Sharing a birthday with my mom is 'like our own holiday' — that's tricky to navigate

A painting of Kailyn and her mother
(Affen Segun Ojo / For The Times)

My mom didn't plan to spend her 21st birthday in a Las Vegas hospital giving birth to me. She did all she could to avoid it.

Her initial due date had been two weeks prior to her big day, but after doing everything from going on a long, bumpy drive in my grandfather’s truck to pacing back and forth inside of a shopping mall to trigger her labor, I wasn't budging.

When her doctor asked what day she preferred to be induced into labor, she told him any day but her birthday. “I would have wanted to have a drink or something,” she recently told me.

She and her doctor settled on Sept. 7, but as many birth stories go, her labor didn’t go as planned. Nearly 24 hours and a caesarean section later, I was finally born on the dawn of Sept. 8, the same day as my mother.

Kailyn Brown as a baby being held by her mother.
Kailyn Brown as a baby being held by her mother.

I can understand why my mom, who's an only child, wanted to have Sept. 8 all to herself. Birthdays are the one time of year when your loved ones likely come together to celebrate you and when you can get a bunch of free stuff — like a birthday dessert at your favorite restaurant — simply because you were born on that day. Even for people who don’t care about celebrating and say things like, "It’s just another day," birthdays still hold significance because they represent another year of life gone by.

However, what happens when you have to start sharing your one special day with not just anyone but your only child?

I’ve heard stories about people having the same birthday as a romantic partner, a grandparent, a father or, of course, their twin. However, there’s just something unique about sharing your born day with the person who brought you into this world. I like to think of it as a higher power winking at us and saying, "Now, you two will be bonded forever" — as Beyoncé’s “Virgo’s Groove” plays in the background. We even have matching gold infinity rings to symbolize the number 8 and our eternal bond.

Since that momentous day in 1994, it’s become a tradition for my mom and me to spend our birthdays together. It's an unspoken rule of sorts. Even after she and my dad separated when I was 6 and they began rotating which holidays they’d each spend with me, it was expected that I'd be with my mom on Sept. 8. It’s kind of like our own holiday.

Kailyn Brown as a baby and her mother.
Kailyn Brown as a baby and her mother.

Despite our 21-year age difference, celebrating our birthdays together was easy for many years because my mom always made the day about me. She’d spend weeks planning spectacular parties for me. One year she transformed our backyard into a carnival, and another year I had a sleepover with a group of friends at a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. But she did hardly anything for herself. Also, it was rare for people who attended my parties, aside from our family, to wish my mom happy birthday as well.

As time went on, my mom began making jokes, which were rooted in truth, that she didn't have a birthday. “I was happy people acknowledged your birthday because it's like, 'OK, well, she's getting all this love and attention. She’s happy,'” my mom recently told me. She was being a selfless parent who only cared about my happiness on that day.

My mom is what some would consider a social introvert. She’s the type to brag about my accomplishments to a store clerk in a checkout line and make anyone I introduce to her feel like they’ve known her for years. For the most part, though, she prefers to stay to herself. She's also highly driven and works a lot. She hasn’t had a birthday party since she was a child, and if you asked her, she'd tell you that she doesn’t want one.

Also, she claims to be an easy gift receiver, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. She doesn’t enjoy the smell of fresh flowers, and if she casually mentions something that she likes, such as a handbag, she’s quick to buy it for herself. For this reason, my grandmother and I typically give her money to avoid getting her something that she already owns or doesn't want.

Read more: 14 gift ideas that can make Mother’s Day feel like more than a once-a-year occurrence

As I've gotten older, celebrating my birthday with my mom has gotten trickier.

The first time I broke our tradition was on my 22nd birthday. It was a Friday, and I had a jam-packed day: a hair appointment in the morning, an interview with singer Ravyn Lenae for my radio show in the afternoon and a SZA concert in the evening. (Lenae was opening for SZA's Ctrl the Tour.) I planned to hang out with my mom before the concert for our birthday. However, my interview was delayed, and I didn't have time to go home beforehand. By the time I left the venue, it was after midnight.

"We didn’t get to spend our birthday together today," my mom texted me just as I was about to drive home.

