Happy Un-Birthday To You


Remember when you were 15 and thought your life would be totally figured out by your 30s?

Birthdays are typically thought of as joyous days, as days of celebration. Birthdays tend to hold a lot of expectations, both for us internally and for all of the people who send us their well wishes. Every time someone sends a text and says, “I hope you have an amazing day!” or when someone asks if there is something “fun” planned, we feel the weight of birthday expectations.


a happy birthday banner

For some, birthdays are enjoyable; they are a day of connection, relaxation, and lightheartedness. For some, birthdays come with a lot of packaging, traumatic or uncomfortable feelings, and desires for things to feel differently. For some, birthdays remind us of the past when things didn’t get to be about us, even on our so-called special day. For some, birthdays are lonely, or depressing, or disappointing.

My birthdays in my 30s look very different from the birthdays of my childhood.

Absolutely nobody celebrated my birthday more than my mom did. Goodness, I thought I was the most embarrassed child on the planet. Before the age of cell phones in every pocket and technology at our fingertips, my mom would call me the minute I was born. 2:10 pm, on the dot, conveniently in the middle of a school day. A school secretary would come into the classroom and say, “Rita, your mom is on the line. She says Happy Birthday!” Giggles all around me. Naturally, I’d sink into my seat like the dramatic teenager I was. But that was the thing about my mom – my birthday was as exciting for her as it was for me. She’d plan parties with my closest friends, get the family together, find my favorite cakes, find the perfect present. She would even thank me for being born and making her a mom.

The first year I didn’t get that birthday phone call, it was like my world had crumbled around me. Something seemingly so little that I spent a lifetime taking for granted … I can’t even begin to describe the crippling depression that came over me knowing it was gone forever. My mom died from cancer when I was 22 years old, and for some time, my birthdays died with her. The magic was gone.

I forgot how to celebrate myself. It was strange and sad to be celebrating without the woman who gave me the gift of life. It was even stranger to conceptualize that every year I would get older, while she would forever be cemented in time, 46 years young. With each year that passed, I would get closer to her in age, and go into a panic spiral and wonder what I was doing with my life.

Remember when I said, “remember thinking your life would be totally figured out?” 

Then we get to that age and boyyyy does the view look different. Mine sure as heck did.

I’ve spent a few years navigating the happy birthdays, the disappointing birthdays, the sadness overwhelming my body birthdays, and the everything in between birthdays. Now I find that birthdays bring reflection for me; they provide me with an opportunity to connect with my younger self. I have found the meaning of my birthday shifts from year to year; I have found that connection has become more meaningful, that my sadness deserves to be honored, that while it is “your day,” to not let the expectations of others dictate how I feel.

I can let the well-wishes wash over me and still feel my pain. I can be honored and celebrated and still mourn. I can laugh a deep, honest, full-belly laugh and still let the tears fall from my face. I can be all of me, because it is safe to be fully myself.

a box of Sour Patch Kids resting on a cookie cake that says, “Happy Birthday, Rita” in pink icing
Happy birthday little Ritachka. This one’s for you.