Birthday Blues

My birthday usually falls near the Memorial Day weekend. Many years, I had a L-O-N-G celebration of existing. It was a happy and self-affirmative occasion.

However, when I began to learn about the trauma associated with adoption, I discovered that the day an adoptee was born is not a happy occasion for many of these persons. It is a reminder of abandonment, rejection or at the least, that the parents from who their life descended are not raising them.

Until an adoptee matures and begins to break through the fog of how wonderful it was that they were adopted narrative, many wonder why they act out or sabotage their own birthday celebrations. What is wrong with them ? Everyone else seems happy to celebrate their birthday.

And now I understand better and can see the difference between my own birthday and an adoptee’s. I remember as well there was some confusion about my own mother’s actual birthdate, though eventually it settled on January 31st and now that I have her adoption file – I see the errors and their eventual correction.

Yesterday, I watched a youtube video the Birthday Episode by My Adoption Story by Lilly Fei and the conflicted feelings, which I remember my own mom having about her adoption are so obvious. Two things stood out for me – when she said she was “found” and how she described the way some international adoptions of transracial children involve the child having birth dates that are estimated based upon physical characteristics because the actual date of birth is unknown.

One adoptee writes – One reason I hate my birthday is because its a celebration of the day I was born and then placed in a nursery just sitting there because my birth mom didn’t want to get attached by holding me. It annoys me that this reason even bothers me, but it definitely does. People who aren’t adopted have great stories about the day they were born and how all these people came to see them and hold them and there are pictures. Yeah that doesn’t really exist if you’re adopted.

Many adoptees feel anger and negative emotions that are understandably directed at their birth family…It is not actually the birthday itself. Yet unavoidably the birthday is a reminder of what happened – back then – so each year, when that birthday rolls around, it all comes back into sharp and painful focus. It is what was done to that baby, for whatever reason at the time of birth, that is the actual problem.

One possible strategy for an adoptee is to change the focus of their birthday. Take a few or even several hours of time out on your birthday. Just you – go somewhere you really like, and reflect, alone, on your current goals and how you hope to achieve them. Keep your thoughts written down. Look at them a few times during the following year. Then when the next birthday rolls around, go over your thoughts again and revise them for the current reality. One adoptee found this kind of birthday event to be helpful in overcoming the birthday blues.

One other suggestion is to deal with all of your negative feelings BEFORE your birthday. Don’t avoid them because then you will feel sad that day. By acknowledging your feelings and seeking to understand what they are trying to tell you, you can then let them go for that day and celebrate the fact that you are resilient, you are a survivor, you are worthy to be loved and celebrated, you rock this life (even though you have that trauma of having been adopted).

For more insight, you may wish to read this Medium essay titled Birthday Blues. Adrian Jones says – “There is one certainty with my birthday: I will find a way to sabotage it. As sure as the sun rises each morning, my birthday will somehow become a fiasco. For most of my life it has been like this. I wish it would stop, but it won’t.” He goes on to write what he has discovered is the source of his pain and the anxiety he feels as his birthday approaches –

“You see, I’m adopted. Born a bastard, I was separated from my biological mother at birth. The woman I spent nine months preparing to meet was gone in an instant. In my most vulnerable state, I was motherless. Without mother. At the time, I was overcome by a high degree of trauma, a trauma that cannot be undone. Worse, this trauma is precognitive. I, like millions of my adoptee crib mates, do not know what life is like without trauma, as we were introduced to life in such a traumatic state. Due to recent scientific studies, we know this to be true. Babies are born expecting to meet their mothers, hear their voices, smell their scents, taste their milk.  When their mothers are not available, they become traumatized. If puppies and kittens must stay with their birth mothers for a few weeks before being adopted, why is it okay to separate a newborn from her mother at first breath?”

There is much more to read in that essay. I highly recommend it.

An Inability to Relate

Actually . . . it isn’t that simple or easy in reality.  Today, I read this –

I adopted my daughter at birth. She’s now 3. I wanted an open adoption, but I find it hard to connect with her mom. I had visions of a close relationship and it’s just not happening that way. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. I know she feels it too. She is about 10 years younger than me and we have nothing in common. By now I feel we should be in a better place. To be honest, it’s become something that I find myself avoiding more and more because it’s uncomfortable. I hate that I do that. I push off calling or texting. I am not sure what I’m feeling. I think a lot is guilt. I see how when they are together how perfectly they interact. My daughter loves her. I have been reading in here and trying to self reflect to make sure it’s not my fragility. I do genuinely love that they have a close connection, so I don’t think it’s jealousy.

What it is, is reality.  What is happening is that real maternal bond that deep inside is never severed.  As an adoptive mother, you will never have that same kind of connection.  Yes, you can love a child.  Yes, you can be grateful that your child is able to know the mother who gave birth to them.

You had a fantasy about having this “close relationship” and that is the reason it is “just not happening”.  It was you fantasy and not an achievable reality.  Your presence reminds this child’s mother that you and not she is with the child most of the time.  Your deepest self is acknowledging the guilt you feel at having separated them by seeing how perfectly they naturally interact with one another.

So get real with why this feels so uncomfortable to you.  Get over your own feelings.  The well-being of this little girl should be the only deciding factor in your behavior going forward.

Stress Responses

Some adoptive parents mistake their adopted child’s compliance with the situation as a good outcome adjustment.  What I have learned from adoptees that there is an even more intense reaction that is called fawning.  Think of the kidnap victim that eventually identifies with their captors – like Patty Hearst did.

Every adoptee is an individual and each responds differently to the circumstances of their relinquishment and their placement in a new home.

Fawning is best understood as “people-pleasing.”  Both of my parents were adoptees and I saw this kind of behavior in my mom and learned it from her.  This kind of behavior can endear one to other people but it is not always healthy to be this way.

People with the fawn response are so accommodating of other people’s needs that they often find themselves in codependent relationships.  Fortunately, when that has happened to me, I’ve found a way out – even if it took some time to get there.

Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.  It takes some maturity to take one’s power back.

Sadly, fawn types are more vulnerable to emotional abuse and exploitation.  Abusers may suppress a survivor’s fight or flight responses by threatening punishment.  The appease response, also known as ‘please’ or ‘fawn’, is a survival response which occurs [when] survivors read danger signals and aim to comply and minimize the confrontation in an attempt to protect themselves.  I’ve been there, done that and I’ve seen my mom do likewise.

If you are an adoption survivor (adoption is definitely a form of trauma to a child), you are not alone in using this for safety. There is no shame in struggling with fawning. Fawning, like the other stress responses, is a self-protective armor. It has helped many adoption survivors live through being placed in a family that does not fit their nature naturally.