When we are babies our age is measured, first in days, then months, and at some point the measurement switches to years. As children, it’s important to us to specify our age as “and a quarter” or “and a half” or “and three quarters”; we can’t wait to grow up and be big girls.
At some point in our life, perhaps around forty, we realize that time is passing quickly. Some embrace a “thirty-nine and holding” attitude and refuse to think of themself as growing older; some take extraordinary measures to try and hold on to their fleeting youth; while others walk gracefully into their advancing years pleased with the wisdom and sense of self that growing older brings
It was my fifty-second birthday yesterday. In three more years I will be eligible to retire; that’s how I am marking the years now. Sometimes I wish for the years to pass by faster so I can get to the day I can retire from corporate life, other times I want it to slow down so my grandchildren don’t grow up too quickly. Most of the time, I try to take it as it comes.
For a number of years a sense of melancholy has fallen over me on my birthday. I have insisted in minimal celebration: phone calls from my children, the special gift bag from my BFF, and a card and flowers from my husband has been enough.
“It’s just another day,” I’ve insisted.
Yet every year, at some point on January 27, I am overtaken with a sadness for no reason I can explain.
Yesterday, I believe I figured it out.
I’ve been working on my memoir for the past couple of years and, more recently, sharing some of my story with my writing group and my critique partners. The process of writing, rewriting, reading, and letting my words free, has helped me understand why I feel the way I feel about my birthday.
When I was born there was no celebration; there were, I imagine, only tears and sorrow. It grieves me when I think of the joy I felt at the births of my children and grandchildren, and consider that there was no joy in the delivery room on the day I was born. Despite the Chosen Baby story (I am not a fan of this story) I was told by my adoptive parents, the concept of being chosen, has always been overshadowed by a sense of rejection. I can’t explain it; it’s just the way it is. On my birthday the underlying sense of sorrow, and my desire for the day to pass by mostly unnoticed, is coupled with a sense of wanting to be special. Of wishing I was special.
I tell you this not because I feel sorry for myself or because I want you to feel sorry for me. Neither is true. I tell you this because I am probably not the only adoptee who feels this way on her birthday. If you are an adoptee, it may help you to know that you are not the only one. If you are not an adoptee, you probably know someone who is, and this might help you to understand her better.
I also tell you this because it was through writing my story I came to understand this about myself. The value of writing memoir is many-faceted: our lives are documented for future generations and our stories have the potential to help others in similar circumstance. And perhaps, through writing our stories we will learn to love ourselves, and in that love walk forward with a sense of grace, and with the ability to have empathy toward those whose stories have not yet been told.