Don’t you just love your birthday? It’s the one day you get permission to think about no one else but yourself. – because it’s the day you were born, and that’s worth celebrating. It’s your beginning…the day, time even, you recognize year after year with cake, presents and smiles – all celebrating one thing, your creation.
Adoptees have birthdays too, of course. They entered this world like anyone else, but their birthday also marks another significant life experience: the loss of their mother.
I refuse to say birth mother in the above sentence. Absolutely refuse it. I wasn’t born to a “birth mother”…no, I was born to my mother. And then I lost her soon after I was born.
Before I elaborate more on this loss, I do want to clarify something: I don’t know my birthday. October 2 is what I call the day I came into this world and that I recognize as my birthday, but I have no idea if that’s the actual day I was born. And I don’t know the actual day I was abandoned. My file states I was found outside the building and only a few days old. So maybe I was there for a few days, maybe for a few hours.
Regardless, my birth is associated with loss.
This loss makes me wonder why the world is surprised when reports come out that adoptees are 4x more likely to commit suicide than non-adoptees. Why the world is shocked when an adoptee starts to tell their story, and it doesn’t sounds like rainbows and sunshine.
We rejoice when a baby is adopted, and most often, the child is never allowed to grieve the loss of their mother, and there is absolutely no recognizing that loss – ever, unless the child decides to recognize it for themselves.
We put the baby with complete strangers, and tell them “There, there. It’s alright.” And then we expect them to adjust perfectly to this new family, all the while not even recognizing the child itself is grieving the loss of its mother.
The expectation is great; the loss is greater.
It’s not easy to grieve the loss of someone you knew personally and loved. I understand this kind of grief after losing my grandmother, whom I loved dearly, in 2013. Equally, it’s not easy to grieve the loss of someone you don’t know. I don’t know my mother, yet I grieve the loss of our connection.
And I cry for my mother, just like anyone cries grieving the loss of a loved one.
I cry because I love her yet I will never get to tell her “I love you.” I cry because I want to see her yet I will never know her beauty. I cry because she’s a part of me yet a void I am always trying to fill.
I recently discovered that this loss, the adoptee’s loss of their mother, is called the Primal Wound. It’s also the title of the book I just finished – Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child by Nancy Newton Verrier.
The first chapter explains… “Bonding doesn’t begin at birth, but it’s a continuum of physiological, psychological and spiritual events which begin in utero and continue throughout the postnatal bonding period. When this natural evolution is interrupted by a postnatal separation from the biological mother, the resultant experience of abandonment and loss is indelibly imprinted upon the unconscious minds of these children, causing that which I call the “primal wound.”
Abandonment is an experience of adoption. The child who was abandoned was there, experiencing being left alone by the mother and being handed over to strangers. And while we may not remember this experience, we are affected by it. And the experience bleeds into all areas of our lives, even into adulthood.
The first chapter goes on to explain that the trauma of being separated from the birth mother is an experience that the child will never fully recover from.
This brings me to the topic of birthday celebrations for adoptees. For me personally, I was not acutely aware of the loss of my mother as a child. I was not aware of the implications of adoption or the affects it was having on me as a child. I have since come to understand that there is a deeper reason as to why I didn’t tune into it earlier, but that’s for another blog post.
Now that I’m adult, I can look back and see the affects of the primal wound in my childhood and my adulthood. I grew up celebrating my birthday and loving it. However, I always remember feeling a void of some kind. As a kid, I couldn’t name it of course, so I suppressed it and got on with the party. As an adult, I now recognize that void as the primal wound.
It wasn’t until my mid-to-late 20s that I actually started to feel real sadness around the time of my birthday. Behind the cake, presents and smiles, there was a profound sense of loss.
I often thought “I wonder if she thinks about me on this day. Surely on this day she thinks about me, and wonders about me.”
I celebrate my birthday because I’m alive. Creation is beautiful, and that’s worth celebrating. But I also can’t and won’t ignore the loss I experienced. It is a part of me and will always be associated with my birthday. Even if I try to ignore it, it will always be there.
There is significant trauma around losing a parent no matter what age you are. I lost a parent as an infant. And at 30 years old, almost 31, I am just now grieving that loss.
I am not alone either. There are many adoptees whose birthdays are associated with loss and sorrow. Take a look at these real quotes from other adoptees…
“I think about her every year. I wonder what she’s like. What she looks like. If she thinks about me. What labor and delivery was like. If she held me. Who was there for her. Did she have other children. How old she was.”
“I think about if she has passed away, and now there are things I will never know.”
“It hurts that we are not allowed to acknowledge the loss.”
“My birthday is always weird for me. I always wonder if anyone is out there thinking of me. I don’t know how much I weighed. Or what time I was born. Or even have a baby picture of myself. It’s just a total disconnect for me.”
“I always had a sense of dread and confusion on my birthday. I knew it was supposed to be a good day and get presents and cake and have friends over. Now I understand the confusion and dread. There was nothing happy about that day. It was my abandonment day.”
“I hate my birthday, I am slowly getting better in coping with it as I get older but mostly it is a day that I try to avoid and any people who want to acknowledge it. For adoptees their birthdays can signify the beginning of the end.”
“It’s hard to not remember that my birthday is the day my mom gave me away. I know it sounds strange but the feeling gets worse as I get older.”
“I’ve had to explain that while I would love to celebrate, there is a void where my soul should be and my chest tears open as my heart reaches out for what was left behind.”
Powerful words spoken from REAL adoptees.
For the adoptee, our birthdays are a reminder of our loss, and our wound…the primal wound of losing our mother. If you know an adoptee, I hope you’ll remember that for many of them, while the celebration comes and goes, the primal wound always remains.
To all of my adoptee friends on your birthday:
I am so glad you were born and created. You are incredible and amazing. Your existence matters and you have a purpose. I acknowledge your loss as you think about your existence and being, especially around your birthday. The thought of your loss makes me sad too. Sad for you and sad for your birth mother. It’s a wound that you’ll never fully heal from, and I also understand that wound as a fellow adoptee. But I tell you this: You are allowed to be sad on your birthday. You are allowed to grieve that loss, and you are allowed to celebrate OR not celebrate your birthday. You are allowed. So make your choice and be confident in knowing that you are enough and you matter. Happy birthday, my friend. Love, Christina
Note: I realize I was going to blog about ‘The After’ next, and I will eventually, but this topic was more timely and important. Thanks for staying in tune.