What’s in a birthday? A birth story.

When I was born, or so the story goes, my mom asked the doctor if he was SURE I was a girl. He was very reassuring that he knew the difference.

Talk about the situation of your birth dictating your life story! I am the mother/father, the tomboy, the choice mom, the single adoptive mom, the donor assisted pregnant woman who came to all her prenatal visits alone. I have short hair, and big bones. I played soccer, and feared the ballet teacher. I can wear a dress with cowboy boots.

But even if she couldn’t believe I was really a girl, my mom did not have to question where I’d be in forty-eight hours. I was coming home with her.  I was not leaving the hospital in the arms of a relative stranger*, carefully chosen or not. All this time, I have known only my first mom. My entire biological family would come to know me in all my glory and greatness. In all my whiny spoiledness.

The first thing I saw was the top of Sam’s soft, fuzzy brown head, cradled in his first mom’s arms sitting in her bed in the dimly lit hospital room. He was one and half days old. He was sleeping. It was 4:45am. She didn’t even look up, when I knocked  softly and entered the small room. I was coming to take her son from her.  I have never told the story this way.

Birthing Marcel, and waiting to hold  him in my arms was not what I imagined. It was touch and go there at the end, what with wrapped cords, and inconsistent heart monitors. For a few minutes I thought I had lost him, before I had him.  I still can reach that terror place, if pushed. I lived with that moment for all of three minutes.

That is not the same as birthing him, to lose him.

Then when I finally got to feel Marcel’s precious and perfect little curly haired miracle in my arms, I sobbed. I wailed. I went primal. The nurses thought I was postpartum crazy. I was.  I was wailing for Sam, and everything he lost the moment I arrived in his life.  I felt their combined loss on a new hormonally infused, and physically painful way.

Taking him from her, was not joyful. It was devastating and crushing. It was supposed to be the “happiest” moment of my life, and I can still feel the terror and dread in my heart as I approached them both. I felt that I had no business being in that room. I was overcome by the grief. She said; “I need you to give this baby only your joy. Save all the sad part for me.”  Her maternal and selfless plea to me, was to give him relief from this devastating sad. She wanted me to leave the hospital and come back with joy. She gave me permission to enter into the happiest moment of my life.

I was born forty three years ago today.  My mother makes sure to remind me, all humor aside, that having this  little girl was a dream come true. Marcel made me a card of a blue bear eating a Storm Trooper while wearing his fireman outfit to keep us safe when I blew out my candles. Sam hid in the living room, and copied the words “Happy Birthday” off of a sign we made him for his birthday on the wall. He added the “Mom”, and the “Love, Sam.” At the bottom of the card he drew the two of us, side by side.

Unlike the birthday card he drew for his first mom on her birthday, he and I were not holding hands.  I can interpret that as all the independence he feels with me. I can remind myself that he gets to hold my hand when ever he wants. I can also feel very deeply that if the world were a different place Sam’s first mom would be the only one receiving cards from him on her birthday.

Marcel just woke up, climbed in my lap and asked me if it was time to eat cake! The kid is on to something.

To allowing the sadness and the joy of all of our birth stories to be told. That is my wish for today.


This post is a reminder to myself, that there is a reason we normally celebrate birthdays. This post is to help me understand all of my deep feelings on the subject. This post was a response to John Riable’s post Decolonizing Transracial Adoption, brought to my attention by Inventing Liz on her roundup post of good reads last week. This post has taken me a week to write. No this post has taken me six years and three months to write.

*There is no way to represent the countless ways in which an adoptive parent and a birth parent/family are matched. From completely closed, or unknown birth parents, to adopting your niece and everything in between my intention is to make the point that in most cases the adoptive parent is more or less a stranger considering the context of the placing of a child in that person’s hands and life.


  1. just lovely. thanks for sharing this story.

    wishing you a wonderful birthday celebration, though it sounds like you’ve already got that.

    • Luna,
      I so appreciate that you said so. The post feels like one of my most important. Thank you for reading ans commenting. The day has been remarkable, and is still unfolding!

  2. This was very touching. I appreciate that you’re acknowledging the pain of Sam’s birth mother, that you acknowledged it when you came to get him. Not that this doesn’t happen for other people, but they don’t talk about it much.

    • Ashley,
      I had a hard time pushing “publish” on this one. When I sat with why, I realized that it did feel like often uncharted territory in the spoken publicly realm. But that is changing I think. I hope. Thank you for your words.

  3. “Her maternal and selfless plea to me, was to give him relief from this devastating sad. She wanted me to leave the hospital and come back with joy. She gave me permission to enter into the happiest moment of my life. ”

    Most certainly some of the most powerful words I’ve ever read. I hope you had a joyous day!

  4. This is an extraordinary post, Mama C. And I can so relate.

    I’m glad you had the courage to push “publish.”

    Oh, and Happy Birthday!

  5. This was so powerful to read, and fitting for me as yesterday was my birthday. And I gave birth to my daughter 2 weeks ago after adopting my son only 6 months before. In my joy, I felt grief. As I nurse her, I think about that lost experience for my son. When I held her in my arms for the first time, I cried not only out of joy, but out of realization of the incredible loss my son, his first mom and I all experienced. Thank you for posting this, your words rang so true for me at this time in my life.

  6. First off, Happy Birthday Pisces! (mine is March 2nd, and I’m gulp, 4 years older than you ;))

    Beautifully written as always.. It takes having a baby or being a parent to realize that birthdays are about birth for mothers and cake and presents and fun for the kiddos. Our meeting of Theo was also a deeply sad day with the first mom sobbing uncontrollably the entire time. Happiness did not come for quite some time. Sadly, I can’t seem to quite come to grips with that particular fact just yet.

    • HBTY2! All these Pisces chiming in. Knowing a little bit of your story, I can feel that beginning for you all. Where does it all ago? I must say having written this post created some space and ease over here. I so appreciate when you connect here you know that?

  7. that was incredibly touching, and sad to look at it that way. i’m a little “choked up” right now. as a person with both my biological parents still in my life, and as someone who considers adoption in the future, i cant imagine the grief adoptive children and parents both go through. especially the children in foster care who have neither type of parent (bio or adoptive) to count on.

  8. Wow – what a great piece. A few tears here. Very early on in my research into adoption (which still isn’t that advanced) I read that when you choose to parent through adoption, you have to embrace loss. The loss of the birth mother and the loss for the child, in addition to any loss you may personally feel. This post illustrated that wonderfully and I suspect it’s a conflict that all people involved in adoption have to live alongside every day.

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