You may have noticed in my blog posts that when talking about pregnant women who are considering adoption for their babies, I do not ever refer to them as birthmothers, as some do. The debate over which term (birthmother or expectant mother considering adoption) to use to address a woman contemplating adoption has often caused discord among those in the adoption community. Some believe using birthmother before the actual birth is wrong. Others see it as no big deal and think that choosing not to use the term is “splitting hairs,” as it is just a word.
I’ve loved words and have been writing ever since I had a Hello Kitty journal as a child. I don’t believe that birthmother is “just a word.” In our society, words have meaning and weight. People make careers of using words. We deem certain words as “bad” and we don’t use them. We hold rallies and campaigns to ban and abolish some highly offensive words. Words are so powerful and have emotion and meaning behind them. If you use positive, gentle words, you can lift and build a person up. But if you use negative, harsh words, you can crush and tear a person down. So I don’t buy the “It’s just a word” argument.
So, why do I think it’s wrong to call someone who is pregnant and considering adoption a birthmother? Technically and legally speaking, a woman who places a baby for adoption does not become a birthmother until she signs relinquishment papers terminating her parental rights; therefore, she is not a birthmother yet. Until those papers are signed, she is legally, physically, and emotionally that baby’s mother. She is the one caring for the baby. When she signs those papers, then she legally becomes a birthmother.
Also, some consider it a coercive technique to repeatedly refer to a pregnant woman considering adoption as a birthmother; it may be putting her in the mindset of already being a birthmother, thus making her feel as if she has no choice in the matter of adoption.
Words are important, but I think because we use them so often we take them for granted and use them carelessly. We should give some thought to the weight and meaning behind the words we are using, especially when they pertain to something as emotional, important, and life changing as adoption.