Don’t Tell Me What To Do…and Other Things I Think

Author of The Fifth and Final Name: Memoir of An American Churchill

Within AdoptionLand, conversations about adoption are not easy. The issue is fraught with much emotion and not all of it is  warm and fuzzy feelings, but the deepest feelings of humanity; anger, loss, despair, grief, rejection, betrayal and a giant glob of good old hurt. But adoption is supposed to be about the “best” for a child and when the child grows up and becomes a thinking feeling adult, they are still the ones that the conversations are supposed to be about. It’s not always easy, still, and even I have to struggle sometimes to remember that THEY come first; no matter how much adoption has pushed itself upon my own life. Being truly adoptee-centric is easier to say, not as easy to be.  As so many adoptees are finding their voices and gaining strength together, sometimes, I too feel left out and have to remind myself that my role, as a mother, as a birthmother, is to sometimes stand by the sidelines and just root them on.

So with that, I root! You go,  Rhonda!

I have contemplated, for some time, writing a post and sending it out there. My hesitancy? Oh, I suppose the utter insanity of the web; the arguers, the angry, the belligerent, the down-trodden, the “experts,” and, well, I can say it: the just plain stupid mix with which one is then thrown. The entire proposition has seemed wearying. The speed with which folks are ready to devour one another is often shocking to say the least; particularly when it comes to adoptees.  My need to express my concerns has won out, however. After reading thousands of posts, letters, comments, ranting, etc. on social media, I do need to get some things off my chest. Let the feasting begin…

Respecting All Adoptee’s Voices

The first order of business has to do with the practice/institution/legal procedure that IS adoption. Many adoptees are quite adamant that adoption should be done away with. Gone forever. And, in their fervor to insist upon this absolute state of abolishment, they attack and mistreat anyone with objection to that; even their fellow adoptees. We eat our own.

I will be the first one to say that adoption is a far cry from where it needs to be to serve the best interests of adoptees. However, I will also say that I would have been in a really rotten place without it, as would many other kids. Incredibly few things in life are black and white. This adoption struggle for equality and honesty in the system is TOUGH.

We, as adoptees, are demanding respect today, in a show of strength like never before. Our strength lies in our togetherness; our united voice. It is important to play fair and be kind, as everyone’s experience is different and VALID. Please think about that before you tear someone’s head off. I will never agree that adoption – practiced with integrity, compassion, and focus on the child’s best interests over a lifetime –  should be done away with. I have a right to that opinion. I have earned it. I am adopted. Of course I believe every child is, ideally, better off with their biological family. Sadly, it just doesn’t always work that way.

The Adoption Conversation Should BE Adoptee Led

Which brings me to another point. I have this silly notion that the people who need to be steering this discussion – of adoption and how it should be – are the adoptees. We are the only people with intimate knowledge of living adopted. I do not have the knowledge of being a biological parent, or an adoptive parent, but I DO know adoption. For 50+ years I have heard from non-adoptees how I should feel, what I should do, and who I should love. I’m quite over it…which leads me to my final concern of the day; one issue of what to call whom.

About Adoption Terminology

I recently read a long, very impassioned post from a birthmother – whoops, first mother – explaining the importance of referring to biological mothers as first mothers and not the out dated and inaccurate (in her mind) birthmother. She explained that it simply doesn’t accurately describe her, as she never CEASED to be a mother.

As I mulled this over, I was aware that, viscerally, it did not feel ok to me. I was being told what to do by someone who is not adopted.

Again. I have compassion for birthmothers. I truly do. Just in general. The issue for me is this: biological parents and adoptive parents participate in adoption through choice. Their choices, particularly with regard to birthparents, may be really, incredibly tough, but they ARE choices, nonetheless. Adoptees, because of the nature of the beast, are entirely at the mercy of the proceedings as infants/children, and may or may not EVER feel validated or valued as someone with any kind of choice, voice, or authority over their fate.

So, I will not be shamed/educated/bullied into calling my birthmother – or anyone else’s for that matter – a “first mom.” If other adoptees want to, terrific. As I said earlier, no one’s experience is the same.

