Dear Adoption, You Taught Me Well
You taught me to hide my emotions and to gauge the feelings of those around me and conform my own feelings to theirs. You taught me so well that now, in midlife, I must somehow learn to recognize my very own feelings, desires, and opinions. Adoption you were a natural teacher!
I was 5 years old before I could hear the “Happy Birthday” song sung to me without bursting into tears. No one knew what was wrong with me, this strange child who started to cry as soon as the first few bars of the song began. These are some of my most vivid early memories; cake, candles, my family singing anxiously as they watched me and waited for what would happen.
Adoption, you taught me that crying was the wrong response to the birthday song. I remember talking to myself, willing myself not to cry. This year I will not cry. I did not (and do not) like to upset anyone. As my 5th birthday celebration began, my family gathered around the kitchen table, my parents and grandparents carefully watching me. My small hands tightly clutched the seat of my chair, and I silently admonished myself DO NOT CRY. I was worried I could not pull this off yet.
My mom put a beautiful, pink cake down in front of me, lit with 5 candles set in pretty, plastic, flower candle holders. My family began to sing, all eyes on the birthday girl. And I felt the familiar surge of sadness, loneliness, and emotion rushing upwards into my tightening chest. If only I could keep it from getting to the very top of my throat where it would burst forth out of my mouth in unwanted and mysterious cries. I swallowed hard, very hard, and breathed as shallowly as I could to keep the sadness down.
Miraculously, it worked that year, and every year after for several decades. Everyone was thrilled. The song was over. I hadn’t cried! My parents and grandparents were so happy, and part of me was happy too because they were pleased with me. However, I had tricked them, because I was actually still sad, so very sad. Only, I had no words for my sadness, no way for me to know, or let my family know why I felt such despair. That sadness was now pushed way down deep inside. It took me 40 more years and a painful reawakening to these buried truths to get to the root of my birthday sadness. And even though I know why my heart is heavy at this time every year, it has never gone away.
Adoption, I am a bad student. I am trying to forget your lessons and to allow myself to feel the heartache and other emotions I kept at bay over the years. Nowadays, I give myself a lot of leeway and grace around my birthday which, in a nefarious twist of fate, falls on or around Mother’s Day as well. Early May arrives and with it waves of sadness and grief. But I am gentle with my sorrow now. I allow it to take over for this time, and I feel it all.