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.
I don’t tell casual acquaintances about my birthday. People always want to know, put it in their calendar, send you an e-card or invite you to a little office celebration with stale cake. But adoptee birthdays invoke too many well-intentioned questions that are conversational for others and heartbreaking for us, like”Where were you born?” (some of us don’t know) and “Are you celebrating with your family?” (which one?) In short, birthdays are stark reminders of what may be our most traumatic experience: losing our mothers, our blood relatives, our cultures, our heritage. I don’t mind sharing with people who know my adopted status and understand that trauma. What I don’t like is the automatic dismissal of the uninitiated: “Oh, you’re adopted! You must feel so lucky.” And I’ll admit, I’m no fun. When people ask me straight out I give them a straight out answer: that I’m adopted, that my birthday is traumatic, that it brings up a lot of feelings of loss and I don’t really like talking about it. Talk about putting a damper on the party.