Imagine Never Knowing the Day you Were Born

Mayan Indian tribe symbol
I was speaking to my friend Jenny via Facebook last night and she let me into the secret world of adoption in the South American country of her birth:  Colombia 

I first met Jenny when I was trying to decide whether to get my dna tested last year.  She was among many who suggested the idea to me and explained to me her results in being Native American and about the different tribes in Colombia. 

Jenny has shared a lot of information with me about being Latino which has been invaluable to me not growing up in the Latino culture.  I learned this from her:

Hispanic is not a race. It is a word that means anyone of Latin, Central, Mexican, Puerto Rican American descent. Hispanics can be any of the 4 races (European, Sub Saharan African, Native American, Asian). Native Americans in South America, although different tribes, are of the same race as Native Americans, now referred to as First Nation Peoples, in North America. In Colombia the main tribe was Chibcha. Now there are 13 tribes still in existence in Colombia. Most Colombians are a combo of European Spanish and Native American - a result of the conquest back in the 1500's.

Jenny was adopted from Colombia and is a U.S. citizen.  She does not know her birth date.  

Yes, you read that right.  

She does not know the day she was born. 

Imagine not knowing your birth date.

* You would not know how old you are

* You would not know your Astrological sign

* You would not be able to count back to when you were conceived (that clue helps in adoption searches)

* You would be hassled by every government agency you come in contact with

* You would be tired of explaining to people why you don't know your birth date

My birthday feels to me like such a huge piece of my identity.  It is one of the core pieces of information that most in this country cannot imagine ever living without.  I take my birthday for granted.  Sure, it's possible it is false.  My birth mother did not remember my exact birthday.  I have just taken it on trust that the doctors and hospital got it right.  They were there as witnesses and the doctor signed my birth certificate and properly filed it with Vital Statistics of Illinois.

The first question I ask my customers at work is their birth date.  It narrows them down in the database and then I move on to their name.  I can barely imagine somebody telling me that they don't know their own birth date.

Adoptees have a lot of adoption-related baggage associated with birthdays, but if you truly do not know the day you were born, what day do you mourn?  What day do you celebrate with cake and ice cream?  Which birthday do you celebrate when you truly do not know your exact age?

I imagine to have any sense of normalcy, you would just have to pick a day.  I imagine that whoever handled Jenny's birth and adoption, did just that. It is incomprehensible to me to take away somebody else's birthday and identity, but it happens.

Colombia has been known to alter documents in the era my friend Jenny grew up in. This is also true in other countries like China, Korea, Vietnam, India, Ethiopia, and Peru.   Many times, there are no medical records because many were not born in hospitals.  There is no way to safely petition the government like we do in the U.S.  The adoptees who have tried to make change in adoption in their home countries have received death threats.  

Jenny is an educated, lovely lady.  But the circumstances of her birth and adoption has left a huge hole in her past that may never be filled.  I sincerely feel her pain and wish I could do something to help.

Until my conversations with Jenny, I didn't fully appreciate the rights afforded to me simply by being born and adopted in the U.S.:

* knowing my birthday is likely accurate and having a birth certificate to prove it

* knowing accurate medical records were kept on the event of my birth

* speaking with my representative about adoption laws

* being able to freely assemble as a group with adoption signs

* being physically safe while working toward Adoptee Rights
* having a reputable (and mostly ethical) adoption agency to work with in my post-adoption search to    find my birth mother

We adoptees like to focus on the negatives of all the barriers in our searches, and trust me, i don't discount them at all; in fact, there are cases of falsified records in the U.S.  See Georgia Tann's corrupt adoptions in Tennessee.  But the fact that there are even records in existence is a far cry better than having no paper trail of your birth and adoption at all.

 And death threats?

Death threats are the furthest thing from my mind.  Why?

Because if you were born and adopted in the U.S., you have rights.  You have choices.  We may not always like these choices.  We definitely do not like sealed birth certificates and sealed adoption files. But we love Ancestry and public records and search angels.  We love forwarding pictures of ourselves and our non-identifying information on Facebook.  We love blogging and getting the word out via media sources.  Using all of these avenues is a privilege as is the process of changing laws we don't like or believe are unfair.  Having to worry about my safety while working toward change in adoption is not something I have ever personally experienced. 

When thinking about Jenny and the obstacles she faces in her home country, my own challenges in seeking the truth seem small. 

I feel ashamed of not knowing and understanding her struggles before today-- this fellow adoptee who has been so generous with her friendship and information.

My heart goes out to Jenny and I hope and pray that something will change in Colombia.  I'm hoping and praying that the dna technology at some point will lead Jenny to answers.



  1. Sooo ... I understand you are of Columbian ethnicity, but have the DNA tests shown the roots of the ethnicty in terms of Native-American, Asian, Latin, etc? Wow -- there is so much to learn!!!

  2. Not knowing your birthday really doesn't mean you get interrogated about it. We are assigned a date to use as our birth date for legal purposes, and that's sufficient. There's no reason in 99% of cases to disclose that it is a made up date. And not knowing your astrological sign is inconsequential since astrology is nothing.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Kris. I wasn't implying that people would be interrogated. I was trying to express empathy for this difficult situation to others. I can only assume what it must be like, based on stories I have heard from others. I have not walked this path. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Our adopted daughter realized this year that she does not know her exact day of is just a guess on her paperwork based on the presence of her umbilical cord.

    So, we decided to celebrate her birth for 3 days to make sure we have it covered. But my heart aches for her, because I understand how she might be feeling, how horrible to not know so few circumstances of how you got into the world. I was where she was when I was turning 12...not knowing.

    The difference is that now I DO know, and she may NEVER know...and it's awful.

    lee h

  5. Hi Lee, I am impressed that you cover her birthday for 3 days!! That is really great. It is awful to not know something so basic as your birthday. Hugs to you:)



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