Monday, January 5, 2015

One adoptee's thoughts on the whole birthday thing

My husband has the best birth story ever. He is the youngest of six and his five older siblings were all in elementary school when he was born. Literally. They were all in class at their elementary school on the day he was born. I never get tired of hearing about how my father-in-law showed up at school to tell them that they had a new brother. I also never get tired of my one sister-in-law saying that she first understood what love was on the day her baby brother was born. What wonderful things to hear and know about the moment you emerged into the world.

Alas, my birthday is coming up in a few weeks. And as an adoptee who was adopted through domestic infant adoption in the United States, my birth story is quite different from my husband's. I am one of the fortunate ones who actually knows the key details about my birth--enough to consider the more difficult truths of my narrative with what I feel to be realistic expectations and emotions under the circumstances. To put it bluntly, it wasn't all wonderful.

My birth was not celebrated. There were no flowers. There were no balloons. There were no family members present waiting with excitement and anticipation for my arrival. After fighting unsuccessfully with Catholic Charities of Fairfield County in Connecticut to stop the adoption from happening, my father and paternal grandparents did not know where my mother was at the time of my birth. My mother was allowed to hold me twice after giving birth. Twice. She named me Gretchen. Then I was taken from her arms and placed in care for several weeks before getting a new identity, a permanently altered birth certificate, and a different set of parents.  I've asked Catholic Charities to tell me where I was for those first few weeks of my life. I was told that "we had so many people caring for infants then, we couldn't possibly know who took care of you." My natural parents were forced to go on with their lives not knowing if I was alive, well, and safe.

Everything had fallen apart by the day I was born--for my high school sweetheart, college student parents who had wanted to get married and for me. Because of these facts, my birthday will always involve some sadness and grief as I'm sure it does for my parents. My birthday will always be the anniversary of a colossal, traumatic, and life-defining loss for all of us. Even now, almost 44 years later, I still feel as though I lost everything--my parents, my family, my ancestry, my identity--on the day I was born. A lot happened to me before I was placed with my adoptive family. And there is nothing that anyone can do about that. It is what it is. My birthday will never be an entirely happy occasion for me. After all, it is the one day out of 365 that I can't really avoid the emotional complexity and trauma of my adoption experience.

Does this mean that I am a miserable, angry, and bitter human being? Of course not. I have an amazing life. I love and cherish the people in it who love and cherish the fact that I am on the planet. I know where I came from. I know who I am. I know my truth and I am willing to accept it for what it is. I am grounded. I am connected.

As such, I will stand strong while honoring and acknowledging the mix of emotions I'll experience this month as my birthday approaches, just as I do every year. Today, I might feel a bit sad that, while found now, my parents and I lost each other so many years ago. Tomorrow, I might feel the rush of being a survivor of challenging beginnings. The next day, I might beam with happiness when my husband tells me he's glad I exist. And on my birthday, I will embrace good wishes from friends and family while feeling present in the wonderful moment that is right now. All of these feelings are completely valid given my particular narrative as an adoptee.

I would encourage those who have adoptees in their lives to consider turning a compassionate heart toward those adoptees on milestone-type occasions such as birthdays. Adoption is simply not a one-and-done sort of life experience. It ebbs and flows with us throughout our lives. Acknowledging the complex emotions we feel about our adoption experiences is healthy and positive. All we need is the space and support to do so.

And I rose
In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days

~ Dylan Thomas

Julie Stromberg
When the time came to think about college, I decided that my career path would encompass either child psychology or journalism. Fortunately for all the young people out there, I opted for journalism and earned a bachelor's degree in communications. Since that time, I have worked as a newspaper and magazine staff writer, public relations associate, and marketing copywriter. My professional creative efforts have been acknowledged with several industry awards.

I am also pleased to be involved in several writing and advocacy projects outside of the office. As an adoptee, my advocacy work is focused on changing the common, societal discourse on adoption practices and encouraging reform that would place the emotional needs and legal rights of the children involved first.