Category Archives: Adoption language

Tummy Mummy in Adoption: Survey SAYS — !

Two weeks ago I asked what you thought about the term “tummy mummy.” Boy, did you have a lot to say.

what people thin of tummy mummy in adoption

Among the nearly 300 respondents, who chimed in?

  • 66% were adopting or adoptive parents
  • 11% were adoptees
  • 13% had a professional or nonprofessional interest in adoption
  • 10% had placed a child or lost a child to adoption

(These just happens to add up to 100%. That’s plain old coincidence because people could choose more than one option.)

It was pointed out that I neglected to offer a category for first family members. I wish I’d thought to.

Clearly, the poll results are going to be skewed by the views of adoptive parents — to be expected based on who reads this blog — since there are at least 6 times more of them than of any other group. And you might expect that with such an Adoptive-Parent-heavy sample, the results would lean positive toward use of the term “Tummy Mummy.”

You would be incorrect.

So what did people think of the term?

  • 61% either didn’t like the term (26%) or detested it (35%)
  • 25% were either neutral (12%) or found it acceptable (13%)
  • Only 5% loved it
  • The remaining 9% chose “Other,” which allowed for commentary. Some responses are included below.

A Digest of Commentary on the term Tummy Mummy

Below are remarks of note either via the survey tool or in the post’s comment section (this is not a representative sample; these are merely tidbits I found interesting):

Adoptive parents said:

  • Easier for small kids to grasp.
  • The birthmother of my son actually referred to herself with this term.
  • Too rhymey and childish.
  • Feels like a white-wash term trying to sanitize truth.
  • It diminishes the woman’s motherhood. Original family isn’t reflected in this phrase, which seems intent on removing all important connections and substituting them with a biological detail that isn’t even accurate.
  • I don’t love this term either but am concerned that sometimes we as a community over-police our language. I’d much rather an adoptive parent use the term to explain adoption to very young children than to wait to talk about adoption until the children are older.
  • I hate “tummy mommy.” When people told me babies grew in their moms’ tummies, I pictured babies swimming their stomachs with all the food. And babies popping out of tummies, Aliens-style.
  • It sounds a little too cutesy, a little too flip to describe such an important role.
  • I don’t love it but can see how it could be useful. My son’s birth mom wants to be called Auntie. He has lots of friends who are Auntie and I have no sisters. This may lead to confusion too. But like tummy mommy or birth mom, we’ll have to discuss the meaning of the term. I don’t like the language police because it’s inherently condescending. Offering other possibilities and points of view is great. I learn from that. Assuming that there is one right or best way says “I know what’s best and you don’t.” What’s best and right depends on many factors.
  • My husband is a reunited adult adoptee. I actually shared this with him and he made a vomiting noise.
  • I really think all of this is contextual and depends on the norms in the relationship. At some point, his birth mom and I will have to talk and figure out what’s best…It’s happening because so many people who love him are in his life and we all want him and his (broadly defined) family to be healthy and whole.
  • I do think there is a time and place for this term to be used. I have used it with my preschool aged children to help them gain a better understanding of why their birth mom is their mom. My children had multiple placements and thus multiple “mommies,” so this was one way to help explain why not all women are their “mommy”. At the time, my children also saw someone close to us pregnant, so they could physically see a growing tummy. I certainly did not use the term as a means to diminish the role of their birth mom, but I think it did help my children gain a better understanding of one of the roles their birth mom has played in their lives.
  • I love the term. We will use it when explaining to our young daughters about their story as we loving tell them they grew in our hearts and birth mom’s tummy.

Adoptees said:

  • I think it is up to the birth mother and adoptive mother to decide for themselves how they feel about it [said by someone who is also an adopting/adoptive parent].
  • “Tummy mommy” is something a two or three year old who wants to know more can understand. Later you can grapple with the correct anatomy and correct terminology. I would never use “first mother” because she was never a mother to me.
  • In my opinion, young children are not given enough credit for understanding that we can have two mothers that love us, regardless if one can’t be there at the moment. I know for me personally it would have helped me tremendously to have been able to see and talk freely about my mother as this real person.
  • Don’t care for it. Feel the attempted endearment seems forceful on a young mind. Use clinical/accepted terms, and let the adoptee define the relationship from there.
  • “Tummy mummy” makes her sound like [my long-gone birth mother] was a surrogate rather than a human being making a difficult decision. It reduces her down to a particular “role”. *

Respondents in an unspecified position said:

  • But I suppose if “tummy mummy” was being used sensitively and with love to explain a difficult concept to an adopted child I could see its beauty.
  • I think it’s a little too twee in general what with all the emotions/etc. that go into an adoption. But I acknowledge that other people may feel differently, and if it’s what works for that particular situation it’s what works.
  • Small children associate the word “tummy” with digestion. As far as they are concerned, it’s where food goes after it’s eaten. If they eat too much, or eat something that is not good, they get a “tummy ache”. That alone could be cause for confusion. I speak from experience, having been flummoxed by this when I was a child….OTOH, I don’t have a hate-on for people who use the term ignorantly, but with good intentions.

Note: The reason there are so many adoptive parent responses highlighted here is because there were so many adoptive parent responses to choose from. The reason there are no birth parent responses highlighted here is because there were no self-identified birth/first parents who left responses (at least that I could tell).

Bottom line: What I got out of this exercise is that while it is about intentions of and respect for the individuals involved (think local, speak local), the child/teen/adult at the center is the ultimate judge. I expressed it this way in my response to the last adoptee point above:

* These thoughts on titles makes me realize that for all the energy we put into arguing them, the adoptee eventually decides what works for him/her.

