Birth Day

When I was a child, my birthday was a day filled with a carousel ride in Central Park, chocolate cupcakes, the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company or the Paper Bag Players, pin-the-tail-on-the-mouse, and friends and family. As I’ve gotten older, my birthday’s been a day of pampering or play, and the comfort of friends. Every birthday, I feel so much love and friendship coming from many different directions, and that’s the most remarkable gift I could ever receive.  In the past few years, my birthday has been infused with a layer of pensive contemplation, as it’s the one day of the year that’s raises a question for which I have no answer. It’s my birthday and I wonder…is the woman who gave me up for adoption at birth nearly five decades ago thinking about me today?

Who are we to one another? No one, really. Strangers. Two women in the world. And yet, we’re tied intrinsically by an organic thread. An invisible thread at once weightless gossamer and immovable anchor. Filment and root. I won’t dare let myself believe that my birth mother might have passed away, though it’s surely possible by now. That’s not the picture I’m willing to draw for this chapter of my story. And so, I ask myself, on this particular day of the year, is she wondering about me as I’m wondering about her? Is she remembering? Is she curious? What’s she feeling? And I ask these questions because I’m an exceedingly curious person, a voyeur, someone who wants to know all the details of someone’s story – their past as it defines their present and informs their future. So, here’s the thing: I’ve come to recognize that while I can tell one story about my life, there’s a whole other story that I just don’t know.

The not knowing can sometimes be frustrating, confusing, sad. On the other hand, and most of the time, I’ve found great strength from the not knowing – a strength that comes from feeling unencumbered, free, innocent, at ease to be whomever I want myself to be, as if an author creating a character from my imagination. And yet, on my birthday, the questions arise and, as if Samson knows that Delilah is picking up the scissors, my strength is momentarily tempered, revealing a tender spot for which I wish I might apply a soothing salve of a story that already exists, that I don’t need to make up. And I wonder, does she ever feel the same?

It’s my birthday and if I could, I would tell her that her baby was loved. And that the woman that baby became is grateful to be in this world, this life, and she’s been given experiences beyond her expectations which have made her feel secure and safe. Loved. It’s a happy birthday.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


  1. So happy for you that it's indeed a


    Many many Happy Returns of the day!

  2. Anonymous4/20/2010

    Wow! I hope she somehow has the chance to read this. I think you should look for her, if only to stand across the street from her and watch her pass. Another friend of mine did just that very thing, watched her mannerisms, giggled at their similarity, noticed her smile in her smile, and has found a great peace in just being awarded those moments.

  3. The answer to one question often leads to many more questions. Adoption will always define you in a certain way (as, of course, I personally know). And yet you have come to define yourself in ways that the answer to that question can't change. That is true for me, despite having found that answer.

    Ponder it, of course. But don't let it make you sad. Those of us who love you do so in different ways, but the power of our collective love belongs completely to you. Soak it in. And celebrate!

  4. Bonnie Welch4/20/2010

    Many Happy returns of the day to my dear friend Em -

    Would that she be so lucky to know you....As a mother, I cannot help but think that she absolutely thinks of you on this, your birthday, but also on many, many other days too.

    The ties that bind are strong and deep. Distance and time may dull them, but they still remain, forever.

    She would be so proud....

    My love,

  5. Happy Birthday Emma!
    Wow, is right. My sister has adopted a baby girl. She is now 5 going on 6 soon. I will share your thoughts with my sis/the adoptive Mom. As my sis knows the time of questions is drawing near. This Mom feels such a responsibility in presenting to her daughter the fact of another woman out there. You have paid a very heart-felt recognition of that birth Mom/Woman's gift to you. My wish today: happiness to all.

  6. Questions with no answers may be the best kind. Happy, happy birthday, Emma!

  7. I so appreciate these beautiful and rich commments in response to my post. Thank you.

  8. I think the question has a simple answer, actually. Yes. Assuming she is living and in possession of her faculties, I think you can count on this. And even if she is one of those weirdly compartmentalized creatures who does not consciously mark these anniversaries (they are rare), there is a somatic memory. Her cells know.

    Happy birthday!

  9. A belated Happy Birthday to you, Emma. What a beautiful post.

  10. Happy Birthday!! I am the mother of an adopted 34 year old daughter..together..we searched for her 'other' parents when she was 22. Her bio Dad turned out to be wonderful and is still in her life..The Mom causes my girl some grief..I hope you have a great Birthday and find all the answers you wish for!

  11. Anonymous5/06/2010

    What a beautiful and loving post, Emma. I hope she somehow knows that you were loved and you are happy.

    I love what Ellen said. "And yet you have come to define yourself in ways that the answer to that question can't change. "

    Happy belated birthday wishes from me too.

  12. That is true for me, despite having found that answer.
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  13. Oh, Emma---this was so beautiful and thought provoking. I pray she knows you are much loved, happy, and thinking about her.