For birth parents in closed adoption, birthdays are not spent with their child as he grows over the years. In reunion, the adult adoptee has the sole right of deciding how to spend his day. Even birth parents in fully open adoptions complete with visits may experience years in which attending a birthday party is not an option. With all of the emotional ties to the day added to the sorrow of being separated, is there any way to “celebrate” such an occasion? Can we do more than just “survive?”
In my experience, yes and no. While we have a fully open adoption with visits, I have missed one birthday party and will be missing another this year. While some would say that I have more to celebrate because I know where she is and what she is doing on her birthday, the experience of being apart on such an emotionally charged day is simply hard no matter your status as a closed or open adoption birth parent. So again, what can be done? After brain storming and talking with some other experienced birth parents, I’ve formed a short list of ideas to celebrate your child on a day that causes most birth parents some form of grief or emotional pain.
1. Buy a card and write a letter. Even if you have no way to send it or intention of doing so, buy that birthday card and write that letter. Put it in a box for the future. For those in reunion and birth parents in open adoption who simply can’t make it to the party, please send the card, letter and any gifts on time especially as the child or adult adoptee enters an understanding of what day their birthday actually happens. You don’t like receiving late birthday cards, do you? Don’t put your child in the awkward position of having to forgive you for seemingly forgetting what is the most important day in their life, even if it is the hardest one for you.
2. Bake a cake. (Or a pie, or whatever your particular family eats to celebrate a birthday.) For those in closed adoption, you may balk at this idea if your family does not know about your placed child. It is up to you to decide whether or not to tell them the reason behind the cake. Maybe you just felt like baking? The simple act of doing something “normal,” like every other family does on a birthday, might help you feel somewhat connected to your child on their birthday.
3. Pick or send yourself some flowers. While birthdays are normally about celebrating the person born on the day, birth parents are often unable to do that because of social stigmas, laws that dictate their knowledge of where their child is or other individual reasons. Whatever the reason is, they all suck on that particular day. Do something small, like picking a bouquet of flowers or buying a small cheap one at your grocery store (or go all out!) to celebrate the fact that on this day, x-years ago, you brought a beautiful child into this world. Ignore whatever happened in the hours or days immediately afterwards for just one moment. Let yourself be proud of your parenthood for just a moment. Flowers can brighten almost any spirits.
4. Invite those who know about and respect your decisions, your struggles and your aspirations in adoption over for a small birthday party. For those in reunion, I don’t suggest inviting someone over who is totally anti-adoption reunion. For those in open adoption, I don’t suggest inviting Aunt Margaret who thinks the old way is the only way. For those still in the limbo of closed adoption, I don’t suggest inviting those who coerced or forced you to place your child. Invite those friends who have supported your emotional journey. Invite those who have celebrated small steps, such as finding a name or a location. Invite those who regularly ask about the well-being of your child and your situation. Have a cake (baked from above!), talk about your child and allow yourself to be happy in the love of friends for an afternoon or evening. (Do explain to those invited what the party entails. Many may not have been invited to such a party before and might have questions that can be handled before the day arrives so you can all enjoy cake, ice cream and friendship.) Also consider releasing balloons with your friends. Take pictures. Save them.
5. Most importantly, allow yourself to feel however you are feeling. Even if you have set up the above mentioned birthday party, don’t be afraid to show your true emotions. Birthdays are hard for many birth parents; you don’t have to put on armor for the rest of the world. If you’re sad, don’t be ashamed to cry. If you’re feeling particularly calm this year, don’t make yourself feel guilty for feeling that way. Your emotions will ebb and flow over the years. It’s normal and to be expected. After the day has ended, it might be a good idea to journal how you felt on that particular year’s birthday so that you can look back the next year and see how things have changed.
All in all, it is important to remember that you can make the day whatever you want it to be. For those in reunion or open adoptions who are separated by circumstance on a birthday, don’t forget to drop a short phone call to simply offer birthday wishes. Surround yourself with the things and people the you like and support you through your emotional journey. Allow yourself a piece of cake (or pie), even if you’re dieting. And, most importantly, remember your child.
For More on Celebrating Birthdays, read:
1. Celebrating Birthdays – Part One by Jan Baker.
2. Celebrating Birthdays – Part Two by Jan Baker.
3. Sidelined by a Song by Jenna Hatfield.