Preemie Birthday Blues

I’ve written about how preemie birthdays are tricky here and here and here and here! And that’s probably not even the extent of it.

I used to think after the big First Birthday, preemie birthdays would get better. And they have. But, the Dark Days are still like skeletons in the closet or ghosts lurking in the room: I don’t want to acknowledge them, but they’re present no matter what I say or do. I can’t change what happened, and I can’t change that it haunts me, even though the passage of time gives me so many good memories to outweigh the bad.

On a preemie Facebook page, I once saw a mother ask if anyone else had felt sad leading up to a preemie’s birthday, and it was like someone unleashed a dam. A torrent of women rushed forward with their experiences, saying they thought no one else understood. They felt guilty for their feelings, as if they could force their way toward happiness for a day that should, in theory, be a joyous one.

And then there were the naysayers, those women who must take some satisfaction out of digging their heel into people already down: “I realize the blessing my child is, so I choose to celebrate the day.” “I could have lost my baby, so of course I enjoy his birthday!” AND, my favorite, “According to the Bible, you can’t question the will of God and be truly grateful at the same time. I am grateful for my daughter, so I don’t dwell on how she got here.”

I won’t get into a religious debate, but I have a totally different take on it. I don’t think that sadness and gratefulness are mutually exclusive. Besides, we’re discussing feelings here. Someone can’t help how she feels. You can choose what you do with your feelings, but you can’t erase a feeling just because you don’t like it. That’s terrible advice! And acting superior to someone, especially in the Preemie/Special Needs community, because you aren’t troubled by something that troubles others is problematic anyway. I kind of think it makes you a self-important, unsympathetic, a-hole, truth be known.

I’ve also noticed a difference between preemies born before 32 weeks and after. Here’s where I get on my soap box about how all preemies aren’t created equally. Some preemies skate out of the NICU in a few hours or days or weeks. Those parents are probably–but not always–less traumatized than say the families with babies hospitalized for months. So, I always want to congratulate those moms who say “I had a 34-weeker, and I’m fine with her birthday.” Good for you, but I’m not at all okay with either of my babies’ birth stories, thank-you-very-much.

So, now that I’m approaching my 4th birthday post-NICU with my first 2.5-lb baby, I can say this: It does get a little easier, but I’m still counting down the days. I’m still thinking about the girl I was four years ago. I’m thinking of that day and how it all went down. I’m remembering things said and things unsaid, things done and undone. It’s all there, just as fresh as yesterday.

The biggest difference between J’s first birthday and now? I don’t feel the need to apologize for my feelings. Birthdays are hard for me, for all the reasons I’ve said, and maybe they’ll always be hard for me. As the kids grow, I’ll celebrate with the best of them. We’ll have parties and we’ll laugh and we’ll eat cake. But, I’ll never forget where I was on that day and what happened. After all, I am my children’s mother. Even if no one else feels the pain of their early months, surely I do, and I’m entitled to it.

I accept the Preemie Birthday Blues for what it is: the anniversary of the beginning of a very difficult time, which also happened to coincide with the miracle of my baby’s birth.

M’s Homecoming Day Party

I wasn’t sure how M’s Homecoming Day party would turn out. We invited about 20 family members, and in the days before the party, fewer and fewer people said they could come. We ended up with so few people that I told my mom and my mother-in-law that I hated that they had put so much effort into a party just for us. But, as it turned out, I am so glad we threw M a party. The time with family was wonderful. M was delightful and put on a show for us, dancing in her high chair and smacking her cake to bits. She loved being the center of attention (probably not for the first or the last time!). As I watched her giggle and glow, I was so happy. A bystander who didn’t know our story would never know M wasn’t always the picture of health. And there she was, so full of life, so precious.

Next year, I intend for us to begin celebrating M’s birthday at her actual birthday in January, and I’m sure we’ll do something small to mark Homecoming Day. But, my advice for anyone on the fence about acknowledging a Preemie First Birthday or Homecoming Day is to do it! Though our gathering was small, it was full of joy, and it was the perfect way to mark M’s first year with us.

My mom made the lemon cake.

And my mother-in-law made all the decorations.

The theme was sunshine, and it turned out so lovely!

Look at that twinkle. She is definitely trouble.

Homecoming Day!

From this barely 5-lb baby

and this little love

to this big girl in just one year!

Let Her Eat Cake

Today, I’m over at Preemie Babies 101 with a post about Homecoming Day and celebrating first birthdays.

Let Her Eat Cake: First Birthdays for Preemies

Homecoming Day

J was supposed to be born in October, a wonderful month to celebrate birthdays. Changing leaves. Cool, crisp air. Carving pumpkins and anticipating the coming holidays. What is not to love about October?

M was supposed to be born in March, another great birthday month. Where we live, it’s the beginning of spring. The greenest of green leaves. The excitement of gardening. Everything fresh and new. And plenty of cool weather.

I always secretly felt sorry for kids with July birthdays (like my mom). And I wondered who has babies at Christmas?

I do.

(This is a lesson in judging others. Don’t do it, even if they are just thoughts in your own head.)

J was born in the depths of a hot, humid summer. He won’t have class parties. His friends will be on vacation. He’ll have pool parties every year, because it’s far too hot to do anything else.

M was born just 8 days after Christmas. I’m sure she’s destined for joint Christmas presents. Poor thing. Who wants to party at the end of the holidays? Her birthday hits just after people have recommitted themselves to exercise and diets, to changing their lives, to getting back on whatever bandwagon they fell off of the year before. On M’s birthday, people go back to work after the fun of celebrating the holidays. I am sure she’ll feel overlooked.

Birthdays for preemies are hard days for their parents. I’ve decided they will always be bittersweet because I’ll always return to that black hole when I thought I’d lose them. I can’t help it. What I can help is that I make the day fun for them, that I keep my dark thoughts to myself. I don’t want to spoil their day.

A day that is full of joy for me is the day we brought our babies home. We waited 91 days with Jay. 91. And with M, it was 59, which comes to an even 150 days. We traveled more than an hour roundtrip through downtown traffic more than 150 times just to see our baby. More than 150 times, we walked out the hospital doors without our baby. For more than 150 days, my husband tried to balance a demanding job with the stress of having his baby in a hospital. For more than 150 days, my job was to watch over our hospitalized baby. And I still stressed over everything I missed when I had to go home.

Can I put words to the feeling of walking out of the hospital with our babies? With J, it was such a long-time coming, so hard-fought, the pinnacle of an arduous mountain climb. With M, it was so hurried, a rush in the dark of night, such an exciting surprise.

Nope, that’s the best I can do. All the words I know do nothing to touch the rush of emotions I felt actually pulling away from the hospital with our babies.

So, for me Homecoming Day is lovely. I see it in the faces of people who don’t have NICU babies. They don’t really understand what it means to me. It is untarnished by fear. It is a lovely day to celebrate all that is good about having babies. It is a true celebration, not just of the beginning of a life but of the resilience of a little body who defeated the odds.

Our Homecoming Days fall in October and March. Great months to celebrate. It’s just that in my initial planning, I got the celebration wrong. I thought we’d have birthdays then, and I had never heard of Homecoming Day.

Homecoming Day will be our own special family tradition. I’ve decided it’s another way to honor my kids, another way for us to celebrate all that is wonderful about preemies. When there is so much darkness surrounding their birth stories, I want them to see the light too.

And it begins with M in March.