think about her all the time and I hope and pray our sons will come to hold her in high regard as well, as they grow.

(When I talk about her to others, I refer to her as their birthmom, or sometimes--gasp--their mother.)

Anyhow, GREAT post, thanks for sharing what your family does!!

Anonymous said...

How lucky your children are to have information about their "first" mother or father! I find myself referring to my son's birthmother has his "mother" on occasion-- and we, too, keep her photo up prominently displayed on our fridge for him (he's almost 4 now). We call her by her name, and when we need to label her, we call her his birthmother. Interestingly, we call her parents Grandma ____ and Grandpa ___ and we call her siblings Uncle ____ and Aunt _____. So the only one we don't use the convention with is her. To further complicate things, our son has 1/2 siblings-- they share a birthmother but have different birthfathers. We interchangeably refer to them as his 1/2 sibs and his sibs. . . I've never thought that this would be confusing to him. He has grown up knowing them and visiting them-- they are our extended family (his birthmother passed away when he was 18 months old, but we still visit the rest of the family). We figure as long as WE present it as normal, it will be-- how can it be any more crazy or confusing than kids whose parents have been divorced and remarried multiple times?

For me what gets more tricky is that our daughter is from China, and we know NOTHING about her "first" parents. In fact, we don't know a whole lot about the people who raised her for the first 9 months of her life. So we use "birth" parents because it allows us to be consistent (in much the same way that Mommy Karen or Daddy Jeff work for you) in our varied circumstances.

Perhaps because I've never given birth, I don't like the idea of calling my son's birthmother "Mommy ___." It's not that I don't want to honor her-- I do. But she is not his mother. She made an enormous sacrifice, one she believed was in his best interest-- and I suppose that IS parenting on some level. So maybe this is really MY issue and not his, you know? I'm sure you do.

Anyway, thanks for sharing!
Karen in San Diego

Anonymous said...

We have this birthmom issue too. Wes just calls her Maggie - I don't think he ever thinks of her as Mom at all. The others have never even asked their birthmom's name.

Of course it is different circumstances than how you came to be a family.

Jody said...

Great post!

I totally love your new header...what an amazing picture of your kids! My heart is all a flutter. Just precious!!