Happy Unbirthday

October 24, 2018

Today my son turned 18, but it wasn’t his birthday. He most likely wasn’t born on October 23rd, but he has no idea when he was born. He began living in an orphanage when he was about five years old and we don’t know very much about his life before that time. What we do know, we mostly keep to ourselves because it’s sensitive, treasured, highly personal information. Suffice it to say, a stranger brought him to the orphanage where he lived for the next 2 1/2 years before I adopted him. And the date Rahul arrived in the orphanage was October 23rd, so that was assigned to him as his birthday.

The first year he was my son, I planned a very small, simple birthday party for him on October 23rd. He was still very suspicious of me at that time and did not believe he was turning 8. He remembered being told at the orphanage when he turned 6 years old, but no one over told him that he turned 7, so for the first few months he was with me he didn’t believe his age. But once he had his first birthday party, on his 8th birthday, he finally became convinced of it.

I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a mother, and until I decided to adopt a child at age 35 I hadn’t planned on having children. It just wasn’t something I desired, as much as I have always loved children. But then God led me down that path and He completely changed my heart. I am sure I was born to be Rahul’s mom. But because I hadn’t spent a lifetime dreaming of it I hadn’t anticipated how much I would love certain things about motherhood. And celebrating his birthday was one of those things. I didn’t ever plan elaborate parties for him, but I loved to buy him gifts and plan special surprises for him. There is something so special about celebrating the person you love more than any other in the world. I loved bringing cupcakes into school so his classmates could sing him Happy Birthday. I loved having my parents and my sister’s family come visit so we could celebrate all together. We had costume parties for several years, then one year we went to Coney Island and rode rollercoasters, and once we went to this crazy place in the woods and had a paintball party! Then a couple years ago he stopped wanting to celebrate his birthday. He didn’t like the attention anymore. And that date, October 23rd, was becoming problematic.

It was starting to really bother him that he didn’t know which day he was born and that the date that was chosen for him was actually anniversarying a difficult day in his life. He no longer wanted to celebrate the day he entered his orphanage and pretend that it was his birthday. So we stopped having parties, then we stopped inviting family over, and this year we stopped saying “Happy Birthday” or buying presents or making anything special out of the day. I bought him a few candies that he likes, but that was it.

And Rahul had a really great day today. He and I talked and prayed about how this date is very bittersweet for him, because if he hadn’t ever made it to that orphanage, he never would have made it here, to me. He doesn’t like to commemorate the date, but tonight he acknowledged what an important milestone it was in his life. It was a crossroads, and the road that was chosen for him led him to me.

I’m so proud of him and so grateful that today was good for him. But all day I have been so, so sad. I have watched Rahul pass up so many joys that other kids so easily embrace because his early trauma robbed him of his ability to celebrate and receive loving attention. And all I want for him is for him to be able to be happy and to live life to the full. These are daily struggles for him. And he is a rock star, constantly pushing himself to engage and participate and connect with people. But sometimes it just breaks my heart that he can’t blow out candles on his birthday cake. All day my heart has been grieving that child he briefly was, the date we’ll never know, the story of his birth, all the things I can never give him. And I grieved for myself that one of the beautiful surprises about being a mom, one of the things I have really loved–celebrating my child’s birthday– has disappeared from my life.

This year we started commemorating his adoption day in special ways, and when he got his tattoo this summer, in honor of our ten years as family, he had that date etched into his skin. April 17, 2008, the day he became my son. That’s the date he wants to remember and celebrate.

So I thinking that maybe next April I can get him to blow out some candles:)

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Opening presents at his first birthday party

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One Response to “Happy Unbirthday”

  1. Renee,
    As always, your stories about raising Rahul, touch my heart. You are each so fortunate to have found one another. Celebrate his birthday (and yours) every day. You guys deserve it!
    Be well.

    Like

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