But for a biological mother to assert that, by decree, it just isn’t ok to use that term… nope. Isn’t happening with me. My birthmother carried me the required period, delivered me, nursed me a few days, and named me, before handing me over to the state. She had no other contact with me for 54 years, and never would have had any if I had not searched to find her. If that’s not a “birth” mother, I don’t know what is. I understand why she relinquished. I’m not “mad” at her. In fact, I felt quite sorry for her. It just is what it is. Adoptees know what “fits” for them. No help needed.

At a recent adoptee support meeting I listened to birthmoms expressing their frustrations with the system, stating “People think we didn’t want our kids…we did want our kids! We didn’t want to have anonymity from our own children!” The fact of the matter is that not every birthmom wanted or wants their child. That’s the truth.  Some of us have birthmoms and some have first moms. Experiences are as varied as people on this planet.

I hope our adoptive community, as a whole, can embrace that and remember to lend an ear of respect and deference to the adoptee.

Like the ad slogan goes, “We KNOW adoption.”

 <– buy it! It’s GOOD!!!

Rhonda Noonan, Author
The Fifth and Final Name: Memoir of An American Churchill
Chumbolly Press, LLC, 2013

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About the Author

Rhonda Noonan
Rhonda Noonan is the author of The Fifth and Final Name- Memoir of an American Churchill. Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma and relinquished to adoption at birth, in her search for her biological parents and the truth of her family’s origins, she spent over thirty years and thousands of dollars in expenses to search through the State of Oklahoma’s sealed adoption records. In the end, she found her past and a reality beyond all imagination. She found that her biological father was Randolph Churchill, the son of British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. Her career in mental health spans almost thirty years and she has spent much of her career working with adoptees and their families.

14 Comments on "Don’t Tell Me What To Do…and Other Things I Think"

  1. Hi Rhonda. As a birthmother, I have never been comfortable with the term “first mother” either. I don’t really know why. And my son is free to think of me however he does and call me whatever he likes.

    Adoption, for me, is like having your child taken and held hostage, and it’s often a situation that lasts for a lifetime. It’s not an easy thing to break away from one’s captors – and I am part of the equation there, no question about it. I played a major role in my child’s captivity and forced entry into Adoptionland. I know that now, 22 years after the fact. I don’t know if that’s how my son has experienced it. I don’t know if and when I’ll ever know how he experienced it. I desperately want to know, but I understand my rights in this situation. It ceased to be about me when I signed off on the new reality and family dynamic…when I gave birth, really.

    Your experience is your experience, and what works for you in coming to terms with your experience is your right and your task. You are a grown woman, and, so, clearly, you are aware of what you’ve a right to and what you must do. I just want to, as a birth mother, acknowledge – and VALIDATE – your truth. I am always relieved when adoptees tell their truth, even if it smarts a little. Contrary to popular belief, the truth doesn’t kill anyone.

  2. Thank you very much for your response. Believe me, birthmothers have no bigger advocate than me. I have worked through my entire career, to help and support birthparents and assist with searches and reunions. I pray you do find your son (I am assuming, from your comments, that you are looking). As adoptees, we so often hold back our thoughts and our truth for fear of hurting someone else or angering someone…and we are taught to do that from the time our adoptive parents and society tell us how “special” and “lucky” we are. It is VERY hard to find our voices. So, again…thank you and best of luck to you. Your son is very lucky to have you for a mom.

  3. Jeannot Farmer | February 7, 2014 at 11:36 pm |

    For information:

    This is the post that upset Rhonda.
    I posted it after Amanda felt the need to leave the group following some fairly harsh statements.

    I’m with the writer and Amanda on this one. There is a huge difference between ‘giving away’ and ‘giving up’ anything. One is discarding and the other an act of desperation. I don’t know a single mother who did the first, although there may be a few out there. I am three years into reunion and I refuse to be shamed by the term birthmother. It is the ‘n’word of adoption. The intention of its creation was to stereotype and demean. I understand and forgive those who use it innocently and would never attack anyone who intended no offence. However, it is important that the message goes out that it is a source of offence.

