Of all the terms we define Birth Mother might have the most synonyms and be the most controversial. You will see it written in many forms – birth mother, birthmother, first mother, biological mother and natural mother are a few of the most common. Simply put, a birth mother is a woman who has given birth to a child. In the adoption world however, a far greater meaning is placed on a birth mother, as usually a birth mother is a woman who has placed her child for adoption.
Seems simple, but the history of the term is fraught with controversy. The history of adoption and many legal documents use the term "natural mother" to differentiate between a woman who has placed a baby for adoption and a woman who has adopted that child; however, modern adoptive parents object to the term because it makes them the "unnatural parent." Legally, when you adopt a child that child becomes your responsibility as if he/she/they had been born to you, and you raise that child as naturally or unnaturally as any other child, depending on your parenting style. Understandably, no one wants the label "unnatural mother" so the term birth or biological mother has been used for some time. Birth mother seems to be the most common term, even with the rise of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). ART can involve donor eggs, sperm or embryos, which means the birth mother is possibly not the biological mother, but still the legal parent (usually).
So where's the controversy and why do we hear more "first mother" and "expectant parent" labels as preferable to "birth mother"? The term "first mother" is more common among women who feel that they were forced to place their children for adoption and regret that decision later. Often it is used among women of the Baby-Snatch Era (BSE) of the 50's, 60's and 70's where single mothers and women who gave birth out of wedlock were stereotypically frowned upon. These are the stories of a teenager who went to visit an aunt out of state and came back later a different girl, as she had given birth and placed a child for adoption unbeknownst to any of her friends. Usually these girls felt they had no other choice due to pressure by family and society, but later regretted both the circumstances and the secretive nature of everything, particularly if they desired contact with the adoptive family and their child. They prefer "first mother" because they don't see themselves as a voluntary birth mother, feeling instead they would have raised the child themselves given the option and support. Indeed some object to the term birth mother because they feel it softens the picture and obscures the nature of the circumstances surrounding the forced adoption.
While the situations of the BSE and any adoption where the birth mother feels forced or coerced are undeniably regrettable and wrong, most private adoptions (meaning no state involvement due to abuse or neglect) are in fact voluntary now, and most have some degree of openness where the birth mother is allowed to choose the adoptive family and keep in touch in most cases. This is a positive shift in my opinion, and makes adoption a more real option for women in crisis pregnancy situations. However many are claiming that women are not "birth mothers" until they have actually placed a child for adoption – until then they are expectant parents. I see this line of reasoning, as it theoretically takes the pressure off a woman in a situation where she is deciding whether to raise her child or make an adoption plan. However, no one is a birth mother until she actually gives birth anyway, so I think that probably a more accurate term would be "prospective birth mother" or "potential birth mother" – often abbreviated as PBM – for a woman who is actively making an adoption plan for her child while still pregnant. After all, those who raise their biological children are also expectant parents when pregnant, but occasionally a tragedy such as a miscarriage makes them not birth parents. Again, it's merely a question of semantics.
I should note, I tend to separate it as "Birth Mother" rather than birthmother partly for grammar reasons but also out of respect for all mothers. Both a birth mother and an adoptive mother are mothers and should be respected as such, even if their parenting takes on vastly different capacities. We always tell our birth moms that even by considering adoption they are being the best parents they can be, because they are actively considering what will be best for their child. I think no one can argue that putting your child first makes you a good parent, even if that means making the difficult decision to allow someone else to raise your child.
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