Amanda Park was 26 when she celebrated her first birthday.
Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, all birthdays, holidays and annual celebrations were ignored, as they’re thought to displease god.
So for a quarter of a century, Amanda’s birthday quietly passed by, just like every other day of the week. She had never torn through a pile of birthday presents, or made a wish while blowing out candles, so when her birthday rolled around after leaving the religion, a pretty big celebration was in order.
“A birthday was something I’d never had any experience with and it was so exciting to have a day to simply celebrate me,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
“Every other birthday I spent in the cult was pretty much like any other day.
“Some family and friends might have acknowledged that I was another year older, but anything beyond that was strictly prohibited. All my life I had convinced myself I didn’t care, but that was largely due to the fact that I didn’t know what I was missing out on.
“My parents always made an effort to give my sister and I gifts all year, so I brushed birthdays off as something unnecessary.”
Amanda remembers having doubts about her religion since childhood, but after marrying her husband Spencer Collins, she realised she wasn’t the only one suppressing those kinds of thoughts.
“We were taught to put aside doubts as they were due to human imperfection and temptation from Satan,” she explains.
“After I got married, my husband and I felt free to express our doubts openly with each other and in time they became extremely difficult to ignore. It was an extremely confusing time.”
Researching the many criticisms levelled against the religion – although strictly prohibited – quickly solidified Amanda’s doubts, and watching senior members being questioned at the Australian Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, pushed her and her husband into leaving for good.
By Amanda’s 25th birthday, she no longer identified herself as a Jehovah’s Witness, but she and her husband were still hiding this from their family and friends, so they marked the occasion quietly and in secret.
“He gave me a birthday card, a Kingdom Hearts mug since it’s my favourite video game, and we sat outside by a fire and ate candy,” she says, “It was perfect for what it needed to be.”
But a year later, and now estranged from their former lives and, sadly, many of their loved ones, it was time for a real birthday.
Having become captivated by the Poopsie Slime Surprise kids toys, Amanda decided to get in touch with her inner child with a unicorn theme for her inaugural birthday bash.
“I knew I wanted the classic stuff, like a birthday cake where I blew the candles out,” she says. “I wanted lots of candy. Basically, anything pink, cotton candy, and girly was right up my alley.”
“One of my husband’s co-workers gave him some unicorn decorations from her daughter’s own unicorn themed birthday party and it was just the right touch.
“Unicorns were a bad thing in the cult so it seemed appropriate that that’s what I would become for my birthday.”
There was also a costume competition, so Amanda and her guests went all out and dressed up for the occasion.
“I’m extremely happy with how the party went,” she reflects, “I didn’t fully know what to expect with it being my first birthday and all, so I was fine with just going along with whatever happened.”
“I think we created some great future birthday traditions, but mostly we all just laughed a lot and engaged in super silly antics together.
“Honestly the most important thing for me was just being together with loved ones and I couldn’t ask for much else.”
Next up is her husband Spencer’s birthday in March, and Amanda is “super excited” to celebrate his first birthday too.