Language in Adoption: What’s in a name?

Language in Adoption: What’s in a name?

by Dawn Smith Pliner, Founding Director, Friends in Adoption

Birthmom? First mom? Natural mom?

Does that make me an Adoptive mom? A Second mom? Or an Unnatural mom?

Language is powerful — it can be helpful and it can be hurtful.

Many years ago I called a pregnant woman who was considering adoption a birthmom. She was livid. I was quickly put into my place as she tersely informed me that until she arrived upon a decision for her unborn baby she was a pregnant woman, and only if after the birth of her baby, she decided on adoption, would she then become a birthmother. She was absolutely right, and I learned a valuable lesson. (She joyfully decided to parent.)

As a woman who became a mother through adoption, when I felt a need to, I identified myself as an adoptive mom. Otherwise, I was just “mom.”  I identified my children’s mothers as their birthmothers.

Both as a mother and as the founding director of a Compassionate Adoption agency – Friends in Adoption – I continually try to be cognizant of how words impact people’s identities and feelings. For the most part, the terms “real” or “natural” parent are not preferred because we have yet to meet a fake or unnatural parent.

I have to admit… I am stumped on this one. With so many ways to identify oneself, how best to determine each individual’s preference? The best I have figured out is when possible, ask the individual what they feel most comfortable being called. In our agency’s literature the jury is still out. We purposely use a number of different socially acceptable references to expectant parents, pregnant women, first mothers, birthmothers, etc.  We ask that folks please recognize our sincere desire to respect each individual’s integrity and how they wish to identify themselves.

I welcome feedback from everyone.

Thank you.


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