My friend Rachel recently wrote a wonderful blogpost about the language of adoption, and it got me thinking again about the terms we use to describe our situations and label our family members.
People take issue with certain terms used for mothers and fathers:
- "birth" or "bio" mother/father: too cold and unfeeling, only acknowledges the role the mother played in the birth, when there's much more to it emotionally and post-birth
- "first" mother/father: this qualifier can be silencing for the adoptive mother, as "first" can mean not just order but "top"..."she comes in first, you're second"
- "adoptive" mother: again, a qualifier that by its very essence seems to undercut how this person is simply a mother
BUT the problem is, if you just use "mother" or "father" in all situations, people won't always understand what you're talking about.
In my head and heart I call both my mothers simply "mother" and both my fathers "father." Though rarely do I think of my first parents with the more familiar terms "mom" and "dad" because, for some reason, to me those connote a certain experience I did not have with them. When I talk about my situation with people who don't know much about adoption, often I end up using terms that they will immediately understand, such as "birth/biological" mother-father, though I know by doing so I am leaving out many nuances of the language for this.
Both my birth mother and birth father and their families referred to me as simply their “daughter” right away when I contacted them. How might I have felt if they had said, “I’m so glad to finally hear from my birth daughter”? I don't know...maybe a bit slighted. We must acknowledge the shortcomings of our language, because always using terms that exclude no one and offend no one and hurt no one in the adoption triad is impossible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.