As most of my regular readers know, I refer to myself as a mother, or in relation to adoption, as being the natural mother of an adoptee (or natural mother, for short). I reject the term “birthmother” to refer to myself, and “Birthmothers as Incubators,” explains the reason for this in more detail.
But the term natural mother may not be one which is familiar to you. Let me explain a bit about it.
What is the origin of the term natural mother? Before the term birthmother was invented, the term natural mother was used throughout adoption-related literature. It was in the first modern child adoption law (Massachusetts, 1851) and is still in the laws of several states including California, Florida, Virginia, and Texas.
Some say the term natural parent means that the adoptive parents must therefore be unnatural. I call this “playing the opposites game.” By this reasoning, the opposite of birth parent is death parent. Obviously, forming a false black and white dichotomy is no reason to reject the term “natural mother.” (That is, unless you have adopted a child and really do enjoy being called a “death parent”… )
Instead, more accurately, the adjective “socially-created” contrasts with “natural.” Calling someone a natural mother refers to motherhood by the laws of Nature, while the adoptive mother is a mother by the modern legal and social process of child adoption. It respects the reality that legal child adoption did not exist prior to 1851 (see “Why Adoption Is How it Is”).
Choosing to use the term natural mother to describe one’s self is a way of saying, “I am a mother, too. I never ceased having a mother’s love for my lost child.” In using the term natural mother for her instead of birthmother, others are saying to her, “I respect you as a mother; you are not an incubator.”
Reclaiming the term natural mother—honouring ourselves and each other as being mothers and refusing to be defined/dehumanized as being walking incubators—is an empowering way to reclaim our dignity, pride, and humanity. And as Wade (1997, pp. 23-24) states, “resistance to violence and oppression is both a symptom of health and health-inducing.”
- Wade, Allan. 1997. ”Small Acts of Living: Everyday Resistance to Violence and Other Forms of Oppression ” Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy 19:23–40. doi: 10.1023/A:1026154215299