What’s your takeaway from these results? Is there anything surprising to you?

Image courtesy Stuart Miles at

Tummy Mummy: What’s Your Opinion on the Title?

On a recent open adoption advice post, the term “tummy mummy” came up in the comments section.

I admit, there was a day when I would have embraced that phrase as a term of endearment for the then-unknown women who would make me a mom. And I will also say that neither of those women would oppose the use of the term.

But since that day, I have immersed myself in Adoption Culture. Or at least I’ve tried to learn as much about Adoption Culture as a single person can (seeing as how it’s a huge an amorphous thing that a person can pursue but not ever attain). I’ve learned that some don’t like the term — either because it is anatomically inaccurate or it is reductive of the first mom. And I’ve also learned that some adore the term.

This short poll asks your opinion on the term, as well as your position in the adoption constellation (if you have one). Unfortunately, the rudimentary tool I’m using  is not capable of determining if there is a correlation between the two.

Please take a moment to chime in, and share this post with your adoption-related communities and friends so we get a decent-sized sample.  If you have strong thoughts about “tummy mummy,” please explain in the comment section of this post. This way your opinions will remain available here no matter what happens to the poll site.

As always, please be respectful of others’ opinions, viewpoints and reasoning as you state your own.


This post is part of #MicroblogMondays? Whazzat? A post that’s not too long. Head to Stirrup Queens to join the fun.

Do Over: “I’m a Bastard, Right, Mom?”

As you may recall from my last post, Tessa and I began a conversation about the meaning of the words bitch and bastard. We covered the terms and I was feeling confident.

Until she said the words expressed in the title of this post. That means I’m a bastard, right?

bastard in adoption

Though it was clear there was no negative meaning granted by her (it was said matter-of-factly, as she was just trying to put pieces together the way kids do) I, myself, felt a shock at the declaration and was unprepared both by my reaction and how to proceed in the discussion.

So instead of showing my discomfort or handling it inadequately, I pointed under a chair and said, “Oh, look! Is that bit of tinsel left over from Christmas?”

OK, I made up the tinsel part. But I did use the Shiny Things tactic because is tends to be as effective as it is sneaky.

As my readers pointed out, the conversation did need to be gotten back to. So during a relaxed time together yesterday, I broached it anew.

But this time, I was guided by the collective wisdom of those of you who kindly stopped to leave your insights.


Tessa is breathless, taking a break after dancing for the umpteenth time to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in our living room. I’ve been masquerading as the entire audience at Radio City Music Hall.

“Tessa, do you remember the other day when you asked about the word bastard?”


“I’m wondering how you heard it used.”

“A 6th grade boy yelled it at a guy who stole a basketball from him.”

“Oh. So what do you think he meant by that?”

“That he was being mean.”

“Yeah, that he was being a jerk, right? That’s usually what people mean when they use that word. It’s kind of like the male version of bitch. And you know that both words are meant to hurt and are very disrespectful and very inappropriate.”

[And that mommy only uses them when stupid people in stupid BMWs cut in front of her when their lane ends, even though they had plenty of chance to merge sanely way back there and not come thisclose to hitting mommy’s car in a stupid game of chicken. But I digress.]

Dramatic: “I know that, Mommmmmm.”

“And you also know that bastard can mean someone who was born to parents who weren’t married, right?”

“Yeah, like Crystal and Joe weren’t married when I was born.”

“That’s true. You know, I always thought it was crazy to have that word be about a kid — even a baby — when the baby really didn’t do anything except be born.”

“Mom. It’s not like they’re saying the baby is a jerk.”

“Of course not. No baby is a jerk. But in the olden days when unmarried people were not allowed to live together, it was a rude word that described a child born to them.”

“That’s so not fair to the baby!”

“Exactly. Sometimes a word says more about the person who uses it than about the person it’s about.”

“I know, Mom. You’re telling me not to call people names, right?”

[Unless they are really, really stupid drivers.]

“You’re so smart. Hey, another thing. The other day you wondered if you were a bastard. What do you think?”

“Wellll…I kinda am because of Crystal and Joe. But I’m kinda not because of you and Dad.” (pause) “But I definitely am not a jerk.”

“Most of the time (smiling).”

“Mo-o-o-om (smiling back).”

“These days, we don’t talk bad about children for anything that’s really about their parents. So no, I cannot think of any way that anyone would consider you a bastard.”

“OK. Mom. Wanna watch me dance again?”

Adoption: A Tough Question from my Daughter

I’m interested in what parents and non-parents have to say and particularly what helpful advice adoptees may have to offer.

What would/did you do?

Our conversation started when Tessa, 9, asked me what bitch means and if it’s a bad word. We’ve had this talk before. I told her  that the dictionary meaning is a female dog but that some people have also made it into a hurtful word meant to show extreme disrespect. If the word is used as a weapon, then yes, it is a bad word.

I was ready for all that. But not for the next part.

“Mommy, what does bastard mean? Is it a bad word?”

Bitch was easy. Except for, perhaps, people with extreme allergies or hatred of dogs, its denotation is uncharged. But bastard is different. Its dictionary meaning is, itself, a highly charged slur against adopted people.

How would/did you respond? Given the luxury of contemplation and preparation, what is your best response?

I distracted with something shiny. So I’ll be taking your advice into consideration when the conversation comes up again.

Which it inevitably will.