August 7, 2013

What's Up With Adoptees and Birthdays?
(I Asked Them!) Part Two

 “They should tell you when you’re born: have a suitcase heart, be ready to travel.” 
~ Gabrielle Zevin

The only way anyone can understand what life adopted is like is to ask people who actually are adopted.  This week I’ve been asking adoptees how they feel about their birthday, in an effort to shed some light of understanding on this subject with non-adoptees. Many responded  to my question, and if you missed part one, I suggest you go back and check out this post as well, for a fuller understanding.

Photo Credit: Sakura Mutsuki, Flickr

I thought this year might be a difficult birthday because I’d had so much to process the last five months. 

Reflecting on my very first birthday -- I spent it totally alone.
(With the exception of receiving medical care.)

My natural mother just recently told me that at my birth and during her hospital stay, she didn’t want to see me or hold me -- and she didn’t. (That explains a lot.) She did see and hold me later on at the adoption agency, before I was adopted.  But there was no rejoicing in the delivery room.

I wasn’t laid on my mother’s stomach or cradled in her arms after my umbilical cord was cut. There were no family members who came to see me in the hospital. No one sang lullabies to me in the hospital and there were no happy announcements on the day I born.  

Back in the 1960’s women stayed longer in the hospital after birth.  My mother was drugged during my birth and remembers nothing. After I made the transition out of her body, I was abruptly whisked away and placed in the nursery until I was released from the hospital, went to foster care, and was then adopted.

My mother and I were separated the entire hospital stay.

Photo Credit: "G" jewels, G is for Grandma, Flickr

No photos were taken of me as a newborn. I guess maybe the adoption agency, hospital staff or social worker didn’t think I would someday care. It was as if I didn’t truly exist until someone adopted me. 

The first photos of me were taken after my adoptive parents came along. I have no photos to record my newborn days, which is not uncommon at all for an adoptee.  (Most adoptees I meet have no newborn pictures.) As far as photos of my early childhood, I don't have many of them, perhaps five or less, as my adoptive mother has almost all of them.

There was always a cake and a gift for me on my birthday. In addition, my adoptive grandmother, Grandma Lewis, always used to make my favorite dessert for me each year. It was a chocolate pie – her unique recipe.

Since I've been married, my husband has tried to make birthdays special. Being transparent, we have had areas of challenge to work out in our marriage and birthdays is one of those, but we are coming to greater understanding all the time. 

Regarding my birthday this year, it was actually the best ever, despite what happened with my first mother. Here's why.

On to what a some other adoptees have to say… 

Jacqueline Ana Perez 

Birthdays were full of mystery and pain for 42 years until I discovered the identity of my bio mother. Now I know and I am free. 

Lori Pringle 

I was always jealous of other people's birthdays. People would celebrate their birthdays. They'd have parties, people at school would wish them happy birthday and celebrate. My birthday is 8 days before Christmas, so I'm sure that was a big factor, but my birthday often went completely forgotten by most everyone but me. Everyone was always too busy. Even those who did remember tended to cheat. My two adoptive brothers, whose birthdays were in March and September, would each get a birthday card from our grandparents with $5 in it, and then they'd each get a Christmas card with $5 in it. But I'd get a Christmas card and open it to read, "and Happy Birthday" on the inside. So, it's not like they forgot, but it would have $5 in it! What, did they think I was stupid? I began to despise both Christmas and my birthday. 

Usually around February 5th, suddenly my adoptive parents would remember that my birthday had passed, and say something like "Oh, we forgot your birthday." Then they'd say we could just celebrate now because February 5th was the day they got me. 

Really, my birthday to me is mostly a reminder that my birth was "not allowed", and it's a reminder of my punishment for the crime of having been born (losing my family). 

Birthdays are not as bad since reunion, but they are still not good, as I never got the chance to know my mother, and the sting of that just never gets less. People say that all wounds heal with time, but I don't agree. I think that in some cases, we just get better at hiding them. 

Jill Booker 

I'm with Lori. My birthday is December 28. I also share it with my older adoptive brother. So not only was it overshadowed by Christmas, it was eclipsed by my brother reaching age milestones (driving age, etc.). It was a constant reminder that there was something -- a holiday, a person, a choice -- that was always more desirous, more worthy, better than I was. I've always thought that being adopted was like watching your own death. Even your birth is a funeral -- people standing around with red-rimmed eyes, much hand-wringing, refusing to look at the body (baby) -- only the body still lives. And then in reunion you get to see how everyone went on without you. 

