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.

“Adoption Saved My Life”

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When browsing birth parent blogs last week, we were touched to read Courtney’s April post at I’ll Love You For Always where she explained her conviction that “adoption saved my life.” She describes how seven months prior she had been so depressed that she “could scarcely get up to make my oldest something to eat” and how the path she was on was “dangerously close to costing me everything. Even my life.” The process of adoption, she explains, gave her hope. Through the love and compassion of her baby’s adoptive family and a few other people, she came to know herself to be a person “worthy of happiness and success,” whereas if she had not made the adoption plan, she doubts whether she would even be alive today.

Courtney’s story got us thinking about the many women we’ve worked with who were at a rough place in life when they became pregnant and for whom that pregnancy was an incentive for change. Whether they chose parenting or adoption, the desire to be the best parent or birth parent possible motivated them to work hard to make changes that improved their lives. For some of our clients who chose adoption, the desire to maintain a relationship with their child and their child’s adoptive family and to be a positive presence in their child’s life helped drive their efforts to overcome major struggles. Often, those struggles were financial; in her post, for example, Courtney describes how before she placed her baby, she was living in a hotel room with her two children with nothing but vouchers with which to clothe them. We have heard from many birth mothers that adoption played a large role in their ability to become (or remain) financially stable. It is wonderful to read on Courtney’s blog that she is now leasing an apartment and doing better both financially and emotionally.

Read Courtney’s story and let us know what you think! We’d also love to hear from you about how adoption affected your life.

Support During Decision Time

So… I just finished watching Oxygen’s “I’m having their baby.”  It’s a new TV show that follows two expecting women/couples in their adoption plan and journey, delivery and placement.  It was amazing to see the journey from start to second start and a little peek into “life after placement.” 

The time of re-deciding in the hospital for many moms can be very difficult.  No matter what you made up in your mind, you were still thinking about the future and now, the future is here!  This baby is in the room, or down the hall in the nursery, and you have to decide what in the world you’re going to do.  The reasons you gave yourself pre-delivery are still there but now there’s a cloud called “discharge day” hanging over your head and you have to make a decision within a day or two.  Now, for some women and couples, their feelings don’t change much at all during this time b/c the circumstances of life right now make it impossible to bring a baby home.  For others, the time to think and feel the love and emotions still allows for you to maintain your decision to place your child.

As an adoption counselor, I help women and couples make sure they are not being rushed, not being forced or coerced, and thinking clearly and realistically about the decision made, no matter what the end result.  Not every birth mother has had that.  Some spend time in the hospital alone, some have family angry at them the entire time, and some are even pressured by hospital staff or made to feel like they are doing something wrong by any and everybody who knows.  Support from family, friends, your counselor or even simply the hospital social worker is vital at this time. 

Even in the cases of open adoptions, many people involved take a big sigh of relief after the delivery is over and the revocation period has ended and move along trying to make sense of the rest of their lives as if “whew…well now that’s over!”  I see birth parents back away from me and from the support we offer after a few months into their adoption journey, which… is understandable.  We have to readjust.  If you’ve just spent 9 or maybe just 3 months (if you found out late!) thinking, wondering, worrying, praying, hoping, all about this baby and the adoption plan, after delivery it’s, “Now what?”  Now it’s time for the second “beginning” not the end.  It's time to readjust your life to either life without the baby or figuring out how you're going to make this work.  For those birth parents who chose to place, this is really just the start.

Placemcementent day of your child with the adoptive family is the first day of the rest of all of your lives.

  • Remember your reasons for considering this plan in the first place, and consider what life will be like after placement.
  • Request an interim care provider if you have even a smidgen of undecided feelings.  Even private adoptions can figure out a way for you to have temporary care before the child is placed with the adoptive family.
  • Talk to family and friends before you leave the hospital.  Family and friends sometimes help you step back and see things in a different light.  They may even provide support you never knew was available.
  • Remember that you have rights in the hospital and don't be afraid to take advantage of them.
  • Meet with your counselor the week after you deliver (and more if you can).  So many birth parents back away at this time but your counselor is there to help.


What are some things you wish you knew or want to know about hospital and those first weeks after placement?