What Should I Call My Birth Mother? An Adoptee’s Perspective

My decision about what to call my birth mother was complicated, but we found what works for us.

Ashley Foster May 28, 2018
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Reuniting with birth family can be a wonderful experience. Of course there are little things after reunion that can be tricky to navigate. For me, deciding what to call my birth mother was a bit of a hurdle. At first, our communication with each other was fairly formal. We corresponded by email, and I addressed her by her first name, Betty. When we transitioned to texts, an in-person meeting, and phone calls, I still called her Betty.

It seemed odd to me to call my birth mother by her first name in front of my full biological sisters, so when I was around them I referred to her as “your mom.” “Did your mom tell you what happened last week?” I would ask. Over the next few months, I changed it to “mom” around my sisters. “Mom is coming to visit next month,” I said. All the while, I was still calling her Betty directly.

One day, I started calling her “mom” to her face, and that was that. There wasn’t an event or anything that caused the change. I think I just started seeing things differently. It was an evolution of thought on the matter. I had always imagined this huge separation between my adoptive parents and birth parents, when in reality the gap is not that big. It honestly just feels like I have two moms.

When I talk to my husband about her, though, I usually just call her Betty. He and I have been referring to my adoptive mom as “Mom” for almost 15 years, so it’s easier if we clarify. It prevents a lot of confusion that way.

As soon as I thought I had the whole name thing figured out, we had to decide what my children would call her. My birth mom had never been a grandmother before, but my boys were not the first grandchildren of my adoptive parents. They always used whatever grandparent name the ones before them had used. My oldest was traveling out of town to spend Spring Break with my birth mom, so we had a limited amount of time to come up with an idea.

We went to Google as if we were looking for baby names or something. I don’t recommend that. There are way too many, and some of them were just plain weird. I asked Mom if she had a preference, and she didn’t. We already had a Grammy and a Nana in the family. I told my son that it wasn’t a big deal, and they could figure it out as they went. I said they needed to find a name that felt comfortable to both of them. If I remember correctly, he started calling her “Gigi” initially, and they both decided that was not it. By the time he came home he was calling her Grandma B. He has called her that ever since.

There are lots of things that go into the decision of what to call members of your birth family. Every family is different, and each adoptee has a unique reunion experience. Always do whatever feels comfortable for you and your family. It’s alright if you call your birth parents “mom” and “dad” or by their first names or something in between. As long as you make the most of your reunion experience, the names really don’t matter.

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Ashley Foster

Ashley Foster is a freelance writer. She is a wife and mother of two currently residing in Florida. She loves taking trips to the beach with her husband and sons. As an infant, she was placed with a couple in a closed adoption. Ashley was raised with two sisters who were also adopted. In 2016, she was reunited with her biological family. She advocates for adoptees' rights and DNA testing for those who are searching for family. Above all, she is thankful that she was given life. You can read her blog at http://ashleysfoster.blogspot.com/.

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