A Birth-day Story: Reflections of Joy and Grief
A few weeks ago my baby turned one. Her birthday was very hard for me. Not because “she’s growing up too fast!”—I mean, that is true— but it was hard because on a day that I wanted to celebrate my baby with joy and gratitude, I felt nearly paralyzed with grief and sadness.
I have always loved celebrating birthdays. I think of them as a celebration of one’s existing in the world, of being unique and special and deserving of a day to be acknowledged. This is still true for me, however, since becoming a mother, a “birthday” now takes on a whole new meaning to me, and one I found tricky to navigate. On the one hand, a birth-day is so awesome because it is the very day that someone is born into the world, and while a baby being born into the world is a wonderfully amazing thing, what if it doesn’t actually feel that way at the time? What if the birth of a baby is scary, traumatic, sad, and possibly a life-threatening experience? It was for me. I didn’t realize, until experiencing it for myself, how difficult that entrance into the world can be, and how complicated that can make celebrating your baby’s birthday.
To be honest, the day of my daughter’s birth was one of the worst days of my life, and that is very hard to admit. It was scary. I feared for my baby’s life and my own. Maya was born by an emergency c-section 3 weeks before her due date. It all happened too quickly to process and I was in shock most of day. I didn’t bond with her right away. When I think about that day, I remember the fear and anger I felt. I remember the sadness. I remember thinking that I did not want her (yet) and I felt angry and annoyed that she was born. And I especially remember the guilt I felt to be feeling those aforementioned feelings. To revisit that experience is incredibly painful. I can’t yet do it without tearing up.
Given that Maya’s birth was such a traumatic experience and knowing what I know about myself and my sensitive soul, I tried to prepare myself emotionally for her birthday. I had numerous conversations with others leading up to her birthday, reflecting upon her birth and what it means to revisit that specific date. I had many really good cries. I talked to Maya about that day. I explained what happened. I expressed my sorrow, my regret. I felt present with my grief. And I thought I was ready.
But when the date of her birth arrived, all I wanted to do was cry. I was overcome with such immense and heavy grief that at times I felt it difficult to breathe. It felt as though the emotional experience of her birth was so deeply locked into the cells of my body, there was no escaping it. Instead of trying to turn away from my grief, I stayed with it. I sobbed, a lot. I took a long nap. I read. I snuggled my husband and my baby. I ate comforting food. I drank lots of coffee. I cried some more. To stay with my grief and honor my sadness was to acknowledge that what I was feeling is okay, that my emotions are real, they are normal, that they make sense and are important.
I was not the mother that I had imagined I’d be on the day of Maya’s birth, but I am able to find peace in the belief that I did the best I could given my circumstances. And that belief regularly redirects me toward self-compassion. The thing is this: having a baby is hard. Debatably, it is one of the hardest things a woman can do. And being a mother is hard. For as much joy and gratitude I feel being Maya’s mom, I understand that sadness and grief are equally a part of the deal. Her birthday taught me this and it has greatly influenced who I am as a mother. For that, I am grateful.