Birth-mother vs. First-mother? A Shift In Adoption Terminology

I have a deeply entrenched habit of referring to my birth-mother as birth-mom, as this was how I referred to her for 25 years of my life, prior to our reunion. Post-reunion, she has asked that I replace that I discontinue using that term, and instead simply say her name. I'm ashamed to admit that I have failed at her request as my habit is so entrenched, and the word birth-parent is so inculcated within the adoption field, and thus my vernacular. Aware that this reasoning is insufficient and in order to show respect, I need to address this habit rather than make excuses. Thus, upon further examination, I can't help but wonder if part of my inability to discontinue the use of the word; birthmother (specifically in relation to Deborah) reflects my discomfort and unresolved adoption-related issues. After all, calling her by name instantly humanizes her which feels a bit scary.

Adoption terminology can be tricky - many terms evoke strong emotions, are used incorrectly and aren't always completely thought through. Some terms verge on extinction as we begin to realize the repercussions and importance of language. For example, asking an adoptee about their "real parent" is now commonly understood to be inappropriate and demeaning. Professionals discuss a biological parent's rights being terminated rather than stating that she gave up her child. Myself, along with many other adoptees are working to replace the phrase adopted child with word adoptee.

This trend towards taking a careful look at adoptive terminology stems from the fact that agencies and adoptive parents have been in charge of coining these terms since the early 1970's. An adoption agency's website currently states that "Positive adoption vocabulary helps to ensure that adoption is viewed as a wonderful way to build families." As I read this, I wonder do birth-parents view adoption as a "wonderful way to build a family"? "Positive" adoption language may have subconsciously served as a way to further insulate those most privileged within the adoption dynamic (agencies & adoptive parents). 

That word makes me sound like a baby machine, a conduit, without emotions.
— anonymous birth-mother/first-mother

During a recent webinar, Beth Hall, the founder of PACT, remarked on this shift from birth-mom to first-mom, stating that the use of the term first-mom implies that the biological mother is more than simply a genetic connection to the adoptee. Perhaps it's time we examine the word birth-parent and afford it the option of a 21st century re-brand?

Birth-parents/first-parents; please weigh in - what word (other than your name) do you prefer within this context?