Getting older makes us all want to stop having birthdays but for some it’s more complicated than just turning another year older. People have celebrated birthdays for thousands of years and although the original meaning of the celebration had more to do with astrology or superstition, currently we tend to fixate on the actual day. Think of the children you know that proudly state the date they were born. It’s one day on the calendar that we can claim for our own and our friends and family reinforce that special claim. Parents or grandparents re-tell birth stories, reminiscing about what you looked like or how long labor was. I have told my son about his long delivery more than a few times. Unfortunately, I can’t tell my daughter (adopted at 16 months old) a single thing about the day she was born. I wasn’t there. Her birthday is packaged with loss, beginning with an untold birth story. She has lost more than the details about how she looked or how much she cried. She has lost information about the woman who gave birth to her, the man who conceived her, the city and country that she was born in and the possible siblings that were born before or after her. She is missing the stories that families tell that seem to connect them to each other. With this loss comes grief.
Parents of adopted children should be aware that certain behavior may be associated with loss and grief. Children may feel empty, sad or irritable around their birthday. Feelings of rejection or abandonment are heightened for adoptees around their birthday as it can serve as a reminder that they were separated from the person who gave birth to them. They may feel overly hurt by a forgotten birthday wish or less than expected celebration. It is important to recognize this, allow them to talk openly about their feelings and let them express their grief. Grief cannot be avoided but it can be worked through. You may need to speak to a counselor if your child is having ongoing behavior problems, making drastic statements (i.e.; I wish I wasn’t born) or exhibiting signs of depression.
While I understand why we tell our children stories about the day they were born, having an adopted child makes me pause to think. What relevance do these stories have to our annual birthday celebrations? Afterall, our birth day is over so isn’t it life that we are really celebrating? The quality of the connections we have to the people in our life now are worth celebrating. Maybe the birthday blues will end for some adoptees if they view the day less about birth (past lost) and more about life (present relationships). The final step of the grieving process is acceptance and that can’t be done without letting go of the past.