My mom never explicitly told me that we had to celebrate our birthdays together. Nor did she shun me after I broke our tradition that year. However, I felt conflicted in that moment — and somewhat guilty. On one hand, I was ecstatic about scoring a last-minute ticket to see one of my favorite singers live on my birthday, but on the other hand, it felt odd not being with my mom that day.

The following year, I was living nearly 300 miles away from my mom, so she and my grandma drove here to spend the day with me. They brought the same dessert I’ve been getting since I was a toddler: a vanilla cake infused with Bavarian cream and fresh strawberries, topped with whipped cream frosting from Albertsons. (My mom doesn't like my birthday dessert, but she doesn't have a signature cake.)

Kailyn Brown's 26th birthday cake with candles.
Kailyn Brown's 26th birthday cake with candles.

When I asked why they didn’t just order the cake from a local store, my mom had an answer. She didn’t want to risk not getting it in time.

We sang "Happy Birthday," and my mom and I exchanged gifts — she usually gives me everyday necessities and cash — which basically means that we end up giving each other our money back. (It's a gifting habit that annoys us both.) Then she helped me get ready for a brunch I was having with friends. Although I invited her, she declined, saying she wanted to beat the traffic back to Las Vegas and for me to enjoy my friends.

This time I felt sad. I wanted to spend more time with her and for her to meet my new friends. I worried that she didn't come because she felt like she'd be intruding.

For the next few birthdays, I started driving to Las Vegas to be with her even if it was just for the day. One year, I drove there for the weekend before our birthday but came back on the actual day during the week so I could attend one of my favorite parties, Everyday People, with my friends.

Although it took more effort, we had successfully figured out how to handle the distance between us. Then I got into my first serious relationship.

So instead of going to my hometown, I stayed in L.A. to celebrate my birthday with my boyfriend at the time. I didn't think it would bother my mom because she was also in a relationship with someone who lives in another part of the country.

I didn't realize it then, but she was still hoping that we'd spend the day together. She teased me about caring only about my then-boyfriend.

I don’t have children, but I’ve seen enough TV shows to know that some parents go through a grieving process when their child hits new milestones: the first day of kindergarten, when they go off to college and eventually when they start forming their own life separate from their parents. Although it’s a part of life, it’s understandable why a parent could feel happy and sad about these objectively positive moments. Their baby is growing up. My mom appeared to be grieving the fact that we weren't going to be able to celebrate our birthdays together in the way we'd done all these years.

“You’ll have all kinds of dates that you’re going to share with other people,” she recently told me. “When you get married, you’ll have an anniversary. When you have a kid, you’ll have their birthday. So for me, my monumental moment is our birthday. So when we’re together, it’s like, 'Oh, that's the best gift in the world.'

“Even if I can’t stand you on that day or we make each other mad on that day, it’s still like, ‘Wow, this is our day to spend together,’” she said jokingly.

My mom and I never discussed our expectations around celebrating our birthdays until I started writing this story, but it's made me realize how important this day is to her. This epiphany has inspired me to think about our shared birth date differently.

Read more: 8 mothers bare their bodies, forever changed after giving birth

This year, my mom will turn 50, a monumental age that can represent a second life or rebirth. My mom isn't particularly excited about it, but she says that she’s grateful to be alive and healthy. After all of the dazzling birthday parties she's thrown me and the times that she's gone out of her way to make me feel special, I want to do the same for her — not only for her 50th but for every birthday after that.

She doesn't want a party, so I'm planning to take her to Miami per her request. It'll be our first trip together — just the two of us — and I'm hoping that I'll be able to give her the 21st birthday turn-up experience that she wasn't able to have because she was giving birth to me. (I spent my 21st birthday dancing with friends until the wee hours at Drai's Beachclub & Nightclub in Las Vegas.)

In the future, there likely will be other birthdays when my mom and I won't be together for whatever reason. I've accepted the fact that as our lives and interests continue to evolve, our tradition will have to do the same — and that's OK. I'm confident that we'll be able to make it work because we always do.

But most important, I want my mom to feel like she has a birthday again. I don't want Sept. 8 to be centered around me anymore. My mom has already sacrificed so much for me over the years and she deserves to feel celebrated on her special day.

I can't make up for her last 28 birthdays, but one thing's for sure, I won't allow her to feel anything but cherished on each birthday moving forward. That's my new tradition.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.