January Melancholy

We arrived home from enjoying a sunny and warm week in Playa Del Carmen one week ago and ever since then I’ve been struggling to get back in the groove of life. I’ve been in a funk.

At first I chalked it up to fatigue from the long flight and adjusting to the time zone change. I attributed it to the heavy fog that covered the area for the first few days this week. Then, back at work and faced with an over-abundance of email and work to get caught up on, I told myself I was still getting used to my work-life pace.

I suppose I should have expected it. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It wasn’t long before this melancholy that has shrouded me in almost every waking moment for the past week began to feel strangely familiar.

It happens almost every January. It’s my birthday tomorrow.

For a number of years, a sense of melancholy has fallen over me on my birthday. I insist on minimal celebration: phone calls from my children and a card and flowers from my husband are enough. “It’s just another day,” I insist.

Every year on my birthday, the underlying sense of sorrow and my desire for the day to pass unnoticed is coupled with a sense of wanting to be special, of wishing I was special, and at the same time wishing I wasn’t.

Excerpt from Two Hearts: An Adoptee’s Journey Through Grief to Gratitude

For the past few days I’ve been trying to snap out of this mood. I’ve prayed about it, shed a few tears, and chided myself for the absurdity of allowing myself, again, to be caught up in it. I even googled “adoptee birthday sadness” looking for something to help me snap out of it.

Ironically, the second item on the list that came up was a link to an article I had written that had been published in Adoption Voices Magazine last year talking about this very topic. Oh yes, I’ve been here before.

I came across many other articles confirming that I’m not alone. I’m reminded again that the grief is real and that many adoptees experience birthday grief. Karen Belanger’s poem Unhappy Birthday that she wrote at age forty-three says it well.

There were no birth announcements.
No cigars were handed out.
No newborn baby pictures.
No parent’s joyous shouts.
No counting toes and fingers.
No comparing eyes and chins.
No nursery decorated.
No proud grandparent grins.
Instead the day that I was born,
a mother silently wept.
While in a room close to her,
her newborn daughter slept.
So close we were together.
So far we’re now apart.
Two lives were separated.
A love doomed from the start.
And so each year since I was born,
this day has been the same.
No one can know the sadness.
No one can know the pain.
No candles ever bright enough
to light my darkened soul.
No happy birthday party.
No heart that can be whole.

I am frustrated, even angry, that it’s happening to me again this year. My logical mind reminds me how blessed I am, that I have a family who loves me, and that I’ve worked through the issues associated with being adopted, but I’m beginning to believe that grief becomes hard-wired in someone who has been separated from her first mother and from her entire family of origin.

So here I am again, back in the same sad place I’ve been in years gone by.

This too shall pass. Until it does, I’ll be wrapped in a quilt nursing a cup of tea.


I’m a writer, reader, and creative. I thought by now I’d have things figured out, but I keep coming up with more questions. I think that’s okay. I’m here most mornings pondering ordinary things and the thin places where faith intersects.
  1. Ah Linda, I’m sorry for your misery! One of the things I have learned about this kind of sadness is that the only way out is through. So I applaud your settling in with a quilt and a cup of tea and I applaud your sharing with us your feelings. You are not alone. I wish you well.

    1. All gone, now, Jude. Thanks so much for your comments.

  2. Dear Linda,
    You are so brave to share your understandable sadness with us. I am happy you are doing what you need to do – wrapping yourself in a quilt and having a cup of tea. Just be. Sending hugs and warm , healing thoughts your way.

    1. Sometimes I wonder if I should share these things, Kathleen, but I continue to believe that being thoughtfully transparent about my feelings related to adoption can contribute to a healthier climate in the future. Hugs back to you, my friend.

  3. I understand the reason for your grief, but I also understand your frustration that the grieving never ceases. I don’t mean that it is constant, but that it returns, that you can’t seem to finish mourning the loss experienced at your birth. I am not an adoptee, but I am dealing with a grief right now that is over sixty years old. The heart is slow to follow what the head knows. Blessings on your birthday. Be joyful in your birth. The beautiful you became you that day and many of us are grateful that you are you.

    1. Thank you for your comment and subsequent email, Joyce.

  4. Oh, sweet Linda! The words above are filled with honesty, pain and yes, grief, and I wish it would go away once and for all. You have every right to each of emotions you mention, and you have every right to feel melancholy each birthday. Good for you for wrapping up in a quilt and sipping that cup of tea. Just be, as Kathy said, and know that you are loved by many people. Sending you an enormous birthday hug! So grateful to call you my cyber friend. 🙂

    1. I’m thankful for your friendship as well, Sherrey.

  5. Linda, this post reminded me of the one you wrote a few months ago when you said something to effect of ‘some hurts from a mom are too deep to ever fully heal.’
    This surely is one so deep it may never heal.

    1. I think there will always be a wounding there, Denise. Though an emotional “scab” covers the pain most of the time there are still triggers that draw emotional blood.

  6. May I humbly suggest not trying to avoid the feeling. Rather, look deep inside of collective sadness itself and see what you find. I suspect there is a treasure waiting for you there.

    1. You words are wise, Gayle. There is treasure in going through the pain–I wrote about that in Two Hearts and I believe it to be true still. Sometimes I need a reminder. 🙂

  7. I’m so sorry for your unhappy birthday. I hope you didn’t beat yourself up too badly for feeling blue. Yes you’ve been blessed but it’s okay to grieve too.

    Sadly, as I read your post, I could relate. Although I wasn’t adopted, I’ve always loathed my birthday. I want it to pass without fanfare and yet there is a deep longing for something that never happens. It’s that distance from my inception. My parents were not nurturers so I’ve never felt even a smidgen of love from them. Weird how we’re different and yet alike.

    I’m going to start reading your book this weekend. I’ll let you know when I’ve got my review up.

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