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We’ve all heard that saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” So how can words cause so much hurt? Perhaps words aren’t just words after all. Perhaps words carry more meaning than we give them credit for and can cause more hurt than even a broken bone can.
I blogged in my personal blog last week about a television producer that was spamming Facebook and Twitter looking for birth moms and their adoptive families to do a documentary about. They weren’t looking for them post-placement, however. They were looking to do a show on “expectant birth moms.” I have a problem with that term.
A woman is not an “expectant birth mom” when she is pregnant, even if she fully intends to place the child she is carrying for adoption. She is not a birth mom at all until she has signed legal relinquishment papers. Before that, a pregnant woman is simply a “mom” or “expectant mother.” When a woman is pregnant, she is legally, emotionally, and physically that child’s mother. When we place our children with their parents, we don’t call their moms “adoptive mom” or other versions of that term unless we are using that term to delineate their role from ours. I know that as much as it may hurt sometimes to hear our children call someone else “mom,” we don’t expect them to call us “mom” and the woman who’s raising them something else entirely. We call a woman a birth mom post-placement to continue to acknowledge the role she has in her child’s life, even if she’s not parenting that child. Frankly, I need to be called “birth mom.” I like the acknowledgment, and it makes it impossible to get stuck in the denial phase of grieving.
The other reason I dislike “expectant birth mom” as a term is that it’s coercive to call her that. Sure, she may not even realize that it’s coercive. That might not enter into her thinking when she’s making the final decision to place. But it’s still putting that “seed” in there – the seed of that expectation that she’s going to place, and isn’t worth anything as a mother prior to placement. You might as well call her a “vessel” or an “incubator.” Talk about disrespectful terms!
So why is calling an expectant mother a birth mother prior to placement disrespectful to her role and afterward it isn’t? It’s disrespectful because prior to placement it doesn’t acknowledge the entirety of her role in her child’s life. As I’ve said previously, she is entirely responsible for raising that child prior to placement. She has the ultimate decision when it comes to what she does with her body that affects her baby, and every woman makes whatever decisions she makes willingly. Post-placement, a woman’s role as a mother is diminished, though still important. Without her, that child would not exist. That diminished role is hard for a lot of birthmothers to accept, including me, but that’s a topic for another post, perhaps.
Yes, it’s “just” a word. But words are powerful and come with all sorts of emotions attached to them.