After learning that I was pregnant with Nelle, I created a “secret board” on Pinterest called Baby Girl. I added photos of nursery designs, parenting ninja moves I wanted to try “this time around,” baby gear I knew I would need – a wide assortment associated with the excitement of planning for a baby. Included in my collection were ideas for a first birthday party.
Theo’s first birthday party didn’t really have a theme. We went to my parents’ house in the coulee and invited family to watch him attempt to take first steps and smash a cake. By the time we were celebrating Quentin’s first birthday, I was more adept at party themes. His birthday happened to be while we were visiting my parents, who had by that time moved to Arizona, so I did a “sunshine” theme with mostly yellow food. Poor kiddo had an ear infection during his party but we still managed to smash a yellow cake, surrounded by family. Both parties were very low-key.
When Theo and Quentin were younger, I loved planning elaborate themed parties, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, and Pete the Cat. All of the food and decor would be carefully thought out to match the theme. We invited entire families of friends, so we were entertaining adults and other children alike. The parties were unstructured, with the kids running around the house playing while the adults sat (or stood, once we ran out of chairs) and ate food. The guests were always chosen by me – never the kids from day care or wherever they spent their days – but instead my friends and their children. Birthday parties represented more of an excuse to gather together the people we care about.
As they grew older, somehow we happened upon the idea to go to spend birthday parties at an indoor water park in Wisconsin Dells, rather than hosting a party. The parties had been increasingly high-volume, with kid guests becoming older, louder, and harder to contain in our house. Much as I enjoyed planning the parties, I was a bit relieved the first time Theo chose Great Wolf Lodge for his 6th birthday and I made a reservation for the overnight in September of 2015.
Nelle was stillborn on September 4th of that year.
I was even more intensely grateful that Theo’s birthday, a mere 16 days later, did not involve a party. I do not know how I would have survived the day, knowing that the adults would have wanted to know how I was doing and trying to split my focus between myself and making sure my son was having a good time. Instead, I could hide in the crowd of the water park, with no one noticing tears mixed in with the wetness of my face.
At some point when I logged back into Pinterest after losing Nelle, I deleted the secret board called Baby Girl. I do not remember exactly when this happened. It very well could have been while still in the hospital, in labor. Immediately, I wanted to remove all reminders that we were having a baby. I went through Facebook and deleted all of the content that referenced my pregnancy: the birth announcement in June, plus all of the benign posts complaining about aches and pains. All of the planning I had done, all of the normalcy around the pregnancy – I didn’t want it to exist anymore.
Autumn turns 11 months old today. I have to start thinking about her first birthday. I logged back into Pinterest for the first time in a long time. I found that there were far too many “suggested” Pins around babies and turned to Instagram instead for mindless photo scrolling. Logging in, I found a board called Baby Girl. It had only four pins. One of them was for a pair of tiny baby girl shoes that were called “Iris.” I must have created this board after learning of my pregnancy with Iris. With only four pins, it shows my reluctance to do any planning around that pregnancy; so little, in fact, that I had forgotten the board even existed and never gone back to delete it after losing her.
I began to consider the type of party we would have for Autumn’s first birthday. Would it be low-key, like her brothers – surrounded by a few people and a smash cake? Or would it be large, loud, and filled with the people who have supported us over the past few years?
After talking with Ger, we chose the latter. She is our last child to turn one year old, and we have waited so long to celebrate this moment. Perhaps her subsequent birthdays will be minimalist in nature, but for this first birthday we settled on a larger gathering. She benefits from an August birthday that will more than likely have beautiful weather to be in our backyard, versus her brothers’ late September and March birthdays, which are always weather-iffy.
Slowly, I began to plan. It was harder than I thought, not because I am out of practice in coming up with party ideas, but because I found that I didn’t want to think about her birthday. It was a reminder of the party ideas that had existed on my Baby Girl board before I deleted it. Wanting to have a large gathering was a reminder of why we wanted a large gathering – to celebrate this baby born after loss. Would I incorporate her sisters into Autumn’s party, or make it only about her?
Finally, I forced myself to sit down and think. Plan. Turning eleven months old today means it is merely a countdown now until her first birthday. Exponentially more than with the older two, I marveled at where the year has gone. Every month that passes adds more time to her life and makes the time since we lost her sisters more distant.