13 thoughts on ““Birthday” milestones.

  1. For me, it’s less of a “milestone” issue: every birthday is a mixed bag of emotions. I never know which year will be calm and which will have me on a pendulum swing of emotions. When I feel sadness, anger, etc. coming on, I usually give my loved ones around me a heads up. Blogging/writing also helps (here’s my post from 2010 on my blog: http://adoptionfusion.blogspot.com/2010_12_01_archive.html). Also, talking things over with my spouse. Thanks for asking this question.

  2. I just wrote a piece about this. Good timing [link]:

    As a child all the uncertainly about my past fascinated me. I began to wonder. I began to try to bend this uncertainty to my advantage. Most of us will remember how important age is to children. Getting to the point where you can tell people how old you are and knowing when your birthday is are exciting milestones. I realized that if my birthdate was unknown that my exact age was unknown as well. You can image how much fun I had with this, not realizing that someone would obviously notice if a kindergartener was going through puberty or something equally ridiculous. Nonetheless, my little mind ran free. I could be older than I thought I was. I could be 10! Or even 20! I could barely fathom the kind of dominance I would have on the playground. On the playground, age rules.

  3. I hide; I isolate; I bury myself under a rock and find private unspoken comfort with my husband and child. My birthday is painful because I remember the 4 I had before adoption with my family and the decades more I have had since that serve as reminders I was relinquished on my birthday at 4, that my “birthday” may not be my birthday, that when I was born I was loved or cared for or nurtured or something other than relinquished for 4 years, that i may be older or younger than i think i am. My own child’s birthday is painful too because I am reminded how impossible it would be for me to surrender my child; how unspeakably excrutiating it would be; how there is no language for that type of pain; and how my own family most likely had to surrender me due to impoverished circumstances or societal expectations or patriarchal bull$hit or misogynisitc norms. Birthdays are stabs; they are wounds; they are scars torn open; they are tender just formed scabs peeled off slowly. They are days I hope become like any other day and become a celebration of birth. Someday…

  4. Until this question had been posed I hadn’t really thought about it. But actually birthdays have never meant that much to me. My AP didn’t really make a fuss like other parents did even my 16th year wasn’t a big thing. In fact I cannot remember what was done, if anything for my 16th.Though to be honest by that time mentally I had left and shortly after that I did leave. As an adult I’ve never been big on birthday celebrations in fact when my husband held a surprise birthday party for my 45th I really was uncomfortable. It was lovely but I was so unused to this type of celebration. I think in the back of my mind it just marks an event that is bitter sweet with more emphasis on the bitter. A day that saw me given one thing by one hand only to have it taken away by the other hand

  5. Thanks for the responses. I may expand later on the following, but for now….at 40 I decided to return after the meltdown from being told that all of the identifying info on our adoption papers was false. Now I’m coming up on 50. Almost 10 years here…. Maybe more later.

  6. The question looming is what do you do when you finally know for a fact that “the day” is not “the day”? I’ve always hated my birthday for reasons we discussed in the Gotcha Day topic. Now that I know that the day listed is not true, and the reason I am able to know is hugely tied to my trafficking….”hiding; isolating; burying myself under a rock” all sound pretty good.

    • I was in the orphanage in Beirut and adopted in 1960. After going back in 2005, I realized all my identifying information was created so there was no way of tracing my birth family. I didn’t even consider that my birthday may be false. Birthdays have always left me feeling vulnerable and like I’m waiting for someone to show up.

      • Welcome Kelly! [I feel like I have to do the official Lebanese welcome thing]

        I was always suspect, because as foundlings (or trafficklings) how do you decide the day? I have a friend whose father volunteered as a pediatrician at the orphanage, and I imagine it was part of his duty to guess our ages. But, for example, my birthday “just happens” to be a holy day of obligation, and so I think the nuns played with feast days and holidays as a weird “blessing” on the child.

        “Like I’m waiting for someone to show up”….Wow. Now you have me thinking about how much I hate to hear “happy birthday”, but perhaps now except for the case where someone were to say, “no, actually, it was on this day, and at this time, and in this place.”

