Sunday, March 14, 2010

When a Birthday Doesn't Feel Like a Day to Celebrate

It's almost my birthday. I don't mention this because I want anything; it's just the reason for this post.

I am turning 39, which seems crazy.

I can't believe I'm that old, and yet, I also can't believe what a ridiculous late-bloomer I am.

All I want for this next year is just to never have to ask my parents--who have always been so good to me--to float me a loan again.

Financial independence and security by 40: that's my goal. I also want to do something big--and pay for it--for their 50th anniversary.

Now, I usually don't mind mentioning my age because I don't look 39, or so I'm often told.  (What's the secret? It's somewhat complex and entails having good genes, living clean, avoiding the sun and using topical Vitamin C. I also like every single skin care product made by Philosophy. I almost became a Philosophy professor, so maybe that's another reason why.)

But back to the impending birthday: I don't get excited about my birthdays, and there's a reason why, one that has nothing to do with age.

I am adopted, and I know (or, I feel, and I've heard) that my birthmother cries every year on my birthday.

She probably spends the entire day in bed, crumpling tissues, possibly keening. I myself think about this and feel--across the miles--a bit of this same pain.

I don't think that my birthmother cries because she misses me, really. She doesn't know me well. We only met once.

I think she cries--if she does, as she once told me that she did--because the day reminds her of loss of control, of a time when her parents made sure that the problem (the baby, me) would be taken away, never to be heard from or spoken of again.

I feel terrible that she cries. If I were much of a crier, I might do the same. Instead, I just feel guilty. I feel, especially on my birthday, that I never should have been born at all.

What's the point of causing others pain, and of feeling as though you don't belong?

It's hard to be happy about life when that sort of pressure is always weighing upon you.

Still, as one Asian blog reader wrote to me once (and this is not an Asian proverb, necessarily): "Cut your coat from the cloth you are given."

I do understand that we all have to make the best of things; no one should make excuses or wallow in self-pity; we should all seize the opportunities that are given to us and try to become the most worthwhile people we can.

In honor of my birthmother (and my birthfather, who I know much better and for whom I have tremendous admiration--for him and also for his amazingly generous and open-minded wife and for my half-brother who seemed to take the news of my existence in the coolest stride, and I hope we get to know each other better, especially as we age!)--I considered posting an excerpt from an essay I wrote about knowing and meeting some of them.

Quick background: I found my birthmother 14 or so years ago. I have basically no idea how; it's hard to recall all the details. But I found her, which was quite miraculous and is a story for another time.

This essay won me a huge academic writing prize about nine years ago. I don't mean "huge" as in the amount of the prize, but rather "huge" refers to the honor of it. I did get money; I used it to buy some fancy camera that still lives in its bag, for the most part.

Some of my grad school acquaintances seemed to hate me for winning this prize. But I can't help the fact that I've had an interesting life that tends to make for good reading.

What I tried to do in this essay was to focus on tone.  How does one write about emotional subjects without being whiny? It all comes down to tone. The harder the subject, the subtler the tone needs to be.

Some criticized my resulting, prize-winning essay as "flat" in tone; others have raved about it. Whatever--to each his or her own.

I decided, however, NOT to post the essay excerpt. I know it would just make my birthmother cry harder, and I don't want that.

So, for my birthmother who I think reads my blog: M., I think of you almost daily. Every time I look in the mirror, even if I am not expressly thinking of it, I see part of your face. We are an inextricable part of each other, and as you wrote to me once, "You are MINE. That will never change."

Don't cry on Thursday, okay? I'm doing fine. I think you would be proud of me (and I have two of the most beautiful children ever born). Know that if I could, I would hug you.


  1. I'm not your birthmother, but I have to tell you that I am crying pretty hard after reading this.

  2. You were NEVER a problem for your birth mother. It was her parents who were twisted in their thinking. Your birth mother chose to wait the nine months, carrying you inside, knowing that her parents disapproved. She chose to give birth to you, which I don't need to point out is not easy. She chose to give you a family to grow up whole and happy. She cries because she misses what she could have had, if she had conceived you at a later time, with an appropriate man to father you. All she had was the none months with you safely inside her belly. The memory of that nine months is all she has now. So she cries. You were meant to be born. She meant you to be born. She only wishes she could have been your real mother.

  3. Oh, Irene, thanks for the message of positivity.

    I don't know if the scenario entirely fits my case (I think my b-mom was in complete denial about even being pregnant with me...and we've all heard the horror stories that can come from that, haven't we?), but by the end, I think she realized it all. She was in a maternity home, after all.

    She did get to hold me, as she told me, and that was a pretty big deal. The nurses at the hospital were trying to get her to change her mind about the adoption, but her father, I think, had basically arranged it with the agency.

    Still, the time (early 70s) when I was born feels sort of like the Dark Ages in terms of how birthmothers were treated. I completely understand that the whole situation must have been an absolute nightmare for her.

    My husband is also adopted, and he always wonders if his b-mother thinks about him. I tell him that I know for sure there is at least one day a year (if not, of course, far more) that she thinks of him: his birthday.

    Mothers never forget birthday, as you and I know.

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, the commenting feature is very prickly. You just have to keep hitting "post."