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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.


  1. wow.....beautiful and powerful! thank you for sharing a difficult story..brings tears to my eyes! I am listeng..and will take your advice...and hope that I can help make sure my kids know where they came from and that they were loved....by everyone involved!!!

    Rita Brennan Freay

  2. thank you for this post :)

  3. Thanks again for the lovely poem... my thoughts exactly. Funny my amom never really was much for celebrating my birthday... although she did, she said it was just like anyother day... I always thought that meant I wasn't important when in reality I believe it was because she wasn't there. Both my mom's have passed, so I will never know for certain... Oh and you are so right about the comments on telling people you were adopted, opposed to losing your mother.. yes, exactly! ~Tracy

  4. That poem made me cry. I was that mother 21 years ago, in one room with my son in another. You took me right back there and it still hurts so much to think about. Giving birth to my first born should have been a joyous occasion and it turned into an experience I would not would not wish on my worst enemy...

  5. Ditto the reply by Anonymous ~ except it has been 32 years for me...

  6. Thank you all. I think out of everything I have ever written that poem catches more comments and emotion than any other. I STILL can't read it without crying and it's been nine years since I wrote it. But, I finally realized what my birthday truly meant to me. It was the day I was taken from my mother, who wanted me, and given to those that wouldn't. Something only "we" truly understand.

  7. Thanks for your great post and for sharing a wonderful and moving poem.I'll confine myself to one remark..if adoption has to happen the baby should never, ever, be taken from his/her mother on the day of birth desite how much adopters love this idea. Von

  8. Thank you for the beautiful poem. I was the mother in the other room. My First Daughter will be turning 23 this week (we are not in contact) and you have given me a little more insight into what she might be going through. Thank you!

    ~In Blind Faith

  9. That was so powerful, thank you for sharing. I have spent the last 3 years assembling a family tree for my daughter, mostly through internet stalking. I have photos of her entire maternal side as well. I am working on her paternal side, but that has been harder and I just recently got her mother to tell me who he is. Posts like your help me to remember what is important for my daughter, and I would rather have everything she may want to know, and her be ambivalent about it, than have nothing and her live in that hell. Trish

  10. Kudos to you Trish. Your child will benefit immensely from your diligence and effort, more than even they young can imagine. For first mothers, I hope this doesn't cause a great deal of pain to read what I wrote. I hope it allows you to realize that you are never forgotten.

  11. No kudos - as Chris Rock would say , you don't deserve kudos for "some shit you supposed to do" I am her mom. I am supposed to do EVERYTHING I can to make her life as good as it can be, given the hand she was dealt. That's my job, I love the shit out of her, and I'd cut off my arm if it meant she'd be happier. Thanks again to you and all the bloggers here. You are doing a real service for us all. I am glad you are all giving a voice to our children . Trish

  12. Karen, you always know how to bring tears to my eyes! Beautiful poem!

  13. My son's birthday was such an unhappy event that the adopters changed the date of his birth. I am glad I found out though because all my financial beneficiary info has his actual date of birth. One lie many lies...


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