    • I’ve thought about this too a lot recently. That the day is not actually the day. And that, for me, my “birthdate” falls so closely to the lunar new year in Korea for the year identified as my birth year. I see so many Korean adoptee birthdays close to the lunar new year which is important in how birthdays are treated in Korea. Needless to say, I hope you find your real day, Daniel.

  7. It seems, like many reporting here, my own experiences of birthdays veers toward the aberrant or non-conventional.

    While still in elementary school, my parents (my mother) essentially invited my entire elementary school classroom to my birthday. Whatever awkwardness this caused me, it seemed more related to being shy in general, but I recall that at least one other friend had such large-scale birthdays, so all the rigmarole didn’t seem weird to me in an unsettling way.

    Fairly early on, I discovered that the day of my birth (not the year) and Kennedy’s assassination were the same. Pre-Internet, this lead to a sporadic and piecemeal hunt for others born or died on 22 November (I have a list now) and, post-Internet, to a search for whoever specifically died on 22 November 1966, that may be (poetically speaking at least) my de-incarnated forebear.

    Whatever imaginative flights of fantasy this quest entailed, you may easily enough imagine what it threatens to consider the possibility that my birth-day is not accurate; my birthday would not then commemorate the beginning of the second intifada, the death of Aldous Huxley, the birth of Rodney Dangerfield and Billie Jean King. Etc. A lot of non-essential but very detailed personal myth-making would get invalidated; I’d simply start over–“simply” is a brave understatement I suppose–on some new birthdate, a new quest made unbelievably easier but for that reason much cheaper than the occasional scouring I would subject my parent’s old Encyclopedia Britannica to, on the off-chance that I would find another entry revealing a birth or death on 22 November. I’d lose the elegance of 11-22-66, but since I’ve already decided that I want 11-22-66 – 11-22-66 on my headstone (making it ambiguous that I’d lived less than one day or exactly one hundred years) whether those constitute the real birth- and death-days in my life (no one says you have to tell the truth on a headstone), I would probably simply start claiming–mysteriously–that I have two birthdays: 11-22-66 and whatever day I actually exited my mother’s womb.

    Other aberrant birthday behavior: on my birthday, I prefer to get people gifts and tell them, “Happy birthday.” In general I don’t celebrate them–in principle I see no reason to reflect on the privilege the world enjoys by my presence only one day out of the year–and though my friends know this, I feel vaguely snubbed that they don’t arrange parties for me. I don’t not celebrate them due to any lingering weirdness from my mother’s earlier parties. I think she threw them because it’s what was done (at that time in our area). If nothing else, the normalcy of that for me as a kid made it non-embarrassing, but maybe she did have some weird vanity idea that she needed to make a giant fuss. Eventually, they stopped happening, probably with the approach of high school or middle school. I don’t remember missing them or being relieved they stopped.

    My sister, who my parents also adopted nineteen months after me, was born (we’re told) on 5 July, and more than once I have claimed that that is the day my life started, my sister being at the time something of a life-line for me.

    I mention all of this to show the range of “play” I have adopted (pun not intended) toward birthdays. Birthdays are fictional to me, it seems–flexible symbols that can multiply (so I have two) or be turned inside out (so I wish you happy birthday on my birthday). I have multiple mothers as well (biological, familial, spiritual, and cosmic), so this just continues the idea: namely, that the fixity of family when construed in a non-adoptive context is not something I’ve taken up. Mothers, like birthdays, can be multiple and partial–and certainly part of this owes to the crushing failures of the woman who raised me; I “had no choice” but to find alternatives. And in one respect, this makes me very sad, that crushing weight I feel now as well, because I think my mother was grossly unprepared to be a mother, even though she wanted to be great. She herself, so I’m told, was a step-child, so her own alienation from family, her own desire to overcome the gaps, chasms, failures, or worse in her childhood–she failed to avoid that. We see a terribly over-burdened horse, struggling up a rock hill, gravel slipping under its hooves, and the creature sliding back down the mountain, nearly destroyed each time—we watch it fail, over and over. From a distance, it hurts to watch; it evokes sympathy. From a distance, it hurts to see how my mother failed as a mother. I say this without loving her, uncertain to what extent I have any attachment at all to her, which itself may be the most damning proof of her failure. But, luckily for her (and me, sort of), I don’t think her most committed goal in life was to be a mother–she might have failed in this one arena, but I think she reckons much of the rest of her life not a failure. She wanted to marry well and have a family–check; considering the emotional midden she grew up in, a family without feelings might have been a positive outcome for her.

