She wanted a Honey I Shrunk the Kids birthday party.
I made giant decorations. Baked the cake. Prepped and planned. The weather was beautiful; an early April day perfect for kiddie pools and bathing suits. I was 29 weeks pregnant.
After the party my best friend and I went for a night out to unwind and relax. It wasn’t a perfect day, but it was at least perfect-adjacent.
Then I went to the bathroom.
I didn’t think we would be at the hospital for long. I thought the bleeding was an angry cervix and that I’d get a slap on the wrist for overdoing it. So on the night of my daughter’s fifth birthday party we told her we were going to run an errand as we left her with our neighbor and drove to the ER.
That was April 11th, and other than one short discharge I didn’t come home again until May 2nd. Rowan, born on April 28th, didn’t come home until June 7th.
I can’t tell the the story of Lorelei’s fifth birthday without telling the story of Rowan’s birth. I can’t plan her 6th birthday without planning Rowan’s first.
I don’t know how to do this.
Every time I pull up Pinterest or Oriental Trading I hear my heartbeat in my ears. The air feels thinner. I distract myself with something else. Anything else. How do I face this birthday when all I will be able to think about is the last? How do I plan a first birthday for a baby who should not yet be one? A toddler who will be nowhere near toddling.
This feels like yet another addition to the list of things I’ve lost. I know that sounds dramatic — to grieve the loss of a party. But this is supposed to be my time. Forget for a minute that it’s for the kids, because this party is as much for me as for them. I hibernate all winter long and reappear with all the regularity of the groundhog, ready to avoid my shadow and usher in Spring with a celebration. When we left for the hospital to await Lorelei’s arrival the Azaleas were dormant, but by the time we came home three days later they had bloomed to welcome her to the world. I was Demeter, I had my daughter, and the earth circled back around to life.
Last year the circle was broken — smashed to bits by abruptions and Preeclampsia. It was melted down and forged into something new. I love parallels and neat circles. The cyclical nature of anniversaries has a ton of room to play. I love the order of it, the way it fits together in a clean package. The taming of chaos.
But there is nothing neat or clean about this. This parallel was not supposed to exist. Lorelei and Rowan are not meant to share a birthday month. It is not okay that we will be celebrating Rowan’s first birthday on the anniversary of Lorelei’s fifth — the day it all changed.
So, I’m having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around it. I keep thinking about last year’s me, blissfully unaware of what was about to go down; completely clueless that everything was about to crash around me. This year me is having a bit of trouble focusing on the party because I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I keep remembering blood and needles and tiny tiny babies. I keep remembering the fear, the exhaustion, the doctors.
I should be remembering cake and presents, but I have no real recollection of most of that, as obscured as it has all become by what came next. I was looking at a picture of that party, wondering when exactly I cleaned up our yard. Then it hit me — I didn’t clean up. I didn’t come home for a long time. It was a great day completely overshadowed by the night.
I want to enjoy this party. But it feels so wrong. Celebrating his birth is easy, but celebrating it in April is hard. I’m trying to take some pressure off with a little less of a fancy to-do than previous years, but it’s not really about that. It’s about the weeks I wasn’t with Lorelei, the months of panic and fear, the miniscule footprints and ng tubes. And it all comes back to this party.
The best day. The worst day. The same day. And now we do it again. Somehow.