Nelle was stillborn on September 4th. A mere 16 days later was Theo’s sixth birthday.
It is a painful contradiction to find your own child’s baby photos difficult to look at, but I spent that year quickly looking away from images of his tiny newborn cheeks, fingers, and toes. All I could see in those pictures of the first few days of my son’s life were the reminders that I would never have any pictures of Nelle. That overjoyed look on my face in those photos – the induction into motherhood – seemed like a completely parallel and disparate experience from where I sat after my baby girl had died.By a stroke of good fortune, we had not planned a birthday party for Theo that year. I had previously enjoyed throwing parties for my kiddos. Once a theme was selected, I would scour Pinterest and find ideas for decorations and food to match. Welcome signs, birthday banners, cupcakes, and party favors would all revolve around whatever creativity I could muster. Guests were plenty and laughter was wide, with the birthday child’s eyes lit up on his special day.
It was not lost on me that had a party been planned for Theo, that I would need to trudge through that entire day. Avoiding the looks and “how are you”s from the guests. Or cancel the party altogether and deal with a devastated six year old on top of the grief. But luckily, we went to Great Wolf Lodge waterpark for his birthday. I could hide my sadness and tears as another face in the crowd of families trying to enjoy their weekend.
Six months later. Thirty-three days after Iris was born still on February 13th, we had to repeat the entire sequence with Quentin’s fourth birthday in March. Again, no party planned. Again, a trip to the waterpark, where I had fully intended on being pregnant during the trip but instead bore only the weight of recent pregnancy and the bleeding from recently having given birth.
Ever since, we have done waterpark birthdays. Until this year. Autumn was born in August. Theo chose a bowling party for his birthday – easy, with only one other family invited. Quentin wanted a party at home so that he could invite more friends.
As I went through the exercise to plan his party, the way that I used to two-and-a-half years ago, I was reminded of how grateful I had been to avoid the parties. How birthdays rolled around and I didn’t feel like celebrating. How much it hurt to see their baby photos.
This year I studied the photos taken in the hospital right after Quentin was born. The same hospital where Nelle, Iris, and Autumn were born. The same doctor who delivered Nelle and Autumn. How going into labor that night brought no concerns that the baby would not be born safely. How I was glad that Quentin was born after midnight, so that he did not share his birthday with St. Patrick’s Day, much like I was glad that Iris was born the day before Valentine’s Day instead of on it. How the next time I would feel contractions was when I was in labor with Nelle.
So Quentin’s party was a mixture of “getting back to a place that existed before” and “this can never be the same as it once was.”