It’s January in Chicago, cold and dark, and I’m dreading my birthday.
At this time of year I can’t help thinking of my birth mother, pregnant with me, growing bigger and possibly more scared every day. She was twenty-five, a college graduate. I may never know why she felt she couldn’t raise me, but after talking with other birth moms I can imagine. In some circles being a birth mom might as well be a life sentence, just like being adopted.
For adoptees, birthdays can be an ambivalent, worrisome or retrospective time, when we especially wonder about all the what-ifs and doubt our own identities. How can you build a self when your anchor was ripped out from under you? I’ve been struggling with that question all my life.
I remember one of my earliest birthdays. My adoptive mother, the socialite wannabe, invited the children of families she wanted to impress instead of my friends (not that I had many of those). This resulted in a mishmash of cliques and many awkward moments among the kids. Pictures of that day show me fiddling with my presents instead of playing all the nice games chosen for me to play. And that’s why I didn’t enjoy the party, or my birthday. Because on this day above all others, I was expected to like what I was told to like, do what I was supposed to do–in other words, be the perfect adoptee. Later I would go back to my room, “grateful” only for the chance to be alone with my books and the snow.
I didn’t really start dreading birthdays until I started asking questions about my adoption, questions that were misdirected or answered with (as I later discovered) outright lies. Before that I just had this vague unease that got worse as the calendar crept toward January. I wonder if my birth mother suffers like I do, from what the shrinkwrappers call “seasonal affected disorder” but I believe is simply part of the human experience. One of the most shocking moments during my brief contact with my birth mother was her revelation that depression runs in our family, in fact one of my uncles suffers severely from it. Don’t ask me what that means because it’s all I’ve got. To be given that tidbit and then left in the dark makes me feel like spring will never come. Maybe depression was imprinted on me in the womb. It’s in my blood, an unknown poison.
My depression has gotten worse since my birth mother bowed out mid-anonymous-conversation. When it comes to my birthday I don’t really care about the onset of (gack) middle age. What bothers me is the reminder of my fate, the circled date on the calendar that says, hey, if the timelines had twisted this way or that, I could have wound up raised by my birth family or some other adoptive family. Things could have been better, could have been much worse. Maybe in some of those timelines I never searched, or never had to because the information was available to me. Maybe in some of those timelines I never lost my birth name. Maybe in some of them I didn’t care, or ended my life because I couldn’t stand not knowing. All of these thoughts are inextricably linked with my birthday.
If you Google “adoption depression” you’ll find almost every single entry is about Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome… when you finally adopt that beautiful baby and can’t figure out why you feel so low. I try to have sympathy for adoptive parents and prospective adopters, but for pity’s sake! I went as far as page 10 and didn’t see a single item relating to adoptees or birth relatives. That’s how negated our feelings are. It is not societally acceptable for an adoptee or her birth mother to be depressed, especially on her birthday. Yet I have not talked to a single adoptee or birth mother who did NOT feel some level of depression about adoption at some point in their lives. Why is this ignored? Because it would destroy the picture-perfect world of adoption. Prospective adopters are not going to be so eager to pay big bucks for those Healthy White (or close enough) Infants if they realize how difficult adoption actually is, for themselves and others. The agencies gloss over the negativities with pretty euphemisms and shiny brochures, which is why adoptive parents end up with so-called PAD in the first place; it’s a symptom of a much larger syndrome–adoption itself.
For me, January is trying to dig out of the chasm. Forget therapy; there’s no DSM definition for assault by adoption, and my psyche is forever repelled by my adoptive parents’ use of therapy to try to force me into the Good Adoptee mold. Not attachment therapy, thank the gods… wasn’t around back then or it might have been part of the “cure” for my adoption. This is horribly common among American families, and adoptive families in particular: if the kid doesn’t behave, better brainwashing through therapy. What we adoptees feel is perfectly normal, even if there are those who will moan and wail at us for calling ourselves (and their trophy adoptees) “bastards.” Guess we’ll have to fend for ourselves when it comes to digging our way out of adoption depression. Here are my shovels this year:
- Spending time with my kids
They’re awesome. ‘Nuff said.
- Adoption reform
Blogging is the best adoption therapy I’ve ever tried, second only to getting off my butt and writing letters to legislators and the media in support of open records.
- Creative writing
Fiction works best for me, but even an article about the dangers of the latest computer virus gets my blood pumping (or else I’ve been a geek way too long). Since we’re on the subject, go patch your Windows computer against Conficker before you have a bad day.
Winter sowing is a blast and cures many of my January woes. Now I gotta dig up, heh, funds for more seeds (Geranium phaeum “Lily Lovell” and “Samobor“). And let’s not forget this year’s birthday present to myself: Echinacea “Summer Sky.” Drool!
- Twenty-two straight hours of The Flash
I’d forgotten what I crush I had on him when I was a kid!
Despite my best efforts, depression lingers. The world stands locked in ice, and I’m up again at 3am, pondering my fate.