December has always been an oddly problematic month for me. Not just because it’s my birth month with all the adoption baggage but also because of the holiday with its traditions, expectations, and gifting issues.

December birthdays, regardless of how close or far from Christmas Day they are, subjects those of us born in the Christian holy month to the weirdly known practice of “double duty presents”. There is this nonsensical notion that spending a few extra dollars on our birthday gifts will magically negate the necessity of giving much of anything (or even nothing at all) to us for Christmas itself.

Fortunately, my adoptive parents never bought into the notion of cheaping out on my birthday as a budgetary measure. My birthday was the same as my siblings birthdays, a day to be commemorated in a manner befitting the anniversary of one’s child arriving in the world. Even after I discovered the Santa Clause ruse, they never pulled the double duty gift stunt on me. When they decided to stop giving presents all together, they pulled that rug out from under all of their children and under the guise of “you are all adults now” and that’s a subject for another day.

However, aside from my parents and my dear godmother, nearly everyone else in my life pre-husbands and children happily bought into the practice of shafting the December born with combo gifts. To the point really where my birthday became something I stopped acknowledging when I was an adult and out in the world on my own.

There were a smattering of friends along the way. who upon discovering my apathy about my birthday and the reasons why, took it upon themselves to remedy this. It’s not lost on me that one of them herself was a December child and truly understood the pain.

I could chapter and verse the anecdotes but the point of my story is I became a gift giver rather than a receiver because giving was something I had control over.

Decades later, I still prefer giving gifts to receiving them. The most dreaded question in my world is “What do you want for your birthday?” Or Christmas. Or anniversary. I simply don’t know. Having gotten into the habit of fulfilling my own gift needs (a habit I would encourage everyone to explore really), I genuinely don’t need once a year instances to fill my material coffers.

The end result, which I am sure anyone could see coming, is people guessing and blessing me with things that make me wonder if anyone, aside from my husband, truly knows who I am at all. I can totally understand now why my adoptive dad would create a list every year and then assign each of us the present he wanted us to give him. One particularly memorable year, I was told to go to Target to get him very specific pair of jeans and my sister was instructed to buy him underwear.

“Underwear?” I asked her.

“Yep, and I am not asking questions or arguing,” she replied. “If he wants underwear in his stocking, so be it.”

My nephew picked up on this habit of his grandfather’s and as far as I know, still uses it. Oh, to be so enlightened at such a tender age.

My favourite thing, naturally, at Christmas was being the one who handed out the gifts. In this way, I avoided my own presents and could unwrap them while others were engrossed in theirs. Thus, if I was underwhelmed, or completely disappointed, in the items chosen for me, no one was any the wiser because they weren’t paying attention to me.

And it’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought and effort, though I question the thought a bit because again, does anyone even know me? I just would prefer people not give me anything just to be able to cross giving me something off their list. Take a tiny bit of time to understand why I am so indecisive about requesting presents and understand that at my core (however my core came to be) I am a gifter not a receiver. At this point in my life, I really am not going to change.

Every time I meet someone in my natural family for the first time, I learn something new. New information about my family specifically or generally, or something about myself sudden comes into focus. It makes me angry because it shines a harsh light on the lies I was told growing up adopted. I was not supposed to question or miss what I had lost when I was taken from my mother. None of the things she could give me where considered consequential in any way, and I have come to discover as the years roll by that nothing could be further from the truth.

The basic lie of adopted families is that they are no different at all from families of origin. Taking someone else’s child to raise as your own is the same thing as giving birth to a child. It’s not a win-win. It’s not harmless solution for solving the infertility issues of one couple or the single parenthood issues of the mother. Harm is done, and I would argue just as much to the infertile couple as to the birth mother who is being asked to abandon her child for some nebulous greater good.

Why do I say that infertile couples are harmed by adoption?

First, adoption allowed them to pretend they aren’t infertile. At least publicly. It doesn’t erase the damage that infertility as wrought on them personally or on their relationship. In fact, it might make both those things worse as it gives them an excuse to not deal with the issues.

I know my adoptive parents did not deal with the damage done to their relationship because my adoptive mother couldn’t have children. He blamed her. Blamed her mother. Was quite angry for the majority of my life about being denied a biological child. He thought we didn’t notice, but he wasn’t subtle about his disappointment. Every time we didn’t live up to his expectations, it was there, an elephant lumbering about the room, trampling us children.

Second, adopted families aren’t viewed as “the same” by societies in general. I have lost count of the number of people who praised my adoptive parents for “taking those children in” as though we’d been left on doorsteps. Adopted children are less than. Adopted families are “better than nothing”. That’s the harsh truth.

Finally, it never gives the couple proper space to mourn and heal from their infertility. Everything they went through trying to get pregnant. Treatments. Miscarriages. An adopted baby is a band-aid for a gaping wound. It’s not the job of a child, suffering their own separation trauma, to fix the adults who’ve acquired them like one would rescue a kitten or puppy.

I don’t bother to discuss this with my adopted mother anymore. She is too deep in her own feelings to see mine. She’s too old to really have the in depth conversations we needed to have decades ago in any case. It’s unfortunate but reality can’t be amended to suit my needs at this point.

I do not support non-familial placement of infants and children. Reunification is best. Keeping children with extended biological family is next best. There should be a concerted effort by the government to make sure all efforts are made and that includes financial support if necessary.

What can be done for infertile couples? The obvious financial support for assisted reproductive health measures for one. Mental health support for those who cannot because parents if medical intervention fails. Finally, society supporting the idea that having children is something not everyone does. The absence of children is not a personal failure and should never be sold as such by anyone or any institution.

People don’t actually hate socialism, which is the foundation of what we call the social safety net. In Canada that is things like Employment Insurance, Canada Pension Plan, Medicare, provincial and federal disability benefits, the Child Care Benefit, GST and climate rebates, Daycare benefits, parental leave, and now the beginnings of dental-care. In the US, it includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal benefits for those with disabilities and their families. It is also federal funding for schools in various forms, and recently, a program to eliminate the crippling student debt problem that is hobbling their economy because adults have decades worth of loans they can never fully pay off.

Everyone likes it when the government benefits them in some way whether it is a big or small. The problem comes from that minority of people who like benefits for themselves but rage when people they don’t approve of also have access to those benefits. It’s never been about the benefits at all but about the universality of those benefits.

Wealthy people pay a pittance into the social safety net in practical terms. It’s barely noticeable to them at all. What they receive from it is pocket change, but they know how beneficial it is to others. How those benefits empower people. Free them in some ways. They don’t like that and would like to undermine it in any way they can.

An example of that close to my home, is the UCP govt in Alberta right now. The Premier has decided to try and pull people’s retirement savings out of the federal plan, CPP, and create a provincial system. She wants to do this so the govt will have access to people’s retirement savings. They want to use that money for investments in carbon based energy, a dumb idea for reasons that deserve another post on another day. Currently, CPP is fully funded and completely solvent for the next 70 years. It’s safe and important for most Albertans if they have any aspirations of retiring. The Alberta UCP government isn’t terribly interested in people being able to retire or creating a safe way for them to do it. They are wealthy and well-connected people. The people of Albertan are largely people who are not rich, not well-connected, and need a protected retirement program. They will be disadvantaged and that’s what people in the UCP want because it benefits them.

Socialism is the foundation of the safety nets in our society. Most people will benefit from them at some point in their lives. The tiny bit we pay in, comes back to us and then some. Rich people understand this. Everyone else needs to understand this so we quit helping the rich undermine and eliminate them.