Sunday, July 17, 2011

Unhappy Birthday

Recently I was asked to write a guest blog for a social worker trying to educate adoptive and foster care parents about the issues these children can have, and to help them better understand and lend support to them.  I had posted a poem I wrote about the emotions I had that my birthday brought with it.  I had a 600 word minimum which is struggle for someone as wordy as myself.  So, I had to really restrict what I wanted to say and limit expanding upon it.  But, these are some of the feelings and issues I believe adoptees struggle with that nonadopted people don't grasp or even imagine we deal with.

Unhappy Birthday

There were no birth announcements.
No cigars were handed out.
No newborn baby pictures.
No parent's joyous shouts.
No counting toes and fingers.
No comparing eyes and chins.
No nursery decorated.
No proud grandparent grins.
Instead the day that I was born,
a mother silently wept.
While in a room close to her,
her newborn daughter slept.
So close we were together.
So far we're now apart.
Two lives were separated.
A love doomed from the start.
And so each year since I was born,
this day has been the same.
No one can know the sadness.
No one can know the pain.
No candles ever bright enough
to light my darkened soul.
No happy birthday party.
No heart that can be whole.

I wrote “Unhappy Birthday” at the age of 43 when trying to come to terms with my adoption situation.  After giving birth to children of my own I began to question even more the genes I was created from, and the genes I had passed on to my children.  But, I had no support or help in obtaining any information. 
I had spent my adult years struggling with my birthday and acting out each year around that date and the ensuing depression that would follow.  I did not understand why but neither did anyone around me.  Because the impact of adoption was not, and has not been, something discussed and understood even by the parties involved.  I was told I should be happy I was chosen.  But, that perplexed me more because first I was “unchosen”.

I heard it presented by someone once in the following manner, and I think it is a very good example of the misconceptions about adoption.  If I tell people I lost my mother at birth the first reaction would be one of sympathy.  If I told people I was adopted the reaction would be something along the lines of “how wonderful”.  They are the same thing.  I know numerous adoptees that have wonderful, supportive, encouraging adoptive parents.  But they still have underlying feelings of loss, rejection, abandonment, and questions about where they came from and why they were given away.

Only in adoption are genetics white washed as unimportant.  It’s natural to want to know where we came from, how, and why.   Adopted children will always have other family out there that may, or may not be, important to them.  Certain days such as birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and holidays can bring extra emotion for adoptees.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be honest with an adopted child.   Be open to their question and give them the answers you can, age appropriate of course, and it will help give them a solid foundation and sense of identity they will carry with them into adulthood.  If you don’t know there is nothing wrong with saying so.  There can be some extremely sensitive and hard to hear subjects and issues that may come up.  Be prepared.   Read and learn all you can about adoption but mostly, listen to the experiences of adoptees.
I did not have a reunion with my birth mother but I am glad we exchanged non-identifying letters via the adoption court.  I found out I was loved, wanted, and thought of.   If I would have had this information younger what a different life I might have had.  I would not have spent nearly 40 years believing everything about me was wrong because I was physically, emotionally, and mentally different than my adoptive parents and given away because there must be something inherently wrong with me.  So now I write, and I try to heal, and I pass along what I have experienced in hopes of helping others.

If we teach our children to tell the truth, then first we must tell it to them.