When Birthdays Aren’t So Happy

14 Oct

No1 turned 4 this week.  Among the bittersweet celebration of her newest number floated tiny flashbacks.  Bit and pieces of the horror kept snapping me out of my happiness.  The 37-week induction for no reason, the 12 hours she spent in ICU because of fluid in her lungs, the second-degree cervical laceration, and the feeling of complete disconnect with my new baby girl.  One of my most vivid memories of the day she was born is being wheeled into the ICU and realizing I had absolutely no idea which baby was mine.

Four years ago, early in October, I lost who I knew myself to be.  It may be the anniversary of my baby’s birth, but it’s also the anniversary of the onset of my PPD.

Past birthdays haven’t been so hard.  But my birth experience with No2 was so beautiful and peaceful and my bond so deep and immediate, that the anger over how bad round one was has resurfaced.  It’s almost as if comparing experiences has highlighted how horrid the first one was.  I realize it’s water under the bridge. . . that I have an amazing little girl who knows that she is loved and feels it ever day with me.  Maybe it shouldn’t matter how I gave birth to her, but it does.  Those early days were filled with emotional and physical trauma, both of which I suppose I’m still healing from.

Today, we celebrated with a party.  A house full of preschool friends, yellow “happy car convertible” decorations, a Matchbox car race, crafts, and treats.  It was joyful and a celebration of everything No1 is in this moment.  She had an incredible time.  Incredible.  I’m choosing to focus on that.  Choosing to live in the present.

But in these quiet moments when my heart reaches back to the past and aches for what might have been, or regrets all the time lost to denial and naiveté , I am trying to be kind to myself.  I’m staying up late to play video games with my husband, imagining Velma’s face on each villain and alien creature.  I’m taking long showers, freshening up the pink in my hair, and wearing my favorite makeup.  I’m sleeping in on the weekends and going to bed early to listen to podcasts I know will send me off to dreamland.  I’m sipping my coffee slowly and microwaving it as many times as it takes to finish the whole cup hot.  I’m soaking in each “I love you,” from my now-four-year-old.

It’s okay to celebrate her four astounding years on this earth and grieve for the joyful birth and postpartum experiences I was deprived of.  And spooning chocolate frosting straight from the can into my face?  Sure has helped with both.

14 Responses to “When Birthdays Aren’t So Happy”

  1. Leelah October 15, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    I’m so glad u are able to live the happy moments. I know it’s hard. I go through it every year also. I think we all do. But the fact that u are able to stay in the moment and be happy with ur little girl is the best thing. And self care is so wonderful, I may take a cue from you and try a lil more care. Love you mama

  2. Melissa October 15, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    This is the most beautiful post I’ve read in ages…from anyone. Yes, it is okay to grieve a loss and celebrate a milestone all in the same exhale. I am so glad the party was awesome.

  3. Kimberly M (@momgosomething) October 15, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    It helps me to remind myself that this is a moment of survival. Look back at how far you’ve come from that point. Yes, it is a painful memory. Yes grieve it. Grieve what you lost, but then smile, pat yourself on the back and say “Shit got real and I kicked it’s ass.” And you always will xoxo

  4. katstone1 October 15, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    I completely get the concept that the great experience you have with number 2, while awesome, reminds you of how bad the experience with number 1 was. Same here. Beautiful post.

  5. erinisabel October 15, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve had, and still do at times, have the same feelings of grief and regret about my son’s birth. His birthday will always be tainted with the trauma of the way he came into this world. It really is so easy to get down on ourselves for things so out of our control and we should be more forgiving. Take care of yourself and know that we are all in this together:)

  6. Sierra October 15, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. ♥

  7. Mirjam October 15, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    My little one turning 3 last May was bittersweet. I celebrated, and at the same time I was grieving. I grieved and let the sad out but hugged and kissed my big birthday girl. My heart was sad and my heart rejoiced, because I was still here. Big hug to you and your birthday girl. (p.s. if you want to read what I wrote about it just let me know and I’ll send you the link. No pressure.)

    • learnedhappiness October 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

      I would love to read it! And I love what you said – rejoice in still being here. Absolutely.

  8. Melissa Latch October 15, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    I so understand this. I still struggle with the sad memories of my first labor and wish I could do it all over again with what I know now. It was a pretty hospital and nurses were all nice enough. But All these silly questions flood my thoughts: I often wonder if I would have developed what I later realized was ppd if they wouldn’t have induced me, if it didn’t come so hard and fast and ruin my beautiful picture of what it was going to be, if they would have let the cord stop pulsing before they cut it maybe she would have slept those first long nights when sleep was no where in sight, maybe she would have been less “high need”… All in the past but somehow still feels like yesterday. I am going to follow your lead in taking it easy. I don’t know if do that enough.

    • learnedhappiness October 15, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

      I hear you. I play “what if” in my head all the time. But I did the best I could with the information I had at the time. That’s what I repeat to myself. And because I knew better, I did better with No2. But still…it’s hard.

  9. Margaret (@mammacockatoo) October 16, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    Yes. Absolutely it’s okay to grieve and celebrate (even the same things) at the same time. We have the capacity to have all sorts of emotions all at once, and it doesn’t take anything away from any of them. But you know that.

    I’m so glad that you were able to change things the second time around. Hugs.

  10. Bridget October 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Thank you for posting this. I can completely relate. My daughter’s 1st birthday is in a couple of weeks, and when I think of her birth I begin to cry. I am so blessed to have my wonderful, funny and special baby girl and can’t wait to celebrate her – but I also think of her birth and it hurts. It was nothing like I had thought it would be, and certainly not like I planned.

    I was induced (fluid levels were just ever so slightly low, a 4.9 rather than a 5) and had a very long labor (I was in the hospital for 1.5 days before she was born), 2 hours of pushing and was on several different IV medications. My daughter was taken away to the NICU (we both had a fever during delivery) and kept there for a week. I never had the wonderful, mushy, full-of-love thoughts or feelings when I held her the first time. I was exhausted and scared and had no idea what would happen with her. It was the one of the hardest days of my life.

    • learnedhappiness October 20, 2012 at 10:22 am #

      It’s so hard when birth shatters our expectations, isn’t it? Devastating. Your experience sounds so familiar – so frightening. I still feel so sad and regretful over No1’s birth. And frankly, I thought by 4 years, it wouldn’t still affect me so much. But giving birth is a huge life transition – I think it’s natural for it to affect us like it does. ((hugs))


  1. Depression and Anxiety Resources | Learned Happiness - November 17, 2013

    […] for Strong Start Day 2012 in which I admit to intrusive thoughts about falling down the stairs. When Birthdays Aren’t So Happy – Dealing with the joy of my oldest daughter’s 4th birthday and the trauma of the […]

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