NOTE: I’m not here to argue which de jour term is appropriate, but to discuss how the misuse of language in a recent op-ed piece in USA Today can negatively affect public perception.


Al Neuharth posted a really annoying blog in Friday’s USA Today. (The media mogul is founder of the paper). In Little Caylee’s legacy: No child unwanted, Neuharth argues that the Caylee Anthony case “should help us focus on two prime human problems in our society:

  • unwanted children by women who get pregnant by mistake
  • wanted children by women who can’t get pregnant

Unless some new evidence develops, it’s apparent that Casey Anthony was a lousy mother. At best she’s stupid or crazy. At worst, evil. The press has widely reported that she wanted to put Caylee up for adoption and was pressured by her mother, Cindy Anthony, to keep her. For the record I believe that motherhood should be consensual and no woman should be forced, coerced, or pressured to either carry to term or to keep or not keep a child after it is born. The decision should be her responsibility and hers alone.

What annoyed me about Neharth’s piece was not so much the expected and irrelevant kneejerk adoption argument, but his unfettered misuse of the word “birth mother,” as in:

Her birth mother, 22-year old Casey Anthony, is in jail, charged with murdering her little girl.

Through HAL, those birth mothers are given educational, financial, legal and medical help.

When Caylee’s birth mother decided she didn’t want or couldn’t care for her baby state and/or federal help should have been readily available for aid in adoption

Anybody who knows anything about adoption knows what a “birth mother” is, whether they approve of the term or not. An easy definition is found in Longman’s Online English Dictionary:

a child’s natural mother, rather than a woman who has become the child’s legal mother through adoption.

The parental rights of Casey Anthony were never terminated. Caylee Anthony was never placed for adoption or adopted; therefore, Casey Anthony is not a “birth mother.”

Well, so what?

Here’s what:

For some reason in the last few years “birth mother” has devolved from a specific socio-poliltical definition regarding child surrender to a mushy catch phrase used by the media and general public to designate any woman who gives birth. I see the term all the time outside of adoption, and am always taken aback when some prominent woman refers to herself as a “birth mother of four” when she obviously is not talking about her misspent life previous to becoming Mrs. Somebody.

Neuharth isn’t the first journalist to misuse “birth mother,” and he won’t be the last. But unlike most reporters, he can’t play dumb, which is why I’m not giving him a pass. He and third wife, Dr. Rachel Fornes (couple on the left) have transracially adopted six children between the ages of 8 and 17. He is also father of two adult sons from his first marriage and the alleged father of the unacknowledged Rosamunda Neuharth-Ozgo, 45, who claimed in a 1987 book written with her mother, that her birth certificate lists Newharth as her father and that he sent her $100/mo until she was 21. (Here and here.) Fornes founded the not-for profit adoption agency Home at Last located in Cocoa Beach, FL. and she is a former board member of the National Council for Adoption.

Women–aka “good mothers birth mothers”–caught in the adoption spammer are praised by self-soothing politicians and win-win-win adoptionists for “doing the right thing” which to them can mean anything from carrying to term, forgoing the “option” of dropping the baby in the dumpster behind the mall, or letting the worthy take her bundle of trouble off her hands. Later, these “good mothers” are vilified by now cringing politicians and their anti-adoptee fellow travelers who fear their toxic visage especially (but not limited to) when bastards stalk the marble halls of the state demanding their records and identities. Without saying, “birth mothers good mothers” who show their Cruella de Vil faces at the statehouse, except to thank the bountiful state for the opportunity to “move on” from their disreputable pasts, are fortunate if they’re not booted out the door with a Scarlet A stamped on their bottoms.

By referring repeatedly to Casey Anthony as a “birth mother,” Neuharth, promotes an ugly political stereotype of women who have willingly or unwillingly surrendered a child to the adoption mill: cold uncaring women who if given their druthers will abuse, abandon, and kill were it not for the adoption industry’s ready rescue.

Neuharth’s designation of Casey Anthony as a “birth mother” may seem like a semantic quibble in the greater scheme of this horrible case, but it’s a big deal for those of us affected by adoption.

Neuharth has long supported abortion rights and the female autonomy those rights presume. Yet, by linking “birth mothers” (and the social concept of them, no matter what other term is used) to the likes of Casey Anthony, he perpetuates “birth mother” phobia, which has real political consequences for real adoptees stripped of their identity by the state, and real natural mothers stripped mined of their children. By linking Casey Anthony to “birth mothers” Neuharth is embedding deeper stigma and fear in the public and political psyche making our identity rights more difficult to restore and defaming the faux praised “good mother birth mother” in the process.

Neuharth’s piece is on the wire now and may show up in your local newspaper, though possibly under a different headline. You can comment on it at the USA Today link above.


