Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bittersweet Birthdays

I've heard it so much recently - celebrating preemie birthdays are hard.

Before a casual observer who happens to come across this post gets bent out of shape, wondering how in the world a preemie parent could have a tough time celebrating LIFE, let me explain.

The birth of Jack was horrific. It was the worst day of my life. I almost died. Jack was certain to die. I have blogged and blogged and blogged some more about that very day. So many things happened in that 24 hour period that changed the trajectory of my life. We heard devastating things like "not viable". We had to make very quick life and death decisions. The doctors had to knowingly take Jack from my body, even though we were told he couldn't survive. The darkness of that day still haunts me. And I've heard it haunts many of you, too.

Jack's first birthday was pretty somber and every bit bittersweet. We chose to be alone on that day, to not celebrate beyond just our little family of 3. The mix of emotions that day was palpable. We were on our first family vacation and wanted to cocoon ourselves.  It was almost like we were experiencing the NICU roller coaster all over again. Extreme elation and joy at how far Jack had come. And also bone crushing sadness for the memories that haunted and all the what ifs playing out in slow motion.

We didn't have a big 1st birthday party until a couple months later. We had to remove ourselves from Jack's birth date. I'm so glad we did this. For me, more time has always equaled healing. More time to work through the post traumatic stress of the early days of Jacks life. More time to gain new perspective on all the blessings we have.

Jack was so happy for his birthday party. It was perfect.










Jack's 2nd birthday, we were gearing up for a big trip to Seattle Children's Hospital for a tube weaning clinic, so we chose to have a small party with just Cheeks and Grams. I still remember having the bittersweet feelings on that day, but it was muted somehow. Or maybe I was distracted by our trip.










As Jack gets older, and the tragic day of his birth gets further and further behind us, I am gaining new perspective. Yes, I still struggle with the daily stress and rigors of prematurity. I struggle with the fact that Jack has cerebral palsy and doesn't act like a typically developing child his age. But... BUT, things are so much better. The bittersweet is turning into just plain sweet. A very fragrant sweetness that cannot rightly be explained with words in a blog post.

This year, we are celebrating Jack's birthday a few days early with a big ol' proper party. We are celebrating because he is alive and because his life has changed ours for the better. We are celebrating him, his sweet spirit, happy giggles, and smile that lights up the room. We are celebrating all the incredible, intricate work that went into saving his life. We are celebrating all the prayers lifted up for our boy from his cheering section across the world. We will celebrate the sweetness of his birth.

"You have turned my mourning into dancing..." Psalms 30:11
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20 comments:

Julie said...

I have some tears in my eyes with this post, especially the verse. We'll be dancing with you on Jack's birthday this year!

catchupdaphne.com said...

I totally agree. The first couple of birthdays are HARD. We are still going through healing from the trauma, and there's some guilt over the early birth too. In our case, Daphne's birth and her twin sister's death were on the same day. This year, her third birthday, was the first time I was able to celebrate and throw her a party. What helped was the fact that she understood it was her birthday and eagerly anticipated celebrating with friends.

Angie said...

This really hits home, the trios 1st bday is getting closer and closer (may 17) and i keep changing my mind about a party because I am so uncertain of what I will feel like. It helps to know that it gets a little easier with time, yay for the big party!

Rebekah said...

Can't help but let the tears fall reading the post and feeling your mommy heart. We can't wait to celebrate with you.

Anonymous said...

Hi!,I do not know where to begin..all I can say ,I had gone to similar situation.( My son too was extreme premature born at 1lb 4.ounces name Isaac Noah my miracle child from God!)~and every time its near his birthday,I relive the horiffic memory of that time still haunts me esp.that day.Its could be also still some PTSD, But all I can say it does get a bit easier with time...
P.S I really enjoy your writting and your inspirational story,if I was a better writer,I too would looove to write my own story.

KristalN said...

Happy Birthday Jack and this post brought tears to my eyes......we are approaching our daughter, Harper's first birthday and with it brings a flood of emotions of the past year and all that is ahead of us. Knowing there are many that have traveled ahead of you helps. Thanks for sharing....everything.

