She Didn't Remember My Birthday

The day I came home to my family (2-25-66)
Today is my birthday. Traditionally, growing up I loved my birthday.  My mom always made me my favorite meal (lasagna) and chocolate cake with chocolate icing.  It was nothing extravagant like kid birthday parties are today.  It was just the four of us -- mom, dad, my brother Scott and me.  And that was enough.  There were no expectations that we would go to Bounce U, Laser Quest, McDonald's or have ponies parading in the yard.  I kind of miss those simple times.

Having a December birthday, many people feel "ripped off" when they get the famous combo gift at Christmas, but that was not the case for me at all.  Far enough away but still able to take in the Christmas excitement on my birthday.  My 16th birthday was the best because I was able to invite four or five of my closest high school friends over to the house.  There was no drinking -- just cutting up and having fun.

Birthdays as I got older into my young adulthood, usually had me thinking about my other mother somewhere out there.  Lots of unanswered questions, a mix or happiness and frustration of my powerlessness not to be able to have answers, but nothing too heavy.  I still liked my birthday.

So, I think I was a bit surprised to learn later in life as part of the adoption community that so many adoptees struggle with negative feelings on their birthdays.  I don't recall experiencing that as a child. But I understand now completely why there would be mixed feelings.

Karen Caffrey, attorney and therapist, contrasts the excitement of the birth of her grandneice with her own birth as an adoptee:

"Bathing in the reality of such an outpouring of love and welcome towards this infant, I have been struck that my arrival in the world, and that of my fellow adoptees, was almost without exception, very, very different.  Our mothers (and fathers) were either planning on being separated from us, or were being forced or coerced to do so.  Our grandparents were unaware of this impending separation, complicit in it, or were in fact responsible for orchestrating it."  Good God.  This is just the beginning of the story about the circumstances that lead so many adoptees to feeling rejected." (The Adoptee's Healing Journey From Rejected to Beloved, The Adoptee Survival Guide, pp.158-159.)

Wendy Barkett talks about her feelings and fantasies as a child and also as an adult surrounding her birthday:

"The wish was the same every year with a twist in the sequence of words....I made the same wish until my 32nd birthday: I wish to find my birth mother.  Each year on my birthday morning, I woke with hope.  There were years I would have never admitted to such dreamful hopes, but they were always there.  As a young child, I would hope that my birth mother would show up at our front door with a huge bundle of balloons.  I could never see her face in these daydreams, as the balloons were in the way.  However, I would know it was her the instant I opened the door and she always got to stay for my party.   As I became a teen, the hope turned to a phone call or letter from her. Each time the phone rang, my body tensed with hope and then disappointment.  The balloons, the letter and the phone call never came.  I stayed silent about my wish because I knew the golden rule:  Don't tell anyone your birthday wish or it won't come true. (Birth Day, The Adoptee Survival Guide, pp. 6-7).
First meeting  at The Cradle with Mrs. Magee, the social worker
Fast forward 40 years.  The social worker at the agency of my adoption found my mother late summer of 2006. Shortly thereafter, I recall sitting in the basement on the couch listening to my mother's voice for the first time. Her voice and the conversation was not what I expected.  I felt like I was living in slow motion, in some kind of pretend world.  She talked alot.  I listened.

She remembered by black hair.

She looked at me through the glass in the nursery.

She didn't hold me.

She knew it was near Christmas as she always grieved for me at that time of year.

But she didn't remember my birthday.

I was crushed.  All those birthdays as a child, I was convinced she was thinking about me. Convinced.

And I guess she was at least thinking about me during the month of December.  But not on my birthday specifically because my birthday was foggy enough in her mind that she did not remember the day, nor did she call the agency to clarify the day, nor did she call the agency to see if I was placed with a good family, nor did she try to find me when I became an adult.

Of course, there were perfectly reasonable explanations for all of the above.  I'm sure there will be birth mothers who send me messages explaining to me about birth mother trauma, the era that I was born in, that she will always love me, etc. (please, just don't).

However, the rejected baby still lives within me and now (post-reunion) she rears her head on my adult birthdays.  I have spent a decade grieving the reality that my family of origin did not want me.  It's my birthday and I can cry if I want to.

I can also celebrate!

I have an amazing family that loves me right here in this house! My adult son is bringing me sushi at 2:00 p.m.  I have a beautiful daughter and a husband who takes care of me and loves me to no end.

