Perhaps the terms most commonly applied to adopted children's biological parents are: birth parent; birth father; birth mother; biological parent; etc. In years past I, too, have thought of these individuals as our future children's birth parents. But since our younger kids have come home, I have only used these terms outside the home, when strangers ask their insatiable questions about our children's real parents (which makes Geoff and me, I guess, their fake parents).
Inside our home, Geoff and I generally use the first name of our kids' birth father when talking to each other about him; this is how we were introduced to him and how we addressed him when we spent time with him over two days. When we're talking to our kids about their biological parents, we address them as Seth and Lizzie do: Gashi (which means daddy in their language of birth; translated, the term means something like my shield/my protector); and ETA/Ee-tee-ay (which is a mommy term in their language of birth; translated, this term refers to something like my lady).
Since shortly after our kids arrived home, I've been thinking about the terms we apply to those who gave life to our children. In fact, I first started writing this post last July, about five weeks after we brought the kids home. Clearly I'm still chewing on it.
Although birth parent may be the perfect term to apply in other adoption situations, I have to admit that something about those words bothers me as it applies to our situation; they don't feel quite right being formed on my tongue, and I find myself stumbling over them at times. I think my hesitation relates to our having adopted older children, and these particular older children were not only birthed by their biological parents, but they were raised by them for the first three and five years of their lives. We spent many hours with our kids' Gashi, over two days, and we know him to be so much more than a birth parent. He and our children's ETA are/were people who, yes, gave life to our children - and in that sense, they are rightly called birth parents. But they were also the people who loved and nurtured our children in the years they had with them, and provided for them as well as they were able. Just like Matthew, our two younger children were wanted, breastfed, cuddled, held, taught values, given responsibilities, sung to, played with, sheltered, comforted, taken to church, prayed for, dreamed and worried over, and imbedded with memories and a culture that they can be proud of. All of these things contribute to far more than giving them life; they provide a heritage that will remain part of our children for as long as they live. Ultimately, too, their Gashi loved them enough to trust God to find another family that would welcome his children into its home and heart. The more I come to understand Seth and Lizzie, the more I know them to be children who have been loved well - this is huge when it comes to their being able to attach again...now...to us. Despite everything our kids have gone through, before and after being relinquished, they were loved by parents before us.
Surely, surely that parental love and care qualifies them to be more than what the term 'birth parent' infers. I'm not entirely what term is appropriate, but I tend, now, to think of them more as our children's first parents/first family. They are people, parents, whom I will forever honour and treasure and love in my heart of hearts. They were the first who did for Seth and Lizzie those things that Geoff and I now do; the first to love our children as we now love theirs. Lord willing, Geoff and I will raise Seth and Lizzie to adulthood and help them to understand, remember and value the heritage that was theirs first. I hope I do justice to the first family our kids had, to the hopes first dreamed by their first father and first mother. I hope that eventually our kids will know that having had two mothers and two fathers meant that they were all the more loved; because it's the four of us together who will impact and shape our children's lives.
So even though you'll likely hear me using the term birth parent or bio parent with you, know that in my heart I am thinking Alemayehu, first parent, Gashi, ETA. The nuance may not mean that much to anyone else, but it's an important one for me, and for our kids.