    It’s sad to me to write this, and I’m my mother’s son to be capable of expressing this publicly, without bragging, without bravado. It points to a kind of sense of ruins of a life that, as one person said above, birthday celebrations can evoke, put in one’s face and have to think about, but otherwise remains out of sight; ruins as genuine and real as the Roman one’s Daniel refers to, not the hollow, false (literally) camp-y “ruins” of classical Rome that US architecture flaunts.

    Part of me wants to say life consists, necessarily, of ruins and fictions–adoptees simply remain blessed or cursed to encounter this fact more often, more bluntly; “family is everything”–no, not really, &c. Some get bought and sold. Some get lied to about even their birthday. The fact that I love my birthday, as opposed to hating it as reported some here, simply shows the other side of a coin that non-adopted children may have no awareness of. For them, birthdays are just days that have (boring!) rituals offset by gifts of money from still living elderly relatives–BFD. What for them becomes reflexive, haibtual, even if they think about it at all, for us may become r remain something contingent, fluid, shifting, multiple—and whatever freedom of this this promotes, it comes also with a chasm of understanding with respect to everyone else (non-adopted).

    I have to admit: I say all of this, and “behind” it I feel an inner, slithering sadness writing about it, as if behind all of the playful and clever and joyful flexibility about my birthday I’ve described, with its roster of dead and newly born on which I figure in my own humble way, there remains still a desire to have a single, fixed day after all, because that constitutes an unassailable truth; not just a day when I was born, but THE day. Because, in life, if I can’t even establish something that basic, that fundamental to an autobiography, then how in the world can anything else in life that remains far, far more nebulous (like THE purpose of my life, THE destiny I my set out to fulfill) to ever hope to find sure ground, to warrant my confidence that I’ve gotten it right, that I really am on the right track. If my birthday is fictional, my whole life is fictional.

    Again, maybe that’s how it is for humans. We publish our lives in the world, hoping for a best-seller perhaps or (like Dostoevsky) simply to know that we’ve changed the life of a single person—or maybe that it’ll get made into a movie, hopefully not one on Lifetime, &c.

    So the sadness otherwise that lurks behind all of this I refuse to say is my “real” or “true” craving for THE birthday in my life (as opposed to a day I call my birthday). I say it lurks there because this kind of experience of birthdays, and those described by others above, remains essentially incomprehensible to non-adoptees. I think that’s why when I feel this kind of sadness I want to come here and speak, because I can be certain that if my experience remains obscure, at least I know that those listening understand that this all does not come from that conventionally assumed cultural background (i.e., the one assumed by dominant non-adopted people).

  8. My adopters could never seem to remember my birthday. I always had to remind my adoptive “mother.”

    Even though there was never really any fuss made, I always secretly liked my birthday. It was the only connection I had to my mother.

    When I began searching in earnest–and learned that the info on my birth certificate had been changed–I was so shocked and frightened to think that my birthday might be off. It would have been a pretty profound injustice for me; taking away the one thing I’d always had left after losing it all.

    The birthday card my aunt–my mother’s sister–sent me on my birthday after we finally met (my 51st birthday) read, “HAPPY 1ST BIRTHDAY!”

    I wish.

  9. For the first time in my life I am meeting the so-called birthday without dread or loathing. Today is the day they marked down as my birthday, a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church, having nothing at all to do with the true day which was likely a month ago. I remember me always pointing out to my parents that there was no way I was a newborn in the pictures they have of me. Now that I’ve learned my mother kept me an extra month to make sure I was strong enough to leave her it is all explained. And perhaps that is enough to be aware of, without actually knowing the true date. The other thing is that living in my neighborhood in Beirut I was constantly reminded by brothers in faith that our own birthdays were not for celebration, an avoidance of ego. Which I didn’t mind! Finally, family and friends, in sending me birthday wishes, add “(observed)” to the text or message, and this likewise seems a small triumph.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s