Here’s Why We Use the Term “Birth Parent”

Here's Why

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Are you a birth parent, a first parent, or a natural parent?

Most adoption professionals refer to biological parents as “birth parents,” but not everyone agrees that it’s the best term to use.

“Positive Adoption Language”

The term “birth mother” comes from the Positive Adoption Language (PAL) framework developed in 1979. Previously, biological mothers had been referred to as “natural mothers” or “real mothers” which many felt was disrespectful since it implied that adoptive parents were “unnatural” or not “real” parents. PAL also encouraged the use of terms like “place for adoption” rather than “give up for adoption.” The idea was to use language reflecting respect for the feelings and decisions of all parties throughout the adoption process.

“Honest Adoption Language”

Almost fifteen years later, a researcher developed the Honest Adoption Language (HAL) framework, which is generally used by people who believe that adoption is rarely healthy for biological parents or adoptees. They prefer the term “natural” parent because they see adoption as indeed being “unnatural,” and they also use terms like “surrender for adoption,” “lost to adoption,” and “separated by adoption” because they believe that adoption is never a biological parent’s choice, but rather something that they have been coerced to do.

Many of the people who use the HAL framework are those who experienced adoption during the Baby Scoop Era of the 1940s to 1970s, so it makes sense for them to use language that reflects their losses; that was a time during which many women were indeed forced to be separated from their biological children against their will. There are also many unethical adoption organizations today that pressure people to choose adoption for their babies, and HAL works well for people who feel victimized by these adoption professionals.

Which is Correct?

Both HAL and PAL users sometimes use the term “first mother,” but it’s not quite as popular as the other terms, and some adoptive mothers do not like the idea of being “second mothers.” Here at Adoptions Together, we prefer the PAL framework and the term “birth parent” over the others because we believe that adoption, while difficult, can be a healthy choice for biological parents who feel it is right for them. We are very careful to educate our clients about all of their options and to support them even if they do not choose adoption, so we feel confident using language that reflects adoption as having been their choice. We also think that a parent who adopts is just as “natural” and “real” as a parent whose children are biologically related to them.

But more importantly, what do you think about this terminology? Do you consider yourself a birth parent, a first parent, or a natural parent to the child you placed? Tell us in the comments section.

8 Responses to “Here’s Why We Use the Term “Birth Parent””

    • Adoptions Together

      Thank you for your post, Hailey! We feel that positive adoption language is very important and makes a big difference to everyone who takes part in the adoption process. We also agree with you 100% that pregnant women should NEVER be coerced into making an adoption plan. Thanks for visiting, and please keep sharing your thoughts!

  1. I had three children and got a divorce. My family and my in-laws talked me into letting them adopt my children. I got to raise those babies for 5 years and then was coerced into placing them for adoption. I am more than just a birth mom. I was their first mom.

  2. I had three children and then got a divorce. My family and my in-laws talk to me into placing those children for adoption. They adopted my children. I was definitely coerced. I raised those babies for 5 years. I am more than a birth mom. I am a first mom! I am not alone, there are many women who have been in the same situation that I was placed in.

  3. Camira

    I prefer natural or first parent. Then, again, I was coerced into giving up my baby via fake positive drug tests and the threat that If i didn’t do adoption, my baby would be taken by CPS and adopted via the state and I would never see or hear from him again or know anything about him. My experience was neither beautiful or a choice… and this was in 2008

  4. marilynn

    There is no need to put words like biological, birth, first or natural in front of the word parent if we are referring to someone who has offspring. Nowhere in the English language definition of the word parent is child rearing required; a person whose offspring are adopted, with or without consent, still meets the definition of the word parent.
    There is no need for adoption language of any sort if the person is speaking English and means what they say. The whole point of language is that its speakers agree upon the spellings and meanings of words so that people can understand one another when they write and talk. Making up our own definitions to words that already have agreed upon meanings is called lying. Below is the academic standard definition of the word parent that all primary school vocabulary tests are graded against.
    A person whose offspring has been adopted with or without their consent still meets the primary definition of the word parent. A person with offspring is a parent whether or not he or she raises their offspring; child rearing has nothing to do with whether or not a person is or is not a parent. Notice that despite legal fallacy, a person cannot become a parent by raising another person’s offspring. No qualifier or prefix is needed for the person who meets the primary definition. They can honestly describe themselves as a parent without further explanation. If a person has offspring that were adopted they would still be telling the truth if they referred to themselves as the parent of their own offspring either Mother or Father. Anyone who refers to themselves as the parent of someone else’s offspring is being dishonest unless they specifically state the nature of their relationship to the other person’s offspring because the audience will assume that the person means what they say and has not made up their own definition to a word that has a commonly understood meaning. We don’t want to allow false assumptions to go uncorrected. Truly honest language would not put a qualifier in front of the word parent for someone who meets the definition below. This is why adopted people fight to have their birth records corrected because people should never be listed as parents on birth certificates of other people’s offspring. A qualifier is not needed for their parents but is in fact, needed for those who adopt them so as not to create the false assumption that a person is the offspring of those who adopted them.

    It is interesting to me that the point of “adoption language” is to conceal the adoptive nature of relationships by never using the words adopted or adopted in front of the words son, daughter or parent.
    “Definition of parent
    1 a : one that begets or brings forth offspring just became parents of twins
    b : a person who brings up and cares for another foster parents
    2 a : an animal or plant that is regarded in relation to its offspring The parent brings food to the chicks.
    b : the material or source from which something is derived Latin is the parent of several languages.
    c : a group from which another arises and to which it usually remains subsidiary a parent company
    — parent adjective
    — parental play \pə-ˈren-tᵊl\ adjective
    — parentally play \pə-ˈren-tᵊl-ē\ adverb

  5. T. Sachimura

    @marilynn, I don’t think you quite understand how semantic shift works. Changing definitions is not ‘lying’, as you very disingenuously claim it to be.

    With respect to birth certificates, they are not merely historical documentation of the facts as they existed at the time of birth, as you contend, but also a proof of identity and legal parentage. This is why vital statistics agencies establish a new birth certificate when you change your name (depending on your jurisdiction; this is standard across the U.S. and Canada), legal gender (again, depending on jurisdiction). These certificates must reflect the identity of the person as they are at the time of its issuance, because they are foundational identity documentation; from which springs forth non-foundational identity documentation, such as passports or driver’s licences.

    This is why a new birth certificate is established when a child is adopted – because they need to have their legal parents denoted. The original birth certificate containing the facts as observed at birth IS NOT destroyed; this is very important to note. The record is retained. Yes, there should be a much more transparent and fair policy for adoptees to gain access to their original birth certificates. The State does not really have a compelling interest in preventing an adoptee to learn about the facts of their birth (excepting where the natal parents have expressly indicated their wish not to be contacted). The proof of identity part can be assuaged by marking these certificates not suitable for legal purposes (as with Ohio’s stillbirth certificates which are marked ‘Certificate of Birth’).

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