My husband Jon tends to be a patient sort of guy, but a few days ago (after having gently raised the issue multiple times in the past month with no good response from me), he finally laid down the law and said that either I was going to get a 1st birthday party planned for Baby G – who will be one year old on June 27 – or he was gonna do it himself.
He knew that would get me started with party-planning to at least some degree because there are certain parts of household management and parenting with which I have the merest hint of a control-freak issue, and planning my kids’ birthday parties is one of them. I like doing it myself.
But see, that’s the weird thing here. Usually I really do **LIKE** planning my kids’ birthday parties, particularly big, milestone events like a first birthday. I enjoy making the guest list, and ordering special birthday cupcakes from our beloved Magpies Bakery. I obsess over what adorable photo of my child I should use to illustrate the birthday invites, and I give a lot of thought to finding and ordering the perfect gift.
Not this time, though. G is going to turn one year old in only a week, and I’ve barely done anything to plan a celebration for her. After Jon gave me the ultimatum, I did agree to a time/date (next Saturday), and I slapped together some virtual invites on Facebook yesterday. But I found myself inviting fewer people than I have to other birthday parties for my kids, and I haven’t even thought about a gift for her, or food for the party or anything like that. I’m just not finding myself motivated to do these things.
Realizing that I’d put this off til the last minute, and that I don’t really have any of the joy and enthusiasm for planning G’s first birthday party like I’ve had when doing it for each of her older siblings got me to thinking. What in the world was WRONG with me? So I sat with this question some over the past few days, and it didn’t take long before I was able to figure out the source of my reticence. It has to do with how the birth of my beautiful youngest child one year ago is still so mixed up in my heart, soul and mind with the death only three weeks before that of my beautiful eldest child, her big brother Henry.
The experience I had one year ago of painfully losing one child while preparing to give birth to another is something so cosmically NOT right that I still don’t really know how to describe what it was like to go through. When Henry died, I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to bond with my new baby, his soon-to-be-born youngest sibling whom he’d never gotten to meet. But my worries were totally unfounded. The moment I laid eyes on my gorgeous newborn daughter, I was absolutely enthralled with her. And I’ve felt that way every moment since. I absolutely ADORE this child, in a very special way.
But there’s just no way around the fact that she arrived only a few weeks after my firstborn died. I was absolutely reeling from my sweet boy’s death when his little sister was born (I am STILL reeling), and all those elements of grief and joy and loss and pain and hope and terror and life and death were just all tangled up in one another in first weeks right before and after G was born. And now, I am finding myself kind of scared that a celebration of her first birthday will just take me right back to how it all felt, and how at the time, I sometimes thought that I might be so overtaken by the emotional storm in which I found myself that I’d end up locked away somewhere for the rest of my life, rocking back and forth all day and night, and wailing out loud. Because at the time, that’s mostly all I felt capable of doing.
But here we all are one year later. I hurt just as much as I did at first. In some ways, the hurt is worse than it was then, because it’s more real and less fantastical than it was in the beginning. Henry is really, seriously, TOTALLY dead. I will never see him again. EVER. And I am frightened by how a first birthday celebration for G will drive that point home in a specific way. There’s just no way around the fact that my daughter’s first birthday will also be a pretty clear milestone for my son’s death.
Now before y’all start telling me how I am bound to screw my daughter up if I don’t get my head right with regard to all this stuff related to how her birth came so close on the heels of her brother’s death, please know that I am aware of this risk Every.Single.Day.
Yes, I am talking to smart people who are helping me work through all of this. Yes, I realize that G has a right to be celebrated as the amazing, unique, beloved individual that she is, even in the wake of her big brother’s death. But unless you’ve walked in my shoes – having lost a child and given birth to another in short order – I hope you won’t judge me for being as honest as I’ve been in this blog post about the emotional challenges I am dealing with with in planning a first birthday party for my baby girl.
But one way or another, we will have one – a lovely birthday party for my lovely youngest child. And I will cry tears of joy and pain as she dives into those cupcakes face first – crying because I’ll be reveling in the unfolding potential of the beautiful little girl before me, even as I simultaneously recall the joyful first birthday celebration I once planned for an equally beloved and beautiful little boy – a boy who was my first love as a mother, and who is now lost to me forever.
READ MORE OF KATIE’S BLOGGING