By Denise Roessle

There is so much confusion over what to call mothers who relinquished babies for adoption: birthmother, first mother, natural mother. I remember the first time I tried to explain myself to someone who didn’t know me and had no connection to adoption. I said, “I’m a birthmother.” She asked, “Does that mean you have babies for other people?” I was kind of stunned for a few seconds, and then replied, “Well, not on purpose!” I guess she confused me with surrogates.

I still don’t know what to call myself, what term makes me, and everyone else, comfortable. In general, I call myself a mother, say that I have a son and a stepson, and a bunch of grandchildren. That's true and usually doesn't require any further explanation, unless they ask questions about what my son was like as a child, where we lived, things that assume that I raised him.

When people learn that I have a book out and they ask what it’s about, I say,” It’s a memoir about reuniting with the son I gave up for adoption when I was a teenager.” I don’t have to describe myself as anything. They get it.

Lately, especially since my memoir, Second-Chance Mother came out, I’ve had occasion to speak of other mothers, like Patti Hawn, author of Good Girls Don’t. I finished reading her book and liked it very much. We are hoping to do an event together when she visits Tucson.

I’ve taken on a new descriptor when I mention other mothers like Patti, Suz (a fellow bmom blogger), Debra (a bmom filmmker) and countless others who have books, films and blogs. I say, “She’s a girl like me.” Which results in momentary puzzled looks, and then I can say, “She also lost a child to adoption.” Without having to use the b-word or any other of those loaded phrases.

The first time I said “a girl like me,” it just came flying out of my mouth, no thought behind it.

Then I realized where I got that wording. From Ann Fessler’s upcoming film: “A Girl Like Her.” (Ann, by the way, is an adoptee. She also wrote the book, The Girls Who Went Away). If you visit her website and look at the faces, you’ll see that they could be any of us: good girls, with hopes and plans, who got pregnant because we were in love, and were stuck in the social mores of the times that demanded that we give up our children as penance. I’m not just talking about the Baby Scoop Era. The practice of surrendering children continued way past Roe v. Wade (1973), into the late 70s, 80s, and beyond, when women had the option to abort or raise their child as a single mother. But the coercion is still happening today, to fulfill the demand for babies among infertile couples.

I think I will continue to use “a girl like me,” when I talk about others who are in the same situation. It just feels right. And it opens a discussion, without the use of those other terms, which no one truly understands.

Copyright © Denise Roessle, Author of Second-Chance Mother
All rights reserved.

About The Author
When Denise Roessle became pregnant out of wedlock in 1969, she inadvertently joined the ranks of the million-plus young women who fell prey to the Baby Scoop Era — a time when relinquishing their newborns for adoption was the socially-accepted solution to erasing their sins and filling an increasing demand for adoptable infants. She was told to move on with her life, assured that she would forget and have other children she could keep. She finished college, married, and became a professional copywriter and graphic designer. But she never had more children. And she did not forget. After reuniting with her grown son in 1996, Denise began writing on this more personal topic. Her articles have appeared in national adoption magazines and newsletters, and she continues to be active in the post-adoption, adoption reform, and birthmother support arenas. Visit Denise on the web at http://secondchancemother.com

  • If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. —Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel