Terms that trigger deep dark feelings of unworthiness…

05 Dec


It’s funny how we all have our trigger words, words that punch us in the gut and make us feel bad.  With adoptive parents it seems for many that “real” is that trigger word, for first mothers there are many words that make them seem invisible, or worse, just a means to an end.  For some adopted, illegitimate bothers them, where bastard doesn’t and they wear it proudly.  Others don’t like either term.  Some like myself, prefer to use the term illegitimate because it is an accurate legal term that describes the fact that I was born to a mother who was unmarried.  To me it carries no stigma or unworthiness, just a definition.  I don’t like the term bastard, it brings up bad connotations about the person, it becomes personal.

That term became very personal when I was treated by a group of people as unworthy, dirt beneath their feet.  They didn’t need to say the word bastard, their words told me that is all I was to them – a bastard.  No, this didn’t happen as a child, or even decades ago – long after the society I was born in that relegated us to the status of Filius Nullius – which denied us the right of inheritance, to hold positions in society, or even the right of protection by either parent (child support).  Those laws, and the ramifications of them changed in 1968, years after I was born, and adopted, which before 1968 meant that literally, I was raised above the station in life I was born too…and one of the many reasons single mothers were coached to give their child up for adoption back then.

The event I speak of happened in this century, the feelings the treatment (words) evoked in me being seen by these people as nothing but a bastard in the full sense of the word – hit me full on.  It caused me to realize that some, perhaps many, still see us as others, less-than.  It made me aware of just how malicious people can be when they allow their true feelings to show, instead of the mask of political correctness worn in today’s society, yet underneath, deep down, hatred and prejudice still have a tenacious hold on some hearts.

The feelings those words created in me still come back to haunt me when I read articles like this one or the one posted later that week. 

What I heard and felt when I read those articles, regardless of what their true motive or the intent was, that there is a proliferation of “less than” babies being born who are unworthy of their “Christian” attention, or, assistance to gather those mothers and children into their fold as a church to lift them up, and be the village it takes to raise a child.  Instead of a clarion call to their followers to lift the mothers (widows) and babies (the fatherless) up into the fold and hold them tight, what I heard was that to be worthy of consideration in their society, the babies must be raised up to a different station in life, and adopted into a “Good Christian” home.  That despite the heartache and grief involved, that is the only solution.  The very same attitude that society had when I was born – which saw people like me marked “illegitimate” on our birth certificates, that denied us by law – the same rights as those who were marked “legitimate” on their birth certificates.



Posted by on December 5, 2013 in Adoption, adoptive parents, biological child


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 responses to “Terms that trigger deep dark feelings of unworthiness…

  1. Don't We Look Alike?

    December 6, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    I know that words like that can be really hurtful, but it’s the attitudes underneath a lot of this that are even worse. I didn’t know that about 1968. You’re saying that before 1968 a child who wasn’t “legitimate” couldn’t legally inherit in the U.S., but that that changed in 1968? Do you possibly have a link on that? I’d like to read more about it and find out the exact date etc.


    • TAO

      December 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      Luanne – I believe that year was the start of changing the laws. Each state had numerous statutes that discriminated legally against illegitimate people. There are several links below to read, but it took a series of many court cases in each state to rid the law of discrimination against illegitimacy. From what I have read the following was legal:

      Denial of federal and veteran benefits to the illegitimate children.
      Denial of the right of inheritance from the parent.
      Denial of the right of the illegitimate child to sue for wrongful death of their parent.
      Denial of the right of the child to parental support.
      The right to hold public office – this one is hard to tease out but it is promoting bad societal mores?

      I’m sure I am missing so many other things but I wanted to also note that even in the adoption law in my era focused on the right of the adoptee to inherit because adoption makes them legitimate. The other thing to note: The public would go look at birth certificates to see whether the person was legitimate – a major factor in sealing the records from the public and the adoption proceedings as well – as you say it is the underlying attitudes…adoption was the only way our mothers could ensure we were not discriminated because of our birth. It wasn’t just R v W but the change in the discrimination laws that played a role in less adoptions (but it is easier to blame R v W because no one knows about the legitimacy laws).

      A case denying a wrongful dealth of their mother lost because they were illegimiate – All the way to the Supreme court .

      Federal death benefits not for the illegitimate… and

      This look back on the Courts struggles to determine the appropriate constitutional test for various statutes dealing with illegitimacy.


      • Don't We Look Alike?

        December 7, 2013 at 12:29 am

        I am writing a memoir and this relates to the story in it. I can see I need to do some research. Thanks so much TAO!


  2. Valentine Logar

    December 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    My brother use to get quite annoyed with the word bastard. He is retired military and the word is thrown about a great deal. Finally one day during a training exercise one of his commanders was apparently screaming in his face and called him all kinds of ‘bastard this and bastard that’ and my brother agreed with him. Shouted back, ‘yes sir, my other wasn’t married when she birthed me what is your excuse’.

    My brother is decorated Special Forces, served for years. This guy was nothing special and simply enjoyed himself giving grief when he had the opportunity. Apparently what my brother said stopped him in his tracks.

    Nothing triggers me anymore. Words are just that words. The antiquidated laws surrounding our birth status, some of the still exist and need to change, most of them have.


    • TAO

      December 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      Val – love that story about your brother, perfect. Hope you are doing better.



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