Monica Shaw 

My birthday is the day I (Myself, Me, I, Everything I am) was born. It is the one day I let go of the pain and allow myself to celebrate as an individual. ME who is here for a reason. It is the one day I celebrate the greater picture and thank God for his greater plan without any thought to who gave birth to me who looked after me or who thinks they knew best for me ... my birthday ! For me! Myself! I!  

Julie Hayes Gaglione 

I found out when I was 27 or so that I was born on my father's (bio) birthday...that made it harder because my mother (bio) told me that he had not done anything to help her...made my birthday even worse...then I found out that what she thought was the truth was not true...I celebrated my birthday with my father this was the best birthday ever...we were both born on Valentines Day! For a long time I could not even imagine myself being was like my life started when I was adopted, but I knew from an early age that there was more, and it was secret...I so do not like secrets! 

Jennifer Jones Reed 

My birthday is a day of conflicting emotions. I am grateful that my bmom made the choice to have me. However, the day (evening) of my birth was spent with the mother who didn't want me. My birthday has come to signify the fact that the one person who should love me above all others is the one woman who didn't want me. The day that my bdad got to see me (the day after my birth) means more to me because that was the only time he got to hold me and he wanted me. 

Claire Hitchon 

My birthdays were never celebrated. Having run away at 15 they continued to haunt me and I never mentioned them. I would just slink away to mourn, tearless and wonder if "She" thought of me on those days. I dreaded "the day" for years. A cloud of darkness would envelope me and I preferred to be alone.

A dear friend gave me a 40th party and had put on a banner around the room every celebration that never was. A baby shower for my daughter, my sweet 16th, graduation from nursing… everything. I was so overwhelmed. Of course no one understood. I always had great parties for my daughter. When the record laws changed her in Canada, I would call every year to see if someone was looking. Of course, if they had -- I would have heard. 

After reunion, my birth birthmothers birthday was 5 days before mine! She only lived for one bday celebration and I wanted to run so badly. I was in tears of grief so deep. After she died I have tried to let go of the pain and begin to just celebrate my being here -- not easy.  I'm a work in progress but with the help of a couple good friends I can now celebrate in a small way. I, for the first time put my birthday on Facebook and have taken it off and put it back so many times its comical. I'm hoping, with my two memoirs soon coming out I will be free to embrace the whole person, the painful story, and my "being". 

Sarah Morris 

 My birthday is and always has been a time of pain and grief, because it brings me face-to-face with the facts of my birth. I was unwanted, unplanned, and uncelebrated. Unfortunately, I was given to adoptive parents who were unsuited to raising an adopted child and who created a tradition of birthday as a tense, frightening, guilt-ridden time. The message was that I didn't deserve to be celebrated.

In recent years, I've tentatively asked for what I wanted on my birthday and celebrated birthday/mother's day as one. I've requested no gifts; that makes it easier. The celebrations I request are simple experiences - a picnic, drive to the beach, etc. It's working out. 

 Leigh Tyler 

My 5th birthday was a turning point for me. I realized that I didn't know what time I was born but that my birthmother did. So I started an annual birthday tradition of writing a different time on a secret timeline in my closet where I could hide and spend time thinking about my birthmom and hope that she was thinking about me too. I figured that by doing it different times each year I would get it right one year! I started on my 5th bday and was hiding in my closet early that morning around 7:00,  thinking so hard -trying to 'reach' my birthmom.

My birthday was the same as my adopted aunt's and we always shared a cake on thanksgiving. I usually had a sleepover party or cake with friends on my birthday,  but each year I had my special time that no one knew about and I prayed I was connecting with my birthmom.  Because we usually celebrated it around thanksgiving- I made my birthday more about the holiday- and watching the Dallas Cowboy game then about my day to celebrate. As an adult, I no longer see my adoptive mom for thanksgiving because I need it to be a day of peace- I don't really celebrate other than a cake with the kids- but always ask for something for the house not for myself.

My birthmom says that this year she plans to be here for my birthday- I would so truly love that- but I've learned not to expect things. I don't think that birthdays are filled with joy for many adoptees. Even though I am in reunion 20+ yrs and know that my birth mom spent a week caring for me in the hospital, I still feel loss on that day. It meant that we were no longer mommy and baby with our heartbeats beating together. That's what I lost on my mommy. I was given a replacement parent in my adoptive parents, but I've never had my mommy again. When I found at 23, we were both adults and had to walk a new path thru reunion. I now have a Mom who I consider my closest friend, but the loss of a mommy is still one I bear in silence- like still being in the closest and trying to think of her each year.