When Her Birthday Is the Anniversary of My Trauma

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I go all out for birthdays. Well, I have three kids so you can have a “party” at age 1, 5, 10(or 11 if we are on a Harry Potter kick, which I hope we are) 13, 16, and 18. This is how my Pinterest-loving self survives the parties. The first birthday, that’s always been for me and my husband- ‘Yay! We survived!’ In five days, my last and final baby turns one, and I haven’t made a plan or thought about this one. I’ve blamed it on Covid, weather, I even thought about pretending to be sick. Seriously. That’s a gut-wrenching admission for a mom who truly loves to celebrate her children. The problem is that her birth means that in four days it will have been a year since I stood up in my kitchen and had a placental abruption at barely 35 weeks pregnant. 

When she asks me someday to tell her about how she was when she was born and when I held her, and if we cuddled just like I tell her big brothers, it will be a different story. Three teams in the room monitoring me and two for just her. She stopped breathing while she was being delivered. There was no big cry to tell me she was ok before being whisked away to the NICU team. Within a matter of minutes, my baby, husband, and all three teams had left. It was just me in a room alone with my nurse. What followed was a 23 day stay in the NICU, a myriad of health complications, and the worst roller coaster ride I’ve ever been on. I was discharged two days later and expected to leave her there. I stayed all day and then I had to get in the car with an empty car seat and leave her behind. The first ten days were spent sitting beside her isolette, pumping every hour and familiarizing myself with the NICU slang. There was constant beeping from all the machines saving these tiny miracles. The last 13 I was finally able to “room-in,” and between pumping and feeding, I was sleeping maybe an hour at a time. I was exhausted, alone (COVID), scared, separated from my family, and it felt like it would never end. 

So I’m writing this to admit something. It is ok to grieve your child’s birthday when it means reliving your trauma. It is ok for it to be so hard you wish you could just sleep through it. I imagine that as time moves on, this feeling won’t be quite so severe. This one, this ONE YEAR one, I’m calling a redo. She doesn’t know what day her birthday is, she’s never had cake, and for the last year, all the doctors remind me that her adjusted age is what matters, so I figure I have another month of cushion. I can’t do it. I know the memories will pop up on my phone, and I will be instantly transported back to a fear that is nearly inexplicable. I think moms “pull on their big girl pants” more than any other person on the planet. Have I negated my feelings and experiences for the betterment of my children? Absolutely. Self-sacrifice seems to go hand-in-hand with motherhood, but if I have learned one thing over the last year, it is this: Ignoring my pain, downplaying my experiences, and trying to just get through it… It isn’t right. It’s not for me. It’s also not what I want my children to see me doing. My daughter and I have made it. Through a whole year of some of life’s biggest challenges. Happy Birthday to Us.

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