Yet, my own mother didn't remember my birthday.

 I think I can finally forgive her for that.


  1. (((Lynn))) I understand. From one Christmas adoptee to another.

  2. I have never replied to any type of Internet thread ever, so please bear with me. I am the youngest of 15 adopted / foster kids, on top of that, the adoptive parents ran one of the largest group homes in Northern California. What....a mess! It was always extremely irritating to get unsolicited comments on how wonderful they are (were, both deceased now) and how lucky we all were..teachers, DMV, you name it. So many times I wanted to tell them how psychologically abusive the mother was, and how physically and verbally abusive the father was. Narcissism, table for 2 please! They were very well known around town, beautiful homes, accolades and awards,and all and the rot and decay underneath. Remember the opening scene of Blue Velvet? With the cookie cutter homes, waving fireman and then you go under the greener than green lawn...
    Our birthdays were always lumped together by month, sometimes forgotten altogether, God forbid you reacted with anything outside of gratitude or understanding, or you were selfish and ungreatful. People who have never been in the adoptees shoes DO NOT UNDERSTAND. It was never about another home, no matter how beautiful they were, as with all abused adoptees it is an appalling lack of LOVE and support. I have lied to myself long enough about this. I am the victim of a closed adoption. The people who did pay to have me also felt the need to completely erase my past. I have no name "it ended with sky, maybe Kowalski?"I was told, as for my heritage..."Irish and something "I just found out by really looking at my "birth certificate " I am named after the doctor who delivered me, my middle was from the doctor who orchestrated the deal. On my name alone I now have 3 strikes! Just coming to grips with this now after decades of denial. But reqouting a reqoutable writer..You're only as sick as the secrets you keep - RIP Carrie Fisher! For all the people that read this thinking you should be greatful for all the beautiful things...(THINGS, as if that makes up for all the abuse), please do the world a favor, don't have, let alone adopt kids. Stay in the houseplant section of self affirmation in this life.

    1. Hi Richard, thank you for your comment. I'm very sorry that your adoptive parents were narcissistic. I hate to say that it is more common than people want to believe. It's so much easier to believe the "they got a better life" story-line. Many adoptees got better lives but it is a myth and all did. Things can never make up for the losses inherent in adoption. Our original identities were literally stolen from us in closed adoption. It sounds dramatic but it is true. If DNA testing had not come along, most of us were adopted in the closed era would die without ever knowing the truth. I wish you the best going forward!

    2. My heart goes out to you too, Richard. As a birth-mother, this was always a fear of mine. I hope that time has brought you some healing.

  3. How utterly heartbreaking after all that time. As a birth-mother I find it so disheartening that she didn't remember the date of your birth. I can only hope that time has brought you some healing from that terrible sense of loss. I guess each adoption is made up of such different people. hurts.

    1. Hi Christine, I apologize for the delay in my response. I appreciate your comment, truly. I have found healing, thank you. I think what helped me is believing when I was young and vulnerable that she was thinking about me (the fantasy and partial reality since she was thinking about me in December). That is what I needed to get through my childhood with no answers. As an adult, I think we are in a much better position to grieve that some hopes/fantasies do not come to pass. Hugs!

  4. Thank you for writing this, it helped me feel not as crazy and alone. My birth mother also forgot my birthday. I found her in my mid twenties, I wrote this long message just telling her my life, specifically putting my birthday in the beginning. I never asked her if she was my mother, though I knew she was, I wanted to give her a way to graciously decline if she didn't want to re open that chapter. We messaged back and forth, she wasn't 100% sure at first because she had forgotten the date. She knew it was a warm day for that time of year- mid fall, she didn't think it was that late (end of October). She eventually realised it was really that day. I was devastated that she couldn't remember the day. I can theorise why she had forgotten it but it didn't take away the sting of her not remembering such an important day in both of our lives.

    1. Hello, thank you for reading! As many have explained, the trauma of what happened to our mothers can make their memories fuzzy . . . however, what is rarely acknowledged is how much that reality is painful to the adult adoptee upon learning such information. Especially if we are parents ourselves, we wonder, "how can you forget the day of your child's birth?" It's a painful thing to process especially with the hope and expectation of, "of course my mother remembered my birthday and held me and didn't want to let me go!". Another fantasy of mine that was not true. Hugs to you.

