Warning: you may find a word here that may be offensive. I apologize in advance, for it is never my aim to hurt anyone’s feelings or make anyone feel bad. I also cannot bear to think that I may lose a friend. In fact, this is a word I have always spoken and written with respect. I have never used it in a degrading way, and never to cause harm.
The word is a combination of two of my favorite words, which by themselves have deep and beautiful definitions. These two words are “mother” and “birth.”
When one reverses and combines them, the single word “birthmother” appears. This becomes a super word, for an even more powerful word emerges, which means a “mother who gives birth.” There is something sacred and magical about this act of nature and about the woman who is the necessary instrument for bringing a child into the world.
Unfortunately, our definitions of words become twisted in time. Words that were once commonly spoken have become insulting to some. Likewise, words that were once considered vulgar have crept into our children’s books.
Words, by themselves, actually have no meaning at all. It is humans who define words. In that regards, I suppose there is no such thing as a good word or a bad word, but their meanings lie behind the voices that say them.
The term “birth mother” was first used in 1956, two years before I was born, by Pearl S. Buck. Then along came books like Adoption Triangle and support groups like Concerned United Birthparents. I have never connected this word as a creation to gloss over the painful decisions that birth parents may face. Not all humans are bad, and I’m certain it was not solely a marketing term to create more adoptions.
I am an adoptee who was raised by an incredible woman named Martha Watson. I called her mom. Although I loved her, I was always curious about the woman who gave birth to me. I spent twenty years in my search, only to find that she had died several years before I discovered my origins. I have since met my biological siblings, my grandmother, and many aunts and uncles who welcomed me into an extended family. I never did get a chance to meet the woman who gave birth to me. If I did, I would have never asked why she put me up for adoption. I would instead have thanked her for giving me what she could not offer, which is the chance to live in a loving home and being able to partake of all the wonderful fruits our world offers. It is easy for me to understand her painful decision of relinquishment. It is also easy for me to understand the courage it takes to give up a part of one’s self.
In the past, adoption was a thing of shame for an unwed mother. Sometimes they were considered “baby machines” and scorned by society as unfit mothers. Many were coerced to sign papers, infants were pried out of their arms, and many never had the chance to see the faces of their babies. My heart goes out to everyone who has relinquished their child. I cannot imagine a harsher sentence.
I do know that the woman who gave birth to me made a difficult decision. She weighed her options. She made a choice for which I am extremely grateful. To distinguish her from the mother who raised me, I call her my birthmother.
A quick definition of the word mother would be one who gives birth. However, the word must also be reserved for the one who loves, nurtures, and instructs the footsteps of our lives. To my birthmother, it is true that you were my mother for nine months. You also took good care of me during that time. When I was born, however, I had to reserve that designation to another. I wish I could have met you, so I could have told you I loved you for your decision.
There were always two special women in my world, but on the day I was adopted, the title of mother went to another. After the joy of finding my biological origins, I have spent the rest of my life encouraging all kids to express their words of appreciation for their moms in the Why Mom Deserves a Diamond contest.
For those of you that this word may offend, please know that I use it with great love, and only to distinguish the person who gave birth to me from the one who taught me lessons in life. If you prefer, I can call you my biological mother. I cannot call you my real mother; my adoptive mother was not unreal. I cannot call you my natural mother; my adoptive mother was not unnatural.
Be proud that you are my birthmother. You cannot change the past, but you can use the present to express your feelings. Do not allow anyone to use any name in a derogatory way, and correct those who do.
The word is frozen on the front cover of my book, Adopted Like Me – Chosen to Search for a Birthmother. If I did not think you were a special woman, I would have never chosen to search for you.
Birthmother: The word is politically correct, and it is beautiful.
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