  1. Well said!
    Mary R.

    Yet, by linking “birth mothers” … to the likes of Casey Anthony, he perpetuates “birth mother” phobia, which has real political consequences for real adoptees stripped of their identity by the state, and real natural mothers stripped mined of their children. By linking Casey Anthony to “birth mothers” Neuharth is embedding deeper stigma and fear in the public and political psyche making our identity rights more difficult to restore and defaming the faux praised “good mother birth mother” in the process.

  2. Thank you, Marley. I also saw the article. I noted that Casey Anthony, unmarried, was called a “birthmother,” while Susan Smith, who was married at the time her boys were conceived and born, was called a “mother.” Adopters who killed their adoptees are called “parents.”

    Actually, Casey Anthony’s parents were providing most of Caylee’s care. There was no need for her to surrender or to murder the child. She was being nurtured by family.

    This is useful propaganda for the pro-adoption faction. They conveniently forget the number of adopted children killed by their adopters.

    Language DOES count, and I really appreciate your post on this. For the record, I am a Mother…not a “birth thing,” or a walking incubator and I was not put on this earth to provide children for other women to raise. No matter what anyone thinkd, the “b” word has become a weapon in the hands of the industry and adopters who want to discount the importance of the natural mother in the lives of the adoptees.

  3. Thanks Marley,

    This is an intelligent discussion on the misuse of language and I agree. Perhaps Casey Anthony should have surrendered her child. I don’t think anyone can argue adoption is not a better choice than murder. But the fact is, she did not surrender, so she is not a birthmother or any other term for a mother who gave up a child. There is no adoptive mother, so no need for any term to differentiate which mother you are speaking of.

    Casey was a horrid, insane, monstrous mother, but still just a mother, not a birthmother.

    As to Neuharth adopting a slew of kids “with his third wife”….bleh!! I wonder what will happen to them when number 3 gets a bit shopworn and he moves on to number 4? The whole thing is creepy and yes it does make birthmothers look bad to be linked to a child killer.

  4. Robin–You bring up a good point. Susan Smith was never called a “birth mother.”

    I’ve often wondered why if having babies is such a great idea for women (which I obviously disagree with) then why don’t the wingnuts promote it for all women, not just the married class.

    First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes good little wifey with a baby carriage.

    And why is it OK for single women to adopt, but not for single women who give birth to keep their kids?

    Well, we know why. It’s about s-e-x.

  5. It is interesting how “birth mother” has become synonymous with “unmarried mother”, but perhaps not surprising since the social expectation has long been that unmarried mothers, particularly pregnant teens (too often portrayed as ‘babies having babies’ – see “Juno” as a recent and egregious example) should forfeit their children to married and consequently more ‘deserving’ couples.

    However, it’s not just about s-e-x, but also about resources.
    Unmarried women adopters who are financially independent are not stigmatized, partly because they can fulfill the role of provider without being a burden on the state. Oh yes, and because the child is not a result of their having had s-e-x.
    Although I suspect it may be less about s-e-x than l-u-s-t.
    After all, ART procedures involve s-e-x but somehow they don’t arouse the same kind of public horror as does unmarried pregnancy.

    Unmarried pregnancy is, to paraphrase (as well as take some liberties with) the prayer book, an outward and visible sign of an inner and visible disgrace.

    Of course, men (arguably including Al Neuharth himself) can escape this kind of scrutiny. Unless they are obliged to be tested for DNA they can even deny their fatherhood indefinately.

  6. Superb post Marley! It’s amazing how by him linking “birth mother” and “Casey Anthony” together, unconsciously the public connects birth mothers with insanity and killing their children, and thus adoption is better.

    I agree with MaryAnne, that maybe for this case adoption would have been a better alternative. Just as I am frustrated by the anti-abortion people who force women to carry their children to term that they don’t want, Casey Anthony explicitly stated that she did NOT want this baby and wanted to put her up for adoption but was forbid by her mother. While her mother did raise Caylee for the most part, I think think it should have been Casey’s decision what to do with the baby.

    That whole case just makes me ill, honestly.

    Interesting thought about that single women are able to adopt children, but if they have them on their own (and not “by choice”) then people think they should be put up for adoption! Sounds like a double-standard to me.

  7. Thanks for the post, Marley. I haven’t come across birth mother outside adoption discussions before and I agree that this is a troubling extension of an already troubling phrase.

    On another note, I’m supposed to ask you if you remember rpu99 from your Bastard Nation days… he and his wife are some of our closest friends, and while we were on vacation, we made the connection that you all might know each other!

  8. RE: the s-e-x thing, the Puritans sure have a lot to answer for, don’t they?

    I too noticed the difference between the word used to describe Casey Anthony and Susan Smith. I also am curious to see how the press will treat her. Susan Smith was shown to be an almost sympathetic sick woman who, in a particularly bad moment, killed her children at God’s behest.