  5. I am so sorry that I too can relate. Though my birth mom remembered my birthday, she once again rejected me a year after our reunion. It was too complicated for her to be able to tell some about me and others best to disown again. And my adoptive parents were no better. They disowned me because five years after they adopted me they had their miracle child by birth. They waited to disown me after I turned 18...but it was an abusive childhood. I was disowned and was not even mentioned in their obituaries. I am thankful for my children and husband...and now grandchildren.

    1. I'm so sorry you were not mentioned in the obituary. I imagine that must be heart-wrenching especially because the universal belief is that adoption creates a "forever family". As someone who is also cut off from both birth and adoptive parents, I understand not having that support. I too am fortunate to have my husband and kids (and some day-hopefully-grandkids!). I wish you peace.

  6. Until I had a baby myself (at 27) I had imagined that I had just been handed over without a single thought and that I was probably just as heartless. But this had been drummed into me from the earliest time. My birth mother had rejected me. So I should be so grateful to my adopted parents.
    I traced my birth mother later and she had fought so hard to keep me, and wept every Boxing Day for me.
    If I had been told the truth it would have made me a much nicer person, I really treated people who liked me very badly.

    1. I'm always amazed at other people's fantasies about their birth days. I just assumed my mother held me and wanted me and it had nothing to do with what my parents told me about my birth (which is was nothing). That must have been wonderful to find out your mother truly loved you. Peace to you.

  7. I get what you mean exactly--mine never wanted any part of me as a child or as an adult after finding her. She has no "remembrance of that day"--nor does she want to know me now. Yes, it still hurts

    1. It is very painful to be rejected especially by the person who brought you into this world. I'm sure you are a wonderful person to know and it's her loss. Hugs and peace to you.

  8. I reunite families for free. Lots and lots of them. All the families were separated by absent parents for various reasons - some parents were gamete donors, others just split, others were at war. Some of their sons and daughters were formally adopted others were raised by one parent alone or with their step parent whose name horribly wound up on their birth certificates. All their sons and daughters always want to hear that they were thought of on their birthdays. Rightfully so how could anyone forget the day their sons and daughters were born? Some parents just plain did not know they were parents until after their kids were born. That makes sense for fathers at war or fathers excluded from knowing by mothers who were hiding it from them, including fathers who were anononymous semen donors. This happens also to mothers who were anonymous egg donors. Believe it or not it happens now to people who did not know they were being used as donors (see the UC Irvine fertility clinic scandal and Oregon Health Sciences fertility scandal those people had kids kidnapped). But was surprised the first time I made contact with a Mom who said she could not remember the date her daughter was born on.

    This mom was ashamed she could not remember but she also remembered the date she'd gone into labor but did not know how long she'd been in labor or how long she was unconscious. When she woke up she was not in the maternity ward and her baby was gone. Her parents were dead she was living with her step mother who had taken her shopping and fixed up a nursery for the baby but when she awoke the step mother told her that the baby was already with the adoptive parents. She said the nursery was stripped when they got home. She had no idea what day the birth was or if she had a son or daughter until a coworker 35 years later drove her to the hospital and had her get a copy of the hospital birth certificate. With that I was able to help find her daughter.

    Another mother could only remember that it was cold out and christmas music was playing she was so depressed.

    Another mother remembered giving a son up for adoption but not a daughter and she had that daughter the same exact day as she gave birth to a different daughter the year before at 14. All she could say to me was it was a very 'dark time'.

    I told that last mother as she wept with joy hearing her daughter wanted contact that I'm not big on lying but she would be wise to tell her daughter that she'd thought of her on her birthday. Something horrible had happened to her as a girl obviously and she was so happy and excited to have been forgiven enough by her daughter to be sought out.

    The birthday thing is a real big deal even when the person knows there is no way their absent parent could know what day they were born. It seems the younger the parents were and the more forced they were in allowing the adoption of their son or daughter turns the whole experience into a grey blur.

    I am just writing to validate your feelings as being reasonable and to share some of the experiences of other parents who forgot or did not know the date their son or daughter was born.

    P.S. I hope you noticed that I did not use the word child or baby at all when talking about people who are adopted. It is very hard work to write on this subject without using those words but it goes a long way in treating all people as people with equal rights. Everyone is a person from the day they are born and even after they die, same with being a son or daughter. We are not always kids or babies or children.


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