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what people thin of tummy mummy in adoption

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

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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11 Responses

  1. I’m adopted and a mother of adoption loss. Personally, the term feels infantilizing to me, to both the mother and the adopted person. I’ve never used that term. Adoption wasn’t a “cutesy” thing in our house. We birthmother until my early teens and then I started using mom and mother. I also just use mom. My adoptive mom was actually the one that started that. I think she realized that I love both of them equally and even at a much younger age was well aware of who was taking care of me day and in and day out. As for my son, he calls me by my first name, mom, and refers to me as his birth mother. I hate the term birth mother personally, but it is what he uses and so I have to be ok with it because it is up to him, the adopted one, to define us and the terms he uses, not the adults.

  2. It doesn’t surprise me. But one last point is that you’re pulling from a well-read, proactive audience. People who have sought out an adoption-focused blog online. Would you see the same results if you skewed towards a much younger group or a non-blog group, etc.

    1. Good point. Readers here are more likely to have done some exploring and wondering beyond, “my hairdresser’s cousin’s brother-in-law is adopted so I have an informed opinion.”

  3. It is interesting results and I think you make the point that names can change as the child and the Mother age and what works for all involved. I cringe when I hear “Real Mother” for Birth Mother used!

  4. I love all the responses! Good things to think about. We actually just use “mom” or her first name when referring to my son’s first mom. I have used both “first mom” and “birth mom/mother” with others (non-family members) — those are more recognizable, I guess?

  5. I’m encouraged to find so many AP’ and PAP’s didn’t like it. But as Mel pointed out, the gen pop would likely not be aware why this term rings sour, and should have considered the audience.

    That said, can you break down the pro/con by groups? Would like to know how fellow adoptee’s felt about it.

    1. Hi, Robert. As I said in the polling post, the tool didn’t enable me to do that, to break down the pro/con by groups.

      However, I did spend quite a bit of time manually going through responses and categorizing them by group as you see in this post.

      I imagine if this were posted instead on the Huffington Post and the general public responded, the results would be quite different. I think my readers are a bit more mindful of the impact of words than the gen pop and choose them more deliberately.

  6. See “real mother” doesn’t bug me anymore at all.

    Because I don’t think the person usually means any offence and it’s like the shorthand for biological or genetic–the woman who actually gave birth (I think that’s the “real” part to the speaker). There is no intent, most times, to diminish the a-mother. I used to get my panties in a twist about this early on but it stopped bugging me once I knew in my bones that I was also a real mom. However, many people still reject it as unfriendly adoption language and I can understand that.

    I have a visceral and totally negative reaction to tummy mummy, though, because I see it as demeaning and, applied to people I know, laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

  7. This is so timely for us and I’m so thankful for all the opinions! We’re in a high contact, high openness relationship with our daughter’s first mom. Dad has not shown interest in meeting her, but also not outright rejected contact; so we’re trying to keep the door open.

    Our two year old daughter has started calling her first mom by her first name, and I refer to her all the time as our daughters other/first mother. But simultaneously, our daughter is just starting to figure out that babies grow in mama’s bellies; and she’s pointed to mine several times and asked. I always tell her she grew in her first mom’s belly. I think “uterus” or “womb” is a bit abstract for a toddler who can’t see it. So belly or tummy it is. But as for her first mom, She carried her in her belly. She’s not her “belly mama.”

    I think the main thing for us is that this is literally a time for her where her language is exploding; but we’re unclear on how much she comprehends about this anyway. So, we just keep up contact and talking her about her first mom all the time, just like we do with all beloved family members who we don’t see every day.

  8. Add me to those who HATE it! I am the MOTHER of all of my children whether I raised them or not. MOTHER. Period. Anyone else gets an add-on, not me! Step-mother, foster mother, adoptive mother. They get the add ons.

    That is not to say that each adoptee decides how to call his various parents, just as families and kids decide how to call their grandparents. Terms of endearment are personal. But the terms the public and media use should be more accurate than they currently are.

    I am a mother and I am ok with being a birth mother because -again – I gave BIRTH to ALL of my children and that’s something no AP can say! I have no problem being connected by BIRTH to my children. That means they have my genes! My blood!

    First and original are also acceptable. Bio or biological are NOT! Nor is “tummy.” BECAUSE, what it really means is womb-mother which means incubator. NO thank you!

    1. Im an adoptee I call my mother who gave birth to me my mum or real mother to people asking who im talking about in a conversation.. I always refer to my adoptive mother as just that my adoptive mother as she adopted me . I would say she doesnt like it but thats what she is the person who paid for me and adopted me … when introducing them to new people I say Hi this is my mum and then Hi this is my adoptive mother.. any body with half a brain would see that my adoptive mother and I are not related .. she is short fat and unattractive.. saying she was my mother would make people think…. what the… did that women have that child .. lol

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