    Will the fact that Casey is a single mother weigh for or against her? It seems that, from the tone of the article, the die is cast, and Casey will be tarred with the single mother brush as well. This is not a good thing for any single mother. All will be suspect if this continues.

  9. Dead on piece Marley, thanks for once again, saying what needed to be said.

    Watching language creep from those who absolutely know better when it serves their purposes (i.e. “bad mothers” = “birthmothers,” “good mothers” = “mothers) is not surprising, but yes absolutely needs to be called out.

    Also, quoting two separate pieces of Marley’s comment:

    I’ve often wondered why if having babies is such a great idea for women (which I obviously disagree with) then why don’t the wingnuts promote it for all women, not just the married class.


    And why is it OK for single women to adopt, but not for single women who give birth to keep their kids?

    Dear, you’re behind the times, now that Bristol Palin has finally popped hers out REPUBLICAN unwed pregnancy is now apparently okey-dokey with many in the wingnut class. Why Bristol’s a freakin’ role model don’t cha know?

    Then there are nutsos like Frederica Mathewes-Green who have always argued teen pregnancy is a wonderful thing, it’s just she’d prefer teens to enter into (permanent, lifelong, church centric) marriages first.

    See her article “Let’s have more teen pregnancy” for by one of many similar examples.

    (Naturally, should that not work out so well, she’s also a “zero-sum game” anti-abortion/pro-adoption cardholding member of the mandatory motherhood movement.)

  10. OMG!! The man is 85! That is doubly disgusting. All those young kids soon to have a senile old man to care for, then no father at all. I hope he at least leaves them a ton of money.

  11. BLC–I can’t remember right now. Do Frederica Mathewes-Green and Marvin Olasky have any direct relationship (not that I’m suggesting something lewd!) I know Olasky argues for teen marriage,too.

    I’m thrilled about little Tripp. Was he named after what Bristol was doing when she became with child?

  12. In his quote at the bottom of the article, Chuck Johnson, doesn’t use the b-word correctly, either:

    “Adoption is a responsible choice to an unintended pregnancy. When birthmothers choose adoption with their infants’ future and best interests in mind, everyone involved benefits from that decision.”

    — Chuck Johnson, vice president and COO,National Council For Adoption

    Pregnant women are mothers before and after giving birth. When a woman “chooses” to relinquish her child to adoption, she is still a mother, before and after relinquishment, and after finalization of adoption. The mother of the baby can still request the return of her baby before finalization of adoption because she is still the child’s legal parent.

    Women who want to adopt, are thinking of adopting, or who are planning to adopt, or who are in the process of adopting, are not yet adoptive mothers. They may be pre-adoptive parents, but they do not yet have the legal authority or legal parental rights to care for someone else’s baby, therefore, they cannot be called adoptive mothers.

  13. Marley: Interesting commentary…we had quite a discussion of terms over at earlier this month…
    The post is called:

    Natural, Real, Biological, Birth…Mother

    And the comments after continue the conversation. Yes, birth mother is being co-opted for perfectly normal “mothers.” Who have their babies. Who keep their babies. What is going on? Can’t we have just plain mothers anymore?

  14. Amanda–rpu99 sounds so familiar, but I can’t match it to the name.

    I’m doing a research project for presentation at the April AAC in Cleveland. I’d like to talk to you sometime since I think you have some information that would be a huge help. I tried to email you through your blog, but I couldn’t get it to work. Can you drop me a line at [email protected] Thanks.

  15. Lorraine–I’m staying out of that line of proper terminology. I got involved in that a couple years ago and had literally hundreds of comments, many vilifying me. It was fun, but who needs it. I hope you had a better response. I missed that somehow.

  16. Marley asks about a direct relationship between the two.

    The answer is long and complicated, more complicated than a comment.

    The short answer is they interweave. Not only are the both writers whose work overlap and are interdependent, you’ll also find a few direct pieces, such as:

    She did a back cover blurb for the crossway books edition of Olasky’s “Abortion Rites.” (For what back cover blurbs are worth, still crossway being what it is, and Olasky being who he is, such a blurb is hardly surprising.)

    She’s got a chapter in the Olasky edited “Small is beautiful- Loving Your Neighbor: A Principled Guide to Personal Charity” See this (wingnut) Heritage Foundation Policy Review summary of the book.

    It’s part of Olasky’s ongoing focus on (/insane redefinition of) “charity” being to his view, all about evangelism, not the actual physical realities those in need face:

    “think of souls rather than bodies”

    Disgusting, but then, that’s Olasky.

    Mathewes-Green in turn, cites Olasky in her writings. See this ’95 piece she wrote as an example.

