I recently have seen some posts online about how the phrase ‘birth mother’ shouldn’t be used until after a woman places a baby for adoption. Is it right to call her a birth mother before adoption?
Let’s start with simple definitions… A birth mother is a biological mother. It is technically any woman who gives birth to a child.
In adoption, this term typically refers to the woman who is considering adoption or who is choosing to place a child. In order to differentiate between the parties involved, it’s simpler and accurate to refer to birth parents (parents who will or have given birth) and adoptive parents (parents adopting a child). Even the legal paperwork involved will include these terms, or possibly other less-warm terms, to refer to the people involved in one child’s adoption.
Most adoption professionals use the term birth mother because it is warmer than biological mother, which has a clinical tone to it.
Women who choose adoption are not only pregnant women. This means that the popular alternative of “Expectant Parent” or “Expectant Mother” is not an accurate label for all women considering adoption. It’s never too late for adoption; a woman may call after she gives birth or months or years after she’s been raising her child. Similarly, that opens a door of confusion for adoptive parents who are ‘expectantly’ waiting. It begins to get confusing, especially for people who are new to adoption and unfamiliar with the terminology.
At Lifetime, we never assume a woman is going to place her child until she decides to sign the paperwork releasing her parental rights to the adoptive family of her choice. It’s up to her. We educate and support each woman who calls for our help, whether she is certain about her adoption decision or if she just wants to learn more. We use terms like “birth mother” in informational materials and social media updates to protect a woman’s privacy and to differentiate between the roles or experiences in each adoption. When we communicate with her directly she is known by her name. Each woman who calls Lifetime is cared for and listened to; we help on her terms, in her unique situation.
It’s necessary to be sensitive to a woman’s mixed emotions as she faces a decision about her unplanned pregnancy or her child’s future. When a woman is given the choice to willingly and lovingly choose adoption for her child she more often views the term birth mother as a positive part of her own story. The simple title she carries reinforces that she has a place and a role in creating her child’s custom adoption plan. It also acknowledges that she has a role in his or her life if she chooses.
Many of the women we’ve assisted through adoption planning are proud to be called birth mothers. Our heart breaks for any woman who may have felt forced or coerced into adoption, which, unfortunately, was common decades ago.
With open adoption today, a woman creates a plan for her baby or child and can build an on-going connection with her child and the adoptive parents. Her thoughts and questions about her situation are validated, before, during, and after the adoption process takes place. Even if she ultimately decides adoption is not for her, she’s better aware of what adoption is like today, better prepared to help a friend or be an understanding peer for another woman who does choose adoption.
As Vice President of Lifetime Adoption, Heather Featherston holds an MBA and is passionate about working with those facing adoption, pregnancy, and parenting issues. Heather has conducted training for birth parent advocates, spoken to professional groups, and has appeared on television and radio to discuss the multiple aspects of adoption. She has provided one-on-one support to women and hopeful adoptive parents working through adoption decisions.
Since 2002, she has been helping pregnant women and others in crisis to learn more about adoption. Heather also trains and speaks nationwide to pregnancy clinics to effectively meet the needs of women who want to explore adoption for their child. Today, she continues to address the concerns women have about adoption and supports the needs of women who choose adoption for their child.
As a published author of the book Called to Adoption, Featherston loves to see God’s hand at work every day as she helps children and families come together through adoption.