“There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow”
Joni Mitchell, Little Green
It would always start the week before. I’d find myself slip away a bit, not really a depression, more like melancholy. I’d open my closet, find my pity party dress, get all dressed up, and ready to jump into a week long funk. For years, I didn’t know why. It’s my birthday. I’m supposed to be excited to celebrate another year and to spend time with friends and family. I’m supposed to be happy, right? And yet, year after year, exactly one week before the day, I was a wreck. Anxious, hiding, waiting for it to be over. At the same time, I wanted to be celebrated and loved.
For years, I felt an emptiness on my birthday that I could not fully articulate. As an adoptee, feelings of abandonment came up that I could easily justify away, but never really ignore. I found that my justification was for others. My arrival into a new family was a happy celebration, but I always felt a little like a commodity. I was the THING that changed their lives. This baby made things better. This is an INCREDIBLY uncomfortable thing to say out loud and I don’t for one minute think that my parents or any other adoptive parent think of their child as property or something other than their child. But still, despite knowing that my parents didn’t feel this way, every year, I felt sad because of the day I was born. I was given up, a mistake and something that was not good news for a teenage girl. I spent years denying that this sentiment because I could easily point to a million reasons why I was grateful and lucky. I never told my parents because my birthday was one of the best days of their lives. I appreciated that this was true for them, but it also made me feel guilty for not always feeling the same.
So every year, this abandoned little girl crept towards me, and year after year, I’d try to avoid her. A couple years ago, I started to pay attention and not run away from her. I slowly let her get closer and take up space, but still kept her a safe distance away. I’ve grown accustomed to her though, and over the course of years, I’ve let myself get to know her. Listen to her. Tell her it’s okay. Okay to feel like you were a mistake, lots of people, adopted and biological, feel this way. But what I’ve also been able to do is look at it differently now that I am mother. When my kids hurt or struggle, I want desperately to make them- and myself to some degree- feel better. I want to tell them to NOT feel that way, that they SHOULDN’t feel that way, but here’s the thing: THEY DO. It’s all them, and if I give them the space to feel whatever they feel, maybe I can help them give it a voice and hopefully, they can come to some reconciliation. I hope I can be a better friend and partner to others, that I can listen and say, “I see you’re broken, and I’m just going to hold you until you feel a little better.” I’ve learned that was all I wanted, and by doing this for them, I’ve had to hold myself and to do the same. So, I’ve given myself permission to feel sad on my birthday and for some birthdays, I do. It’s MY birthday… not my parents, not a young girl who ended up in a sticky situation, not my own children. It’s MY birthday, and I’ve discovered a beauty in celebrating my life, even the parts that hurt. The broken parts of us all make the others more shiny. They all make up the woman I’ve become, who, by the way, I now know isn’t a mistake.
P.S. Don’t worry Mom, today I’m very happy. Thank you and Dad for giving me the best THING I could ever have. A beautiful family who may not get me most of the time, but loves me always. I love you.