image c/o etc.usf.edu
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.