Natural Mother vs Birth Mother vs First Mother vs Biological Mother

I noticed the near consistent use of the term Natural Mother on this website as opposed to any of its alternatives. I am familiar with the opposition against the term Birth Mother as put forth in this quote:

Birthmother" is a dehumanizing and coercive term, which makes a mother appear as if she was only the source of a baby for adoption, not her child's mother and parent. Instead of "birthmothers", "birthparents" (aka "birth objects") the honest terms "mother", "father" and "parents" should be used. If necessary, mothers whose children have been adopted-out may be called "natural mothers" to distinguish them from the people who adopted their children.

taken from

Does any of the members know the history of these terms and the rational behind each choice?


Why yes, as a matter of fact

Why yes, as a matter of fact I do! AS on the OriginsUSA website..under language...also I have discussed many of the term debates on my blog:


The True Origins of the Word "Birthmother"

The first known use of the word "birth" as a descriptive and identifiable adjective for a woman who has lost her child to adoption is attributed to Pearl S. Buck in 1956. In the June issue of Women's Home Companion, Buck wrote a piece called We Can Free the Children”. Buck, clearly talking about unwed mothers and the feelings of society uses “birth” as a separate word, but as a designating factor.

"What chance has the child born out of wedlock to find a wholesome
family and community life if his mother keeps him? The California citizens
noted shrewdly that, while persons are eager to adopt children, though born
out of wedlock, yet society as a whole condemns the unwed mother. If it is
better for the child born out of wedlock to stay with his birth mother,
can be done to change social attitudes toward her and her child?"
p. 63

Later on, in 1972, again Pearl S. Buck employs “birth” to make the distinction between the natural mother of a perspective child and the future adoptive parents, in this case herself. “I Am the Better Woman for Having My Two Black Children,” was published in Today's Health, January 1972, 21-22, 64

“My husband and I thought our family of five adopted children was complete when she first came to us. Her birth mother was a girl in a small town in Germany. Her father was an American soldier who was killed. He was black. The German mother said his black child was despised in her town and had no future there. She begged his university president in Washington to find the father’s family.

I was a trustee of the university. We tried to find the family, but they had disappeared without trace. What then should we do with the child? From experience we knew that the little black children from Germany had difficulty adjusting to black mothers.

The president looked at me. “Would you. . .”

“Of course I will,” I said. “We’d love to have another child.”

Pearl S. Buck was a great proponent of adoption, being an repeat adoptive parent herself. While she does seemingly have some compassion towards natural mothers, and did adopt children that were considered “unadoptable”, the fact stands that the use of the word “birth” was coined for mothers of adoption loss by an adoptive parent, not taken and made self identifiable until later on.

Minneapolis social worker Marietta Spencer is attributed to beginning the trend of "positive adoption language"(PAL) which completely endorsed the use of the word “birth mother” as the “proper” and correct way to address a mother who had lost her child to adoption. Positive Adoption Language (P.A.L.) is a concept pioneered thirty years ago by Spencer who was a social worker at the Children's Home Society of Minnesota, not a mother of adoption loss. The actual date of publication of PAL is not yet defined, but it is thought that while the public exposure to PAL might be after the birth of CUB, the ideals and concept of PAL and the widespread usage of “birth” terms were talk about and molded behind the scenes before in the late 60‘s or early 70‘s. It was refined in the last decade by many pro-adoption advocates.

“P.A.L acknowledges the thoughtfulness and responsibility of birthparents who make an adoption choice. Negative adoption language tends to judge birthparents harshly or portrays them as victims. ”

Now it sounds all very nice until one actually looks at the list. Adoptive parents become the one and only “Parents”. Real parents are “birthparents”, as are natural parents only “birthparents”. PAL was made to allow adoptive parents to talk out any and all negativity to the process of adoption with their needs in mind. If term usage might honestly convey mothers of adoption loss as victims, as many were and still are, then people might have to think twice about their feelings or about the very foundation of adoption. As so clearly stated:

Birthmothers are just that and no more or less. They are not the "NATURAL" or "REAL" mother. If they were it would make the adoptive parents "UNNATURAL" and "UNREAL" parent. Think about that for a moment.”

Of course, if one wants to follow that line of thinking, the opposite of “birth” is “death”, but no adoptive parent walks around thinking themselves as “death parents”. That doesn’t sound nearly as pretty.