    You’ll also find them both as presenters through programs such as this. Or as Fellows here.

    And naturally, you’ll find them (along with a host of ‘usual suspects’) both as signatories to documents like THE AMERICA WE SEEK.

    Obviously there’s more to be said, but that’s a starting point.

  17. D’oh!

    And I forgot to include her discussion of Olasky’s “War on Adoption” National Review article in her book- “Real Choices: Listening to Women; Looking for Alternatives to Abortion.”

    The Olaskys are mentioned several times through the course of the book.

  18. Whats with these old men and young wives are they purchasing them, like they do their adopted kids?

    I am getting older but to think of making love to an 85 year old. Yuk

    makes my skin crawl


  19. I believe you are using the word “consensual” in the wrong context. The word means involving the willing participation of both or all parties. I doubt an unborn child can decide if it wants to be a willing participant, and there appears to be no father around to consent to anything.

  20. The tone of the Neuharth article was offensive.

    I didn’t know, though, that Anthony wanted to place Caylee for adoption (this case is not reported on so extensively in Canada). Personally, I don’t think women should be pressured into to doing anything they don’t want to do, especially not by their mothers.

  21. Casey Anthony has said that she did wish to place Caylee for adoption but that her parents would not allow it. The fact is that her parents offered to, and did, take upon themselves the lion’s share of Caylee’s care. I have wondered if Casey was jealous of the love her parents lavished on Caylee. Just a thought…….. This woman seems so immature.

  22. Yeah, who knows what was in Casey’s head because she seems self-serving at every turn. But if a woman wants to surrender and her parents won’t “let” her and then they raise the child, that’s a recipe for a helluva lot of resentment. Different story altogether when they make the decision mutually.

  23. Great reporting and comments! Yes, Nueharth’s op-ed does come across as self-serving promo of his wife’s adoption agency by referring to Casey Anthony as a “birth mother”. The timing of the article published at the end of the year, considering their adoption agency has a donations link on their website, is not too obvious either. The economy is in the toilet. Not too many people are adopting dogs and cats from the shelters. Our local humane society is offering free cats if they’re under a year old. JK

  24. “”For the record I believe that motherhood should be consensual and no woman should be forced, coerced, or pressured to either carry to term or to keep or not keep a child after it is born. The decision should be her responsibility and hers alone.””

    I couldn’t agree more, Marley. You echo my beliefs as well.

    As far as women (whether married or not)raising their own child/children born of them, it has been in the last few years, while visiting any manner of ‘parenting’ boards, several times these mothers (no adoption in the picture)identify themselves as ‘birthmothers’. I have sat and re-read what they have wrote and wonder….WTF!!

  25. Marley,
    Stumbled on your work via gannettblog.
    Nice Neuharth piece you wrote. Agree completely that language counts. Looking forward to reading more.

  26. Far outside of the discussion – who was Caylee’s biological father?

    Has he ever been discussed? I haven’t seen a reference to him in all the media coverage I have seen.


  27. That’s a good question, E.

    I haven’t been an avid Calyee watcher, so I surfed around a little bit. Supposedly, her father was…killed in an accident. Where have we heard that before? No name has ever been put forward. There was one fellow, I forget his name, but I remember watching him on TV, who was led to believe he was her father, and he and his family invested a lot of time, emotion and love in Caylee, only to learn it wasn’t true. Surprise!

    As I said, I haven’t followed this case closely (just when it’s in the news), but it’s right at the top of my disgust meter.

  28. E.
    I am following this case on a crime forum
    there is much speculation.
    Talks even of well, you can guess…!!
    There was talk that Jesse G was the father but tests ruled him out
    Then there is talk that Jesus (yes that was the dead boys name) was the father, the family deny this.
    There is LOTS Of wild speculation as to *who* the father might be
    For a hint as to the wild speculation of some look in cayLEE’s name for a clue.
    AS I said WILD speculations are out and about all over the net. Even on a utube video The brothers Lawyer refers to Caylee as his daughter and then quickly corrects it to niece….

    I also did a piece on my blog, hadnt read your blog at the time (have been having a blog break) after I had read Safe Havens My space page – and its been touted as being Caylees Legacy
    Using Dear Caylee’s death as their own agenda to push safe haven and adoption is just LOWER Than LOW!

  29. Jane, Marley, thanks for the feedback.

    I wasn’t an avid Caylee watcher myself – came across the story watching morning t.v. shows.

    I hadn’t even heard the speculation that the biological father was dead, or that she even HAD a biological father.

    Making the child a Safe Haven ploy? WTF? Is there no shame left?


  30. Thanks, Jane, for your information. The whole Anthony family is peculiar to say the least.

    And E: would you be surprised to learn its our favorite Massachusetts diva pushing the “safe haven” agenda. No, there is no shame left.

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