It’s that time of year again, birthday time is here. My son just turned six years old. His family recently just moved across the country and now happen to live about 30 minutes away, so this year I was lucky enough to celebrate my son’s birthday with him by taking him to a movie. But for the last five years I’ve been celebrating without him nearby.

Here are five different ways I’ve learned to cope with his birthday:

1) Contact. If the adoption is open, ask the child’s parents if you can make a phone call to wish the child a happy birthday. Perhaps Skype or FaceTime is more your style? Give it a try. It was so refreshing to me to “be there” while his family sang to him, or to have him take me on a tour of the neat toys he was given as gifts. There is always a sense of longing, of what could have been, but what the birthday contact does for me is show me how happy, thriving, and well he is. That contact shows me, again and again, that adoption was the right choice. Whether I’m feeling happy or sad that day, that contact is a comfort.

2) Buy yourself a treat. His second birthday broke my heart. Perhaps it was because I thought it would be easier than his first so I didn’t prepare for it. I walked to the store and purchased two small cupcakes and candles. I placed the candles on the small cakes and thought of all the fun my little guy was probably having (or maybe he was just coming down from his sugar high and getting frosting on his mother’s couch.) Whatever he was doing, I was wishing him a happy birthday from 2,000 miles away and eating a cupcake in his honor. A birth mother thinks of her child every day, but especially on that child’s birthday. This was a special moment where I held a temporary, outward celebration for an inward and eternal thought.

3) Take an hour to be alone and do whatever you want, depending on your living arrangements and how much time you have. I find that being alone is when I can be myself. My own thoughts can be company enough, especially when my mind is racing—just like it does on my son’s birthday. When I’m alone I feel comfortable enough to cry, laugh, look through pictures, watch old videos, etc. A word of caution: I have found being alone too much brings about many unhealthy things for me. But being alone for a while can be refreshing. It’s like a power nap of the soul, rejuvenating you enough to take on the rest of the world once again.

4) Be with people you love. Not to contradict myself, but when being alone begins to turn on me, I find myself drawn to my loved ones. Since I’ve gotten married, my husband and I go on a special date. We celebrate my son’s birthday on a stress-free night when it can be just us, and I even get dessert. Before I was married, I spent time with friends or family. My parents would say, “Oh, I can’t believe he’s three!” or my friends would gush, “I can’t believe he’s so big!” My thoughts were being vocalized by someone other than myself. It was like a mini therapy session. There were moments where we would even veer off topic, and I would find my heart not aching like I had anticipated, simply because I was surrounded by people who love me, and vice versa.

5) Look at how far you’ve been in the last year. This one is one of my favorites. Every year of my son’s life I have thought to myself, “I can’t believe so much has changed.” I went from scared, to back in school, to dating, to married, to graduating, to having children of my own . . . my life is going in a wonderful direction, and my son’s birthday is a special anniversary to me for many, obvious reasons. I get to remember what it was like to hold him in my arms for the first time. I get to remember singing to him and begging him to remember who I am. I get to remember how afraid, sore, and worn out I was. I remembering slowly waking up from the fog, slowly putting myself back together, beginning to live again. I remember it all. And I know how far he’s come, and how far I have come. I know it was right, I know it was important and needed. I miss him every day, but his birthday is a bittersweet day of remembrance and love.

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