Celebrating Secrets and Sadness

sad birthday

It’s early morning, I’ve only the birds for company for a few more hours. Until my favourite person wakes up. Across the world in the place I was born it’s already early afternoon on my birthday.

Birthdays are a strange, strange day for adoptees. The days preceding it are pensive and sad for completely different reasons to those who perhaps see only more candles on cake. It’s an odd day to celebrate given the anniversary of loss eclipsing that day.

My birthday is one of normalised secrets and mysteries, unspoken questions unanswered. Who was the woman to whom I was born on this day? How was my birth? Did she hold me at all, for how long, minutes, days, weeks, months? How was she feeling? Sad, relieved, resentful, frightened. Decisive?

Who were the other women who cared for me and brokered my adoption? Nuns convinced they were doing a God’s work. While from my perspective it seems more like a Handmaids Tale.

I know my mothers name, her age and that she was Indian and I have her ID number, assuming my birth certificate wasn’t falsified as many were in other parts of Asia. That’s all, except perhaps that she was likely Catholic. You would think a name and an ID card number might be enough to find her. But it’s another continent, another culture. One in which I have no sources, no allies or relationships and no sense of the unwritten rules and expectations.

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Her name now brings up an obituary listed in late 2016. A woman with this name died leaving behind a husband and a daughter. More mysteries, could it be my mother, and if so, is the daughter me, or a sister? Is her name common in Malaysia? Are those whom Google uncovers with this name, no more likely to be relatives than a Brown or a Smith? Or is it more rare? The first search reveals a young man, a journalist in Malaysia, a crime reporter. He’s on Twitter but he has only a handful of followers and very few tweets showing me who he is. Should I follow him, and see if he follows the clues back to me? Am I a random stranger whose profile of a Chindian Malaysian adoptee is only of passing interest or could it resonate with the possibilities of a shameful family secret? How does an adoptee reach out to people in these circumstances knowing the possible weight of consequences?

I could hire a detective – perhaps with this information it wouldn’t take a well connected expert long to find people and information. But I’m told it’s common practice to expect to bribe people for information. For my information. I’m resentful about how much it might cost me to find out what everyone else takes for granted. A history they’ve never even had to consider a human right. It just exists. Perhaps it’s even a little boring, the story of the day you were born, told again and again.

If I take my search to another level, there’ll be no going back once a certain line has been crossed. So much can unravel once it does in a family across the world, and in one here.

Only adoptees will really understand this, perhaps they will always mean more to me than family. They are mostly strangers across the world, they know intimate details about my adoption story and almost none about my day-to-day life. A kind of Adoptees Anonymous.

Today a call with my British adoptive parents will be unavoidable. There will be pseudo jollity. They’ll wish me a happy birthday, ask me about my day and presents, and no one will mention the secrets and mysteries of this day in 1972 in Malaysia.

2 Replies to “Celebrating Secrets and Sadness”

  1. As a parent of an adopted child I would like your perspective and advice on how adoptive parents could acknowledge birthdays in more insightful and empathetic ways? Thank you.

    1. Hi Linda, It’s not an easy question to answer on behalf of all adoptees, so bear in mind I’m just giving my own thoughts here. My feeling is that it doesn’t really start with birthdays, instead it starts with the family dynamics and culture. Creating an environment of openness, honesty, a willingness to enter into discomfort and acknowledge the hard things about adoption experiences. Anything a parent can do to have answers instead of accepting the secrets as part of the package is also helpful in my opinion. I think every adoptee family would benefit from having a family therapist or some kind of trusted, trauma informed person who can be on hand to facilitate some of the conversations and thoughts. I also think that having an adoptee community is helpful, not just other adoptees at the same (potentially young) stage of development but adults who have done some of the work to understand their own issues. Finally – be careful not to plant seeds of unhappiness where perhaps the adoptee has not yet started to explore the origins of that day, instead just be alert to the potential sadness it creates and then be ready to explore it and acknowledge it – if needed. Take the lead from the adoptee in how you celebrate.

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