Updated: Mar 17, 2021
It was about ten minutes until midnight on January 20th. I was sitting on the couch with a glass of wine in my hand, suddenly deep in my own thoughts. In ten minutes, right at 12am, I would turn 25. When I was 18 I resolutely decided that each year at 12 am on January 21st I would turn my new age (my self-chosen time of birth). Choosing a time of birth for myself made me feel good at the time and gave me a certain feeling of security in who I was and when I came into this world. For international adoptees, there are so many unknowns about one’s birth date and the events of our birth days that sometimes granting ourselves some sense of “concrete” facts that we can hold onto on those days can help us to feel better about our blurred beginnings. As I sat there swirling my wine around in my glass I quietly began reflecting on my life thus far. I noticed and acknowledged feelings of gratitude for every experience good and painful that had led me to where I was right in that moment. In my master’s program for mental health counseling, we have been trained to be able to sit with our feelings, acknowledge them and accept them, whatever they may be. By doing this, this forces us to not run from our own triggers and emotions (something the majority of humans do) and allows us to curiously examine ourselves and gain incredible self-awareness. Sitting on the couch I noticed a wave of excitement wash over me for what this next year could hold, but when that wave retreated I was left with a feeling of deep sadness. In those few moments when all of this was taking place, my boyfriend recognized that something was going on for me and put his hand on mine asking if everything was alright. I turned my head towards him slowly and asked, “do you think that she thinks about me on my birthday? My birth mom…” Thankfully, I am with someone who has grown attuned and accustomed to these thoughts and incredibly deep statements regarding my adoption that come to me from time to time and is more than willing to talk them through. In the last few minutes before midnight, together we acknowledged my hurt, my wonderings, and thought deeply about what the day of my birth had been like, and what my birth mom may feel on January 21st each year.
When I was 15, I pulled down a large photo album that I had noticed in the back of my closet. The book was red with gold Chinese characters aligned vertically on the right-hand side. I opened the album and what I found were more papers with Chinese characters, English splattered here and there across the pages. I stared at these documents wondering what they said, what information they might hold about me. Why hadn’t I taken this down before? Completely engrossed in these forms, I eventually came to a small piece of paper that listed my birthday January 21, 1996 and then the day that I was abandoned/found January 23, 1996 (it’s hard to know if these things happened on the same day). There were no official documents, or a birth certificate from January 21st, just that small slip of paper with those two dates. I recall in that moment feeling a tremendous amount of hurt wash over me. I was given up only two days after I was born? In my mind, I had believed that I was kept for at least a week or two, but reading this confirmed in my mind how unwanted I must have been from the very beginning. A slew of questions began to bombard my brain, the biggest question being: what had I done wrong at that age to have deserved to be discarded two days after I was born. This by the way is a common question that many adoptees ask themselves, ‘was it my fault?’, ‘what did I do wrong?’. For some these questions begin to create a personal narrative, the idea that we must have been “bad babies” and therefore are bad people who could never really be wanted or loved (the idea being that if we can’t be loved and cherished by the person that birthed us, who possibly could feel those things for us). While those thoughts began to plant seeds in my head, the questions about my birthday then began to arise. Could my birth mom really have given me up that quickly? Was I really born on January 21st? I may well have been born on that day, but the idea that my birth mom would give me up just two days after I was born was something I didn’t want to believe to be true (there are also no actual records to confirm that I was born on this day). From that day on I wondered if perhaps my birthday could be a day or two off, a question which to this day still has its grip on me.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that my birthday has begun to stir up more questions about my adoption than it ever did growing up. Growing up it never occurred to me that January 21st may or may not actually be my birthday. The number 21 quickly became one of my lucky numbers, I loved my birthday because it came right in between Christmas and Valentine’s day (more presents!) and we celebrated my birthday each year just like anybody would. My birthday held a special significance for me as an adolescent. I believe now, there was an unknown about it, that I wouldn’t let myself feel and so I worked extra hard to let people know this was my special day. When I was in elementary school and middle school I planned hard and well in advance what treats I would bring to class to celebrate my day with my peers. In college, I would persistently remind my best friends of the upcoming day so they could make it special for me. In many ways, I believe I wanted their love to fill in for the hurt I felt in regards to the mysteries that my birthday held.
Most recently, like the other night, what my birthday stirs up for me are questions about my birth story. What was that day like for my birth mom? Was there a moment of happiness that she felt when I was born? Did she wish she could keep me? Did she give birth to me in a hospital? It may seem strange to people born in America to ask the question of whether or not I was born in a hospital, but really there is no way for me to know and I do know that I was born in a poor city in China; so not being born in a hospital could very well have been the case. I find myself increasingly curious about the details of that day and each year when my birthday rolls around, although I still try and make that day as joyous as I possibly can, I feel the sting of the missing details that most likely will forever hang over my head. This year, I allowed myself to wonder if my birth mom and birth dad think of me on this day. I let the questions run freely, something that I had barred myself from doing in the past. This year at 12am on January 21st, I was thinking about my birth parents and a part of me hoped that they were thinking about me too.
With that being said, if you are an adoptee and reading this and feel you cannot say these thoughts out loud, acknowledge them. Sit with them for a little while and tell yourself it’s okay to feel these feelings. You aren’t alone in feeling them. As adoptees, we wouldn’t be where we are now without loss and sadness being a part of the foundational threads of our stories. We have to accept that. At the end of the day, it is very much possible to acknowledge these feelings whilst at the same time still feel grateful and excited for another year of life. If you are reading this and you are not adopted, please know how blessed you are to know your birth story and the details of that day, it is a privilege that perhaps you do not think much about, however are so blessed to have.