  4. Jeannot Farmer | February 7, 2014 at 11:38 pm |

    This was my response to Rhonda:

    Rhonda Noonan. I think that you have misread the post and my position. This is not about telling anyone what to call their own family members. I do understand the frustration of adopted people who have had their lives controlled by others. I and the original poster are simply outlining how this term causes offence and why we refuse to perpetuate the shaming which for so many of us led to the loss of our children. She and I refuse to be referred to in this way. This is not about which mother deserves the most respect. We are all flawed people and there are good and bad mothers on both sides of adoption. Adoptive mothers were hurt by the term natural mother and I am respectful that this is not an acceptable term because I care about not hurting people. Clearly there needs to be a differentiating term. The problem is not that there is an adjective, but the choice of the adjective. Calling mothers who have lost their children birthmothers is like calling women who were raped sluts.

  5. Jeannot Farmer | February 7, 2014 at 11:49 pm |

    Thank you Rhonda for bringing this debate forward. I did agree with you that the adoptees voice was the most significant in choosing future terminology in adoption.

    I would like to add that I have never bullied anyone over using this term. I do however, take the opportunity to educate when I can. Can we not just all get together to choose some words that don’t hurt anyone, and don’t allow young poor women to be stereotyped and demonised into making ‘choices’ which will haunt them for the rest of their lives .

    • Hi, Jeannot…I can honestly say that, until recently, I had never read, heard, or in any way become aware that this term was as evil as it is interpreted. I can understand how it may not “describe” a mom in a way she likes; for example, making it sound as if she was a temporary mother (for those moms who have, indeed, not stopped being mothers…as I pointed out, not all moms wanted to be moms, at the point of birth or any other time) to the adoptee. To me it is simply descriptive – describing a mom separated from her child, generally by adoption. I do not follow, for the life of me, how the term allows women to be “demonized” or “nothing more than a vagina, or a brood sow,” as the next comment states. I do not discount your feelings, however. Just don’t know how that drastic leap happens. I don’t know that I can explain my own personal experience better than I did in the original post, so I’ll leave it at that and simply say, again, that some people have/had moms who “continued” to be moms, and some who did not. What I do know is that, as the person in the middle of two moms I love/d, I have lived my life trying to make things “ok” for everybody; a position that leaves one exhausted and resentful (and Heaven help us if WE protest…then we are angry adoptees). I wish everyone peace in this process. The first or birth moms and the adoptive moms. It’s a tough road to travel for us all. And I agree with you…intentional hurt is nothing I am interested in, ever!

  6. You can call your family members what you want and define your own relationships. But I don’t see why someone else cannot have opinions or preferences; those do not override your own.

    The term birthmother IS disrespectful. And not just because it demeans her motherhood. It brings up crude imagery, as if she is nothing more than a vagina, or a brood sow. It’s used to manipulate, to emotionally separate a pregnant mom from her baby, and facilitate more unnecessary adoptions. And yet it is the standard terminology. Now, I’m not going to be mad about someone using that term, least of all my son in the future. “Birthmom” is undoubtedly how he will think of me. Most people are not being disrespectful when they refer to someone as a birthmom. But I don’t see what’s wrong with preferring a less offensive term.

    Compared to the real issues in adoption, this one is so petty that there should be plenty of room for different opinions.

  7. Dana Lowrey | February 8, 2014 at 6:10 pm |

    Thank you for giving voice to some of my own thoughts as an adoptee, Rhonda.

    I’m in a unique group of people who are both adopted and gave/lost a child to adoption; yes, I’m a first/birth/biological/natural/real mother. (WOW! All the various terms to define a relationship!) In a recent conversation with my eldest son (the one relinquished for adoption) we had a quick little conversation about the difference between “first mother” and “birth mother”. (Just as an aside, he mentioned that, on the phone, it was difficult to tell the difference when I was saying “first mother” versus “birth mother”. I found that interesting.) Anyway, my son pointed out to me the a different perspective on the term. He said that for HIM, his adoptive mother was his first mother. SHE’S the one he remembers first. While painful to hear, I couldn’t argue his point. How many people can claim they remember their birth and their mother at that moment in their history?

