It seems like a very innocent question, “when’s your birthday?” and yet, for me, this always causes a hiccup. When I met my birthmother, it was then I learned that I had another date. Not to be confused by the whole, one year older in Korea or the Lunar New Year making one a year older too…I have two dates. On all my legal documents I have one full date and on my Korean family registry, there is another one. They are only weeks different and the years are the same, so I am not off by much. Still, it is enough cause for pause. I usually rattle off the legal one, the one that Americans acknowledge. In doing this though, it makes me a bit sad to know that the life I had in Korea, the one that I chase after in my heart and mind, simply does not exist. So, some years ago, I decided to celebrate both – the legal one to everyone, the real one with my little family. It feels like a lovely little secret, and when someone close to me remembers it, it makes my heart jump with a thrill. To know me, is to know the day I was really born. I like my real one more because it is the same month as my boys and because I share it with someone special in my husband’s family. But I realize I leave a lot of people confused and annoyed. After all, a birthday is to be celebrated not meant to cause confusion nor become attached to a sordid story of how I got here in the first place. No one needs to know the reason for the pause, just spew it out and move on.
I don’t recall being particularly burdened with the notion that the birthday I celebrated for the last few decades was a fiction. After all, I was born, the same way as every other human being in the world. I wasn’t hatched or plucked or dropped somewhere. I remember being in a room full of adoptive parents who all have children internationally adopted with birthdays that too are an act of fiction. Real tears were shed by these parents as they relayed their personal upset at this. They all knew when they were born. They all knew the stories around their birth. It seemed not knowing the real date was a chasm that could not be bridged between these parents and their children. In its place, we talked about the date a child was found, the date the referral was received, the day a child became a member of the family, the date the adoption was finalized. But all of it seemed like bandaids substituted for the missing date of when a child actually came into this world. It all seemed cruel and yet for so many of us international adoptees, it is a reality. Some of us find it a narrative burden, others don’t, just another reason to be celebrated and showered with gifts, thank you very much!
There are adoptees who hate celebrating birthdays, who become emotional or temperamental days before and days after the date that is on their papers. It feels like a black and white reminder that perhaps we didn’t matter, weren’t supposed to be here. It is a connector to that woman who labored for us to enter the world and just as she can be such a nebulous concept, so too our existence. For some this is an entitlement befitting everyone else further marginalizing us. Still others, it’s just a day, nothing particulary special. I have friends who would consider it blasphemous to forget their day. It is the only day of the year we share with no one else really.
I have found that over the years, my legal birthdate is getting harder and harder to say outloud. It feels like I am lying when I say it. I feel like it doesn’t do justice to the many years of hard work I have earned to know my true identity. As I have grown to love my Umma, I have grown to love my real birthdate. Attached to that date is another number, the time I was born. I LOVE knowing that. It was the first question I asked my birthmother when we had a moment alone. She was the only one who was able to give me that information. More than anything, that mattered to me.
I would love for birthdays just to be happy and lauditory. But just like everything else in adoption the simple answer to “when’s your birthday?” is “it’s complicated.”
PS. The best part of having two birthdays? The one that exists nowhere on any of my papers makes for the best pincode or secret password!