Roo just had a birthday. She's four years old. I have found that whatever age she is becomes my favorite age for a child to be. Every birthday she has is the best birthday.
I can't speak from experience but it seems to me that when you're a parent, your child's birthdays are a bit of a production. There are presents to buy and a party to plan and of course there will be cake, because as Julia Child pointed out, a party without cake is just a meeting. I suppose a lot of these things are up to the family and child in question, but regardless of what exactly goes on the point is that something goes on, because a child's birthday is special.
So, how do you celebrate the birthday of a child you gave birth to but are no longer parenting? I'd like to say that I've got it all figured out, and that my handbook on birth mothering is going to be published in the fall. But the truth is that I don't have a clue how you're supposed to celebrate the anniversary of the day you gave birth to someone else's child. I've done it four times and I still don't know what I'm doing.
The consensus among birth mothers I have talked to is that birthdays are
hard. I've heard this from women with open adoptions and women with
closed adoptions, from married birth mothers and single birth mothers,
from those who've had children since placement and those who haven't.
Even in the best of situations, birthdays can be bittersweet.
I don't know that I would classify Roo's birthday as a bittersweet day. I wouldn't want to paint it with such broad strokes. Every year has been different for me. I haven't had exactly the same feelings or done exactly the same thing. My emotional needs have been different each year as well, and my schedule, and Roo's family's schedule, and so many other things change from one July to the next.
Every year so far, I have had a visit with Roo around her birthday. Her family has been very kind in obliging with this, sometimes at the last minute (July 7th crept up on me this year). It's never been so important to me to see her on her birthday, but I like to see her within a few weeks of it, so that I can take a million pictures and give her presents and tell her how fantastic she is.
On Roo's birthday itself, I will inevitably look at pictures from when she was brand-new and I will cry unattractively and hold the blanket M made for me and allow myself time to be sad and miss my baby. The amount of time I spend feeling sorry for myself depends on the year. I think I was sad for about fifteen minutes last year, for instance, but this year I cried for over an hour. In my defense, I was alone for a lot of the day, and my mom was out of town, and my plans with a friend fell through, and I was stressed out because I was facing a 12-hour drive the next day.
In general I'm happiest when I treat Roo's birthday like an extra birthday for me. There are no presents, but I like to make a cake (I adore cake) and go out to lunch with my mother or a friend. I make an effort to look nice, because it is a special day. Anyone I talk to that day has to hear at least 15 Roo stories, and look at every picture of her I have on my phone. Actually, that tends to happen to anyone who asks, "How's Roo?" But people must not mind too much, because they keep asking.
For the most part Roo's birthday is a joyful day for me. I know that she's happy it's her special day, and it makes me happy that she's happy. There's just that little edge, that reminder in the periphery of my joy that although I have a mother's love for Roo, I am not her mother.* I celebrate her birthday without her.
But it's not such an odd concept to celebrate someone's birthday without them, is it? I think of my dad each year on his birthday. I make a cake for him, too. I look at pictures. I watch a movie or TV show that we used to watch together. I remember him and I miss him and I love him, even though he's gone.
It's the same with Roo, even though she's alive and well. Every day, but especially on her birthday, I remember her, and I miss her, and I love her. I celebrate in my own way, and if that way happens to vary from year to year, or even from hour to hour, so be it. The details aren't what's crucial. The important thing is that Roo was born, and she is amazing and lovely and fantastic, and the world is a better place because she's here. Everything else is just filler.
*I know I'm going to get the same comments I get every time I make this statement, the comments that I am still her mother, and people are certainly entitled to that belief, but I don't share it. I'm her birth mother, not her real mother. That's good enough for me.