BM Stands for Bowel Movement

There are two common names for women who relinquish their children: birthmother and first mother. Birthmother is the more common term. (I’ll write a post about first mother someday, though.)

It has become quite common in online forums to abbreviate, well, everything. People can’t be bothered to type real words, so we have all sorts of abbreviations. For some people, the abbreviation for birthmother became BM.

Most people know BM as bowel movement. Some also know it as breast milk. Very few know it as birthmother.

The forums did not allow this abbreviation for a long time. A script (I think) would strip out the abbreviation BM and replace it with **. I imagine that people complained, because they were talking about bowel movements and breast  milk, because the abbreviation is allowed now.

I moderate a  Yahoo! group that turned into a Facebook page. The moderator before me did not allow BM as an abbreviation for birthmother, and I do not allow it either.

Still, people use it elsewhere. And sometimes, others will point out that it really isn’t very respectful to use the abbreviation for bowel movement as an abbreviation for the woman who gave your child life. Others, myself included, will point out that, within birth/first mother communities, it is almost universally regarded as insulting to use the abbreviation BM. I suggest (and use) the abbreviation bmom.

Then, we are shouted down by people defending the term’s use:

  • “It’s about context. Everyone knows what we mean!”
  • “Don’t we have better things to argue about?”
  • “I use my phone, and typing bm is just easier than bmom.”

This “discussion” recently occurred on the Creating a Family Facebook page, prompting me to decide that this week’s I’m-going-to-write-all-those-drafts post would be about the abbreviation BM for birthmother.

An adoptive mom posted, very nicely, that a lot of birthmothers don’t like the abbreviation BM, to please use bmom.

Apparently, what she really suggested to some people was that they must drink Clorox bleach or become vegan or something.

While most people commented with, essentially, “hear hear!” or “I never thought about it, but you make a good point,” there were a few people who were obviously close minded, inflexible commenters who can’t be bothered to type two extra letters, but can type enough to make the same tired arguments as to why BM is perfectly OK and to ask the moderator to delete a thread with which they do not agree.

The context argument: Adoption falls into the category of children and parenting. Bowel movements and breast milk are also discussed in the category of children and parenting. Beyond that, everyone knows the abbreviation BM as bowel movement. While readers may know that you mean birthmother, that’s not the first thing they think of.

The argument argument: Do we have better things to argue about? Sure we do! Sealed records, birthfather rights, nonstandard adoption laws, and so, so much  more. But if we can’t even agree that birthmothers deserve a level of respect that elevates them above bodily waste, how are we going to agree on anything more important?

The typing argument: It’s two letters. Deal with it.

I also got a new argument this time: Not all birthmothers find the abbreviation offensive. My rebuttal was, “If some birthmothers find the term BM offensive, isn’t that reason enough to not use it? Or are we going to continue to use offensive terms until 100% of the target audience finds a term offensive?”

She countered with: The term birthmother itself is negative adoption language. And I said, “No, birthmom, or birthmother, is one of the commonly accepted terms in positive adoption language.”

Now, what I think she meant to say was: Some mothers who have relinquished their children feel that the term birthmother relegates them to the role of breeder. They prefer first mother, natural mother, or original mother.

And if she had said that, I would have said: The term birthmother is hated by some biological mothers, but others embrace it. I have one actual friend who uses the term with pride. I have another actual friend who vastly prefers first mother. When I talk with her, I make sure to use the term first mother, because that’s what she personally likes. If I know I’m in mixed company, with some people who despise birthmother and some people who despise first mother, I’ll use birth/first mother, so everyone is equally happy (or unhappy).

Because my goal is to not let the terms get in the way, I use the term that is least offensive to everyone. 

So, if you’re one of those people who abbreviates birthmother as BM, I ask you to reconsider. If you’re one of those people who abbreviates birthmother as bmom, thank you. Continue leading by example, even if you don’t have the fortitude to get into another online argument about using the term BM.

And if you don’t like the term birthmother at all, well, I have a post for that too. I just don’t know when I’m going to get around to writing it.

12 thoughts on “BM Stands for Bowel Movement

  1. Interesting post. More than just the abbreviation issue, it also brings up the “birthmother/firstmother” issue. So often when I speak to someone about adoption I have to give the disclaimer “I’m going to say birthmother because it’s most common but if that’s not the language you use in your adoption situation please let me know!”. While there’s no official consensus on which term to use, I think we can all agree that “BM” should not be one of them lol. I literally heard about that two days ago and yeah… we don’t need that.

  2. Good post. I just posted on a FB group yesterday about this very subject. I have a little different take, but I essentially agree with you. BM shouldn’t be used for anyone’s mother. But I don’t like AP or PAP either. PAP has its own connotations. But none of that is as bad as BM.
    I read TAO’s post the other day and she also said Bmom should be used, not BM. I wrote about how my mother didn’t name my brother Brad Mark because of the initials.
    But I don’t agree that Bmom is right for everyone. To me (as someone of my generation, my sensibilities, and my writerly mind), “Mom” connotes a familiarity that is not there for many adoptees. Yes, for open adoptions and adoptees in good reunions, there might be that familiarity, but for closed adoptions or adoptees who have actually been rebuffed in attempted reunions, for example, “Mom” isn’t right. Mom is an EARNED title that comes from time together and, as I said, familiarity. Also, it connotes a certain maturity. Babies don’t start out calling their female parents “Mom,” as a rule, but oftentimes “Mommy.” They latch onto Mom when it seems right for them. Mom is a very casual word. Like calling someone by a nickname. Mom is like putting the cart before the horse in many adoption situations.
    I don’t like Bio mom or Bio mother because that sounds very clinical to me. Birth mother is not a pejorative–it means that this was someone’s mother “from birth.” It’s accurate.
    All that said, what someone is called should be up to the individuals being named. In cases of closed adoptions, that isn’t possible, so it’s better to err on the side of the child’s feelings now and for the future.

    • I didn’t realize that TAO did this too; I haven’t been reading too many blogs lately.
      I have another post about the various names for “mom” as well. I happen to like “biological” mother and father because it’s the most analogous to “adoptive” mother and father, but I see why some people don’t like it.
      You’ve come to the same conclusion that I will in my future post: What someone is called should be up to the individuals being named.

  3. Yes! I think birthmothers deserve to be spelled out. Their pain and contributions should not be abbreviated, especially with such an unpleasant term. This “BM” thing has driven me crazy for years.

  4. I prefer biological mother rather than first mother. To me, first mother implies that some “mothering” occurred. In the case of my son, negative parenting in the form of neglect and fetal alcohol syndrome occurred, therefore it is difficult for me to refer to his bio mother as a “first mother”. I would be happy to shorten it to biomom.

    • I do understand that. When kids come from more difficult backgrounds, I think there’s a lot more that goes into choosing one’s terminology.
      Thank you for commenting!

  5. About “first mother”….my daughter did have a first mother. Many, many children are adopted at older ages, rather than as newborns, babies or toddlers. My daughter was 8 when we adopted her. Yes, she had a first mother and in fact quite a large family of relatives, some of who we are in touch with. Her life includes two families -not just ours, and that’s fine with us.

    • Catherine, that’s very true. I think open adoption is of great benefit, especially to the adoptees. I can understand why some people don’t like the term “first mother” while others do. Sometimes, it’s just about what fits for your family.
      Thank you so much for commenting!

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