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 adoption.com 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.