When my husband and I decided to adopt an older child living in the orphanage in India where we were adopting an infant, we were given a picture of a little girl with a beautiful face and large, permanent front teeth. We were told that this little girl, who would eventually become our daughter, was six years old. Looking at her face which seemed to already have grown into her large, white, Chiclet teeth, I had my doubts about her age. We had further hints that she might be older when she began talking about her previous life. I just didn’t see how she would have so many memories of her first mom and their life together if she was four when she came to the orphanage.
Several times over the years (usually around her birthday) she will ask how I know that we are celebrating her actual birthday. I just shrug my shoulders and say that October 12 is the date we were given by the staff at the orphanage. Besides, I usually add, October 12 seems like a wonderful day, it’s in the autumn when the leaves are changing and the air is crisp. It’s my favorite time of year and I like having a reason to celebrate. I also am honest, however, in telling her that it might not be her real birthday and she probably is older–a point that has frequently come back to haunt me, especially when she wants more freedom: ”C’mon Mom! You know I might not be fourteen! I could really be sixteen, and I think sixteen-year-olds can stay out until midnight!”
A friend of mine who also adopted an older child, Janessa*, from the same orphanage we did, speaks very proudly that her daughter shares a birthday with Sabal, the director of the orphanage, and a man who is beloved by the children in his care. Because Janessa did not know the actual date of her birth, Sabal gave her his special day when she came to the orphanage so they could share the celebration. I think it’s incredibly sweet that eight years later Janessa and Sabal still send one another birthday greetings via email and Facebook.
Do I think it’s a bad thing that so many of our older adopted children do not know their actual date of birth? Yes….But it doesn’t have to be…. I know that it is a loss for our children in that they don’t have someone who can share those special and personal memories with them. But our kids will follow our lead on this and will make it a painful issue if we do. I love how my friend has handled it, and how both Janessa and Sabal continue to keep that connection. Today, Janessa truly feels special that Sabal did that for her all those years ago.
It is a fact of life for many older adoptees, and it is a fact that we cannot change. So, perhaps the best we can do is to acknowledge that loss, but then we should try to move on and make the best of the unfortunate reality of it.
*I changed the names of these folks to protect their identity.