A few weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday in Guangxi Province, China. The day was packed with hiking adventures, sampling local foods, watching traditional dances and concluded with a peaceful evening, sitting in the company of friends on the mountain top and staring into the night sky. I didn’t go out of my way to do anything in particular, but it was a nice time nonetheless.
When I was young, I exalted the attention I would receive for my birthday. I remember holding countdowns and creating “Birthday Eve” to extend the length of my birthday celebration. My parents would host elaborately themed birthday parties for me that would fill our basement with pink streamers and giddy shrieks. If anyone asked, I would always say that April was my favorite month of the year, solely because of my birthday and obviously not giving any consideration to the dreary, cold, and often times damp weather. I truly regarded my birthday as a magical day.
As I’ve grown older, I have become progressively less excited about my birthday. Many older women dread their birthdays as another sign of aging and their deteriorating bodies. Birthdays are a marker of being another year away from their best years. As a relatively young person, this is not the reason I have for slowly resenting my birthday. I strongly believe my best years are still to come.
With maturity, I’ve realized how insignificant my birthday is in my life. As an adoptee, this date was simply assigned to me and doesn’t denote my birth at all. I still enjoy presents and an excuse to gather with friends, but the meaning behind birthday celebrations is gone for me. My birthday is instead a reminder of the fact that nothing is known of my birth. Is that a reason to celebrate?
I have no birth photos. I have never been able to be told a birth story. There are no recordings of how long I was or how much I weighed at birth. The only proof of my birth is that I am alive now.
A birthday is a celebration of someone’s existence – that after nine months they have entered this world. Birthdays are filled with promise of what this new life will do, will become, will bring to the world. But the first documentation of my life isn’t by birth. It’s my abandonment certificate.
The anniversary of my abandonment day is actually the day after my birthday. In recent years, my birthday has symbolized more of a foreshadowing of this somber day rather than a joyous, celebratory occasion. I long to know who I was for the first two years of my life, and until I am able to find this information, my abandonment will always be the first marker of my existence.
I came to China – to Nanjing specifically – in search of answers when I was thirteen and again now. And I know that my quest for family, self discovery, and enriched Chineseness will be lifelong.
As I reflect on both my birthday and abandonment days, I wonder if my first parents think of me at these particular times. I wonder if they ever walk down my abandonment street and what these days mean to them. I don’t know where they are, but I’m here. I’ve come back and think about them often. I hope that they can feel me and know that we see the same moon and stars, feel the same drops of rain, and soak in the same sun. Even when I’m thousands of miles away, their DNA flows through my body, giving me life and connecting us always.