Expectant Mother vs. Birth Mother: What’s the Difference

Are we using our adoption vocabulary correctly? What is the difference between a birth mother and an expectant mother?

Shelley Skuster June 16, 2018
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If you’re familiar with the adoption process, you’re probably also familiar with the term birth mother. In fact, many agencies require hopeful families to submit what’s commonly called a Birth Mom Letter with their adoption profile. While I think those letters serve a purpose with potential families getting to know one another, I also think it’s time we re-evaluate what we call them.

You see, a birth mother isn’t actually a birth mother until after she gives birth and places her child in the arms of another person. Before that, she’s something else; she is an expectant mother. Perhaps that’s what agencies and social workers and adoption consultants should be encouraging hopeful adoptive families to write: letters to expectant parents, rather than birth parents.

I know some folks may think to look at this type of language critically is the result of people getting offended too easily these days, but it’s important to examine our words and how we use them in the adoption process. The bottom line is this: Before a woman gives birth, she is an expectant mother. After she gives birth, she is a mother. It is only after she places her child in the arms of another parent or guardian that she should be referred to as a birth mother.

If we look at a standard definition of birth mother, it reads as follows: A woman who gave birth to a child who has been adopted. When we have hopeful adoptive parents writing letters that begin with, “Dear Birth Mother…” we have already jumped to the conclusion that this expectant mother is not going to parent her child.

When we talk about how we hope a “birth mom chooses us,” we are anticipating the woman who is considering an adoption plan for her child is, indeed, going to follow through with it. But we need to remember, particularly as adoptive parents-to-be, that our language matters, and how we refer to an expectant parent is important. Simply put, it is a sign of respect.


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Shelley Skuster

Shelley is a former award-winning television journalist who traded in suit coats and red lipstick for a messy bun and yoga pants. She's a freelance writer who stays at home with her three daughters who are all ((gasp)) under the age of three and came to her via adoption and birth. She's the woman behind the blog Shelley Writes, and she can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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