    I think his point of view adds yet another dimension to the ongoing debate of terminology.

    Yes, language is important, and can be triggering. I don’t think there’ll ever be a good resolution to this particular debate, but I would like to leave this comment with one last thought. OWN your emotions! Stop letting others or their WORDS dictate how you feel about any given situation or relationship. In the end, it really doesn’t matter how others refer to you, it’s how you refer to yourself.

    • WOW. You are in the middle of adoptionville, Thanks for your very interesting comment – I totally get his idea that adoptive mom is “first mom.” Makes perfect sense that way as well.

  8. Thanks for your post! Absolutely, there is plenty of room for opinions. It sounds to me like this is a “real issue,” however, to some people, anyway. My understanding of the term birthmother has been challenged. As I responded in a comment above, I had never, until recently, become aware (and I LIVE in the world of adoption) that it was so abhorred by some folks. Is it truly the TERM, or is it the cruel treatment moms have been subjected to and subsequent feelings about a descriptor in general. I’m hearing “well I don’t like “first mother”…I AM the mother,” etc, etc. I think, what it boils down to is that it has to fit the experience of that mom and their adopted child. It is not that one term fits all. I have never used the term birthmother with hurtful intent, and I don’t know that I can think of another adoptee who has, either. But, I CAN tell you that I am now aware of the concerns and will ASK what the preference is when I talk with somebody else’s first/birth mom!

  9. Barbara Calchera | February 9, 2014 at 2:22 pm |

    I don’t like the term birthmother because my son’s parents have used it as a form of placement for me. Almost like the saying, “you are just a…..” fill in the blank. It shows a lack of respect, love, and concern. Its very sterile. It creates distance.
    For myself it seems that the wording in adoption is driven by the adopted parents. I like words and definitions, so my question is, when did we get away from using mother? By definition it is one who gives birth. I mean,I don’t ever refer to myself as my son’s parent. Because again, I go on definitions, I did not parent him.
    Anyway, I am his mother. And I am okay with what ever my son wants to call me. And I am not offended that he calls his mom….well, mom.

    • I find that I spend an awful lot of time worrying about what everyone else thinks. If I’m with my half-sisters (on my mom’s side), it seems silly to say “birthmother.” If I am with my adoptive family, I use the term birthmother. However, if she had been a part of my life – at any point post-birth – the term wouldn’t seem right to me. To each adoptee and biological mother, their own… Thanks for “weighing-in,” Barbara!

  10. Jeannot Farmer | February 10, 2014 at 2:38 pm |

    Dear Rhonda,
    I can really understand why this might seem like a foolish thing to get concerned about. The term was not in use when I lost my son and I never thought about it until reunion. It took quite a long time for me to really digest what is wrong with it.
    Googling ‘respectful adoption language’ will bring up a helpful wiki on how the term came about. I actually dont think I have ever been called a birthmother so I dont regard this as a personal issue.
    However in the last 3 years, I have consistently seen the term used to stereotype people. In the UK, it I employed as a euphemism for an abuser. Have a look at mumsnet talk or adoption uk and see how they refer to birth families. Its not pretty. In the USA, it seems that it can be applied to vulnerable young women who have yet to give birth. Its part of the fairytale that adoption is just another way to ‘create’ a family and that it is a kindness to remove a child from a poor women and give him or her to a rich deserving one.
    Lastly to refer to someone as a birthmother is an unkindness to the adopted person, who may therefore consider himself to have been abandoned or rejected.
    There is a need for the language of adoption to be revisited. In an age of surrogacy, a birthmother and a biological mother may not even be the same thing.

  11. I am certainly going to explore this further myself. The breadth and scope of what this term is “meaning” to folks is shocking to me (abuser, slut, etc, etc). Thanks for the web site suggestions. I will check them out!

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