PAL has become Respectful Adoption Language ( RAL). As quoted by Patricia Irwin Johnston, an infertility and adoption educator “those of us who feel that adoption is a beautiful and healthy way to form a family and a responsible and respectable alternative to other forms of family planning, ask that you consider the language you use very carefully when speaking about those of us who are touched by adoption” In other words, the people for whom adoption is “beautiful” want to use terminology that makes it sound nice and pretty. To note, PAL and RAL are endorsed by agencies, social workers, facilitators, lawyers, and other adoption professionals, plus adoptive parents. HAL or honest adoption language, which is not favored by agencies, adoptive parents, etc., is made to ackowledge the true sense of loss by both mothers and children from adoption, even if it doesn't sound quite so pretty or make people feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Often attributed to the invention of the name “birthmother” is Lee Campbell at the beginnings of Concerned United Birthmothers ( CUB) and here is where the true bone of contention begins. Documented by Rickie Solinger in “Beggars and Choosers”, the Cub story goes down in history like this:

“According to Lee, in the summer of 1976 “we agreed on ‘birth parent’ and birthparenthood.’ We didn’t want to upset adoptive parents with ‘natural.’ And ‘biological’ now made us gag. ‘Biological,’ we felt, was descriptive of a mechanical incubator or unfeeling baby machine. ‘Birth’ was the key. With ‘birth parents’ as one word….. we were like other one-word progenitors, like grandparents.”

Which would almost be fine if it was a true self indefinable decision, but it was a compromise at best. Stating herself that “We didn’t want to upset adoptive parents with ‘natural.’”, means again, that this naming was based on the feelings of others who had more power. And more power they did, indeed, have.

As remembered by Betty Jean Lifton in an open letter to Joe Soll on CUB boards in 9/06,

" .... The reform movement tangled with the issue of language as early as the seventies. Lee Campbell, the founder of CUB, just reminded me that I argued for the term 'natural mother' because it was the one used in all the historical texts. It was the term I used in my memoir Twice Born, which came out in 1975. And I still prefer it. But somehow the struggle with the agencies and adoptive parent groups narrowed down to 'birth mother' and 'biological mother.'" ....

The industry said CUB could only use the terms "birth" and "biological". CUB chose "birth." as a lesser of two evils. Most people preferred Natural, since that was the term used historically and on most of the legal records, including relinquishment papers, but adopters didn't like it, so it was dropped. Natural moms rendered powerless to even chose a collective name for themselves based on the feelings of those who benefited from them to begin with. This is why the "birth terms" represent powerlessness, silence, and polite obedience to the system -- shutting up and being good little breeders who won't make waves, don't make trouble, and don't have a voice. The aims of CUB at that time was to not be threatening, to gain a measure of respect, and gather the support of adoptive parents and professionals to fight for open records and know one’s adopted children. Thirty years later, these battles are still not resolved and still very much an issue with member of the adoption arena.

Now the argument can be made that “birthmother” is now an accepted and recognized part of our society and also that one should “honor” the fight of the early pioneers who fought to get any recognition to the plight of mothers of loss. While the concepts are noble, the actuality of it is not. “Birthmother” was not only chosen as a compromise. Buck used “birth” as a descriptive adjective, while CUB made it a name for mothers of loss because it made a nice acronym.

As reported by an adoptee after speaking to Lee Campbell herself at the 2006 CUB retreat in Florida :

"Basically, she ( Campbell) says that the name was biological parents but she didn't like it. She was on the phone with another and talked about it and came up with birth parent. As they discussed it they bean to name CUB and came up with "Birth Parents United in Concern" but the acronym was BPUIC, so she decided to join the first two into one word so that it had the same feel as grandparents and tied it to the family name. The problem with that was the acronym became BUIC and she didn't want it to be associated with a car so the redid the order and came up with Concerned United Birthparents…… Okay, she clarified that she believes she was the first one to put it together as one word birthparent so as to make it similar to grandparent and give it the same style of family tie.”

While the respect of one word, like grandparent, might have been hoped for, the real reason for dropping the space between the word had to due with advertising and name recognizably. Again, it sounded better.

As Rickie Solinger said in her keynote address at the Shedding Light In Adoption 2006 conference in NY:

Language is a way for a powerless group to reclaim power and fight exploitation and oppression.”

Part of that fight is knowing the truth. Know the roots and meanings of a word before you take on that mantle. Know what the history really is and why it is accepted, and then decide if you want to wear the label.



FauxClaud Just a mom...

Robert Allan Hafetz Not

Robert Allan Hafetz Not Remembered Never Forgotten

The ability to give birth is a miracle and using that as a qualifying adjective is a compliment. It is important to differentiate between the mother who gives birth and the mother who raises the child. There are more than one term that are suitable but in reality context is eveything. Any term can be used in a degrading context. On the other hand hypersensitve people can find offense virtually everywhere when they are constantly looking for it. This debate about terms is a waste of time and effort and only feeds the anger of those who cannot cope with their experience. I like the term bonded birth mother better than any alternatives that have been put on the table because thats what she is and thats what the adopting mother can never be. We are free to say what we please and others are free to be offended by it.

Terms, abilities, and names

It's a damn shame a child has to get dragged in the middle of it, eh?

