Realization hit me recently that I have rarely been able to celebrate birthdays in our family. It was not so when I was growing up – I used to love birthdays and my brother and I usually had a combined party each year with school or neighborhood friends, and we had family celebrations with my grandparents and extended family in Bangalore. But surreptitiously, life had taken me in a different direction. And now, yeas later, I was sitting on my bed on my son’s 25th birthday, filled with a deep sense of sadness and grief instead of overwhelming joy. This got me thinking and looking back on our journey as a family. I wondered why I, who loved doing big celebrations, had so rarely organized birthday parties for my kids? I have had huge dedication, baptism, graduation and wedding parties – yet we’ve had very few birthday celebrations. Our children are now aged 25, 19 and 12 – that would add up to 50 birthday celebrations (discounting the first 6 years of our son’s birthdays that we missed)! Yet, we can count the birthday parties we hosted with our fingers. In fact, we celebrated just two out of the twelve birthdays even for our youngest biological daughter. Why?
It all started unraveling when I recently heard a friend wish her daughter on her birthday, telling her she was thinking of the time when she was giving birth to her. In that moment, my heart broke within me – it felt like the damn broke and years of my pain was being unleashed. It wasn’t her fault – she was doing what every normal mother would do – reminiscing at the beauty of the time when her precious baby was born. But to me, that day, her words were a stark reminder of the loss my children and I have faced daily – the loss of not being together from the start and the unusual way in which our family was built layered with pain, trauma and suffering. We never experienced the joy of our two older kids’ births or the tenderness of the early years, and instead, were hit full force with the consequences of their trauma and loss when we adopted them.
Over the past 19 years, their birthday months were triggers, causing them to subconsciously fight the loss of their birth families. They were days when their anger peaked and their frustrations were leveled against me. That was understandable, for I had replaced their beloved birth mothers who had cradled them when they were born, but it hurt nevertheless. Both of my adopted children came with deep wounds. My son came home broken and traumatized at age 6, after the mother he had loved deeply and had bonded with, took her life. My daughter came home to us as a 10-month old baby, having had the privilege of being carried and nursed by her birth mother for her first few months at the orphanage. Both these women had made profound impacts on my children’s hearts, and losing them had caused deep grief and brokenness that I cannot even imagine. Consequently, my children were filled with anger, rage and frustration against me – their birth parent’s replacement.
Looking back, we know without a shadow of doubt that God brought these children to our family. But unfortunately, due to deep-set cultural prejudices and biases, as well as a lack of teaching on the beauty of adoption, many Indians have not fully embraced our children’s’ adoption. For example, to this day despite our pleas, my older daughter’s birthday seems to be invisible to my husband’s family. These differences hurt deeply and these hurts get reopened every year, and it makes me dread birthdays because I have to find ways to balance these added pains in my children’s hearts.
So what is the solution to this dilemma? I am in pain during every birthday in my family, I am grieving the losses of not being the one who birthed my children and loved them from the start. I am angry that people discriminate against my kids. I have struggled to be in the shadow of “ghosts” who loom large in their lives. But, I am their “Amma” , “Mom”, “Maiee”! That will never change. God opened my eyes to His mission of orphan care when I was still a child and there was no turning back (that is a story for another post)! I have chosen to step into this role and have borne much of my children’s grief and anger at their losses, ever since we adopted them in 1998. The warrior princess in me comes out, as I fight to love and protect my hurting family!
These are vulnerable children who were wounded due to no fault of their own. But, God chose my husband and me to love them, and in the process just as our parents did, we get to redirect the trajectory of their lives towards Him! In other words, the children we had adopted had totally different backgrounds and DNA from us, and we had the privilege of loving them and making them our very own beloved son and daughter. Then we got to give them the privilege of being co-heirs with our biological child, and far more importantly, to introduce all three of them to Jesus through whom they could all become God’s adopted children, co-inheriting all God’s riches for all eternity with Jesus should they choose to do so! Mind blowing truth! Worth celebrating!
So, yes birthdays are still excruciatingly hard, and yes, my family may never have normalcy and beauty around those days – but the path we have chosen to take with our children is worth it. As Jason Johnson has said, “Adoption isn’t swooping in to save a hurting child with a cape on our backs but it is crawling in the mud alongside their brokenness, with a cross on our backs”! Beauty and brokenness are intertwined in every aspect of our lives. This is the gospel in action! We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). Similarly we can say that we adopt because God first adopted us! Adoption was not an afterthought for God, but His Plan A! God chose not to stop at just saving us, but to adopt us as His sons and daughters before the foundation of the world! So, though we lose out on birthday celebrations, and in our human-ness we struggle and feel deep sorrow and grief, we also look ahead to the eternal glory that is awaiting us, when every tear will be wiped away, and there will be joy everlasting and we will be celebrating Jesus all the time forever!
So practically, how do we celebrate birthdays in our family? We do small family celebrations with my parents, where we cut a cake and a have special meal. They always lovingly give our kids a gift and Pattima (grandma) usually prays over them. On my end, I may not be able to celebrate that day in a big way for them or with them, but I hope that all my countless acts of love throughout the year show them that I love them deeply. That we are blessed despite what life throws at us! My husband created a small family tradition called the “birthday stool” where he makes the birthday child sit on a special stool while the rest of us stand around that person. We lay hands on them and each of us prays a blessing over him or her. This is our way of asking God to bless them in the midst of all our brokenness and mess. A huge blessing to us is when others, friends or family, call and wish them on their birthday, or step out and give them a special gift, or take them for a meal or cut a cake to celebrate their special day. It means so much to this tired mama’s heart! It is a gift from the hand of God, compensating for my inability to celebrate their birthdays. My gratitude to God overflows.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans in their distress (James 1:27).
And as far as my guilt goes, yes, mommy guilt prevails in my heart and yes, I grieve that my children have missed so much but God is slowly teaching me to focus on what He thinks is important – that we can find joy in the journey in Him and through Him. And, we look forward to unending celebrations in eternity with Him!
For another look at this, see: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7630205-parenting-kiddos-who-sabotage-big-days