A, My Name is Alice: Moniker Madness

Sharon Begley

You know the old children’s game (excellent for long car trips) where you think of a name, place, and item for sale beginning with the same letter: “P my name is Paul, and I come from Poughkeepsie and I sell potatoes.” Turns out there may be more to it than we thought: People like their names so much that they unconsciously opt for things that begin with their initials. Tom is more likely to buy a Toyota, move to Totowa and marry Tessa than is Joe, who is more likely to buy a Jeep, move to Jonestown and marry Jill—and Susie sells seashells by the seashore. Even weirder, they gravitate toward things that begin with their initials even when those things are undesirable, like bad grades or a baseball strikeout.

In what they call “moniker maladies,” a pair of researchers find that although no baseball player wants to strike out, players whose names begin with K (scorecard shorthand for a strikeout) fan more often than other players. Most students want As, but those whose names begin C or D have lower grade point averages than students whose names begin with A and B—with an even greater effect if they say they like their initials. That has real-world consequences: students whose names begin with C or D and go to law school attend lower-ranked ones than students whose names begin with A or B.

Before we get to whether this is real, a little more detail on what Leif Nelson of the University of California, San Diego, and Joseph Simmons of Yale University found in a study to be published next month in the journal Psychological Science. It’s possible, they figured, that Joe is consciously so enamored of his name that, faced with the choice of living in Jonestown or Akron, he deliberately chooses Jonestown (ditto when he has to choose between Jill and Amy). Or, maybe people are driven by unconscious self-liking.

If the preference for people, places and things that share one of your initials is conscious, then it shouldn’t work if the thing you’re choosing is basically undesirable. Strikeouts are undesirable. Yet based on data from 1913 through 2006, for the 6,397 players with at least 100 plate appearances, “batters whose names began with K struck out at a higher rate (in 18.8% of their plate appearances) than the remaining batters (17.2%),” the researchers find. The reason, they suggest, is that players whose first or last name starts with K like their initial so much that “even Karl ‘Koley’ Kolseth would find a strikeout aversive, but he might find it a little less aversive than players who do not share his initials, and therefore he might avoid striking out less enthusiastically.” Granted, 18.8% vs. 17.2% is not a huge difference, but it was statistically significant—that is, not likely to be due to chance.

The pattern held for grades, too. Using 15 years (1990–2004) of grade point averages for business school grads, they found that students whose names began with C or D earned lower GPAs than those whose names began with A or B. The Carters and Dorns performed worse than average (based on students with grade-neutral initials such as M and N); the Ashes and Bakers didn't do significantly better than the norm. The former had such “an unconscious fondness for these letters, [they] were slightly less successful at achieving their conscious academic goals than were students with other initials,” write the researchers.

The eerie coincidences also held for law schools. Scrutinizing data on 170 law schools and 392,458 lawyers, the researchers found that the higher the school’s ranking (by U.S. News & World Report), the higher the proportion of lawyers with the initials A or B. Adlai and Bill are more likely to go to Stanford than Chester and Dwight. (In the study, people with conflicting initials--Douglas Avery--were eliminated from the analysis.) Liking your own name “sabotages success for people whose initials match” the names of negative things such as low grades and strikeouts.

Clearly, the effect is not all-powerful. This SB married an EG, lives in P and named her children D and S (oops). The effect was small, just a fraction of a point in GPA, for instance, but the fact that it exists at all "took us aback," Nelson told me. He's pretty sure they eliminated all other explanations for the weird link between initials and performance. While it’s also true that, as statisticians know, if you search for a correlation between some outcome (strikeouts) and enough possible explanations, you’ll find one by chance alone. But again, the scientists say this is not the case here. Other explanations, anyone?

Ooops, I failed to mention...

My natural mother named me before I got sold and re-named.

So much for some adults holding respect for "Name Origins", eh?

Not that one again......

I tend to think, who cares? I call my mine Jean, though I never did meet her again after that Friday afternoon when she failed to turn up at Farm Hill the way she said she would,. Not that I hold any grudges, but I had more mothers than you could shake a stick at in my early life. It might be difficult to find exactly the right terminology to suit each one of them individually

Somebody tells me what they want to be called, I'll call 'em it, other than that it doesn't really matter enough to cause all the trouble that it seems to cause. What with people being thrown out of conferences etc

We really don't need the semantics police on the case in my opinion, it just detracts from the real issues.

I'm not that keen on adoptee as a term,  but heck I'll put up with it



For my own sake

The moment I learned I had a birth-name that was denied me, and my past, (details that were changed without my knowing, thanks to adoptive parents who did not like the name "Wanda Dawn"), I was so floored, you could have told me Oprah was my mother, and I would have nodded and said, "I believe it".   

After a while, the names all mean nothing when all the details get erased or lied about, anyway.

Adapting to adoption is simply something many of us have to do; we do it because unlike the adults before us, we have no choice.  How or why some adapt more gracefully than others is perhaps a matter of luck and chance, but I'm betting it has more to do with better second-placement than anything else. 

Pound Pup Legacy