KristalN said...

just saw that jack is a may baby...will be celebrating with you in May.

~♥~ Mr. and Mrs. Bouchard ~♥~ said...

Happy Birthday Jack! We just celebrated our daughter Isabella's 1st birthday 5 days ago (she was born at 24 wks at 1 lb 6 oz). It was very hard for me, and I cried most of the day. I was a mixture of happy and sad. I am happy to hear that you are healing!!

ClaraW said...

My daughter's first birthday was really difficult for me as well. We did have a party, and I'm glad we did, but I definitely spent some time in tears before hand. I wanted to share an idea from a family I know though. Their twins were born at 25 weeks and the little boy passed away the same day. The little girl was born with a syndrome and has significant disabilities that go with it, as well as a major brain bleed from her prematurity. She isn't developing "typically", but for her birthday her parents wanted to focus on all of the things she had accomplished in her first year instead of all the things she wasn't yet doing. So they had balloons and on each one was written something that she had accomplished or overcome that the doctors had told the family she may not do when she was born. Her mom said it was a huge success! It kept the conversation very positive and helped them to dodge a lot of the questions that usually come up along the lines of "Is she doing this?" "When will she do that?" and "Will she ever...?" I thought that was such an excellent idea and have to share it with anyone I know who might be able to use it!

Jessi said...

ClaraW - I LOVE that idea!!

Anonymous said...

Your blog is truly a blessing. I completely relate to your last paragraph. Our kids did not have a first birthday and we are not sure if they will get a second birthday party. They had 2 years of RSV shots and our daughter was on oxygen through the time kids normally would get a break to go places. Unfortunately the doctors were pretty strict and said no public stores etc for the 2 years. No one quite understands what this is like. However those who have had similar journeys do. Your blog always hits home with me and its comforting to know some one gets it. Sadly we have had to endure such a journey but on the other hand we have learned so much and our kids are such miracles and blessings. Your blog is such a blessing. Thank you for sharing and reaching out to other families and moms who have similar journey's

Marcie said...

Love this post. We are one week away from Veronica's first birthday and I am already starting to get emotional. Glad you have experienced some healing over past few years.

Keren said...

Happy Birthday Jack!

I just wanted to say that this post summed up how I felt on my twins 1st birthday a few weeks ago. I wasn't really able to explain my what I was feeling very well so my friends and family didn't really understand why I was so emotional in the weeks leading up to the big day. Thank you for sharing this story.

Leila said...

Thank you for this post. My boys were born at 24 weeks, on Christmas Day. Our Ewan passed away at 75 days old. Liam has been thriving since his homecoming from the NICU. I did what I thought was right at the time, and celebrated Liam's first birthday this Christmas Day. I still cannot bear to look at the photos. How do you celebrate a day that lead to the death of a child? Yet, how do you not celebrate the life of a son who has survived so much and brought so much joy? I have considered hosting a party to celebrate his homecoming day, it's this Friday, but I cannot bring myself to do it. Thank you for giving me hope that it wil get easier with time...

Jessi said...

I feel like I've left out a very important aspect of this whole topic. Although I can't speak to this from my personal experience, my heart aches to hear of those with twins having to simultaneously celebrate a birthday, while remembering a death. This is the true essence of bittersweet. It's something I can't really speak to, but I want to acknowledge how beyond incredibly difficult that must be.

babEblessings said...

We just celebrated my preemie's first birthday in January and it was the hardest day other than his birth. I love reading your journey and knowing that it gets better.

blessings!! and tell Jack this Jac says hi!

Jac E
momma to babE Gray
www.babeblessings.com

Leila said...

Thank you, Jessi! The essence of bittersweet is as personal, yet universal, as our shared experiences.

Nik, Lindsay and Pierce Franks said...

Perfect post Jessi! PS- Jack had SO much hair at one! Cutie.

Brandi said...

Great post Jessi. I have been having the same feelings thinking of Landon's first birthday. Unless you are a mother of a preemie it is hard to understand that the day of his birth was not something to celebrate. We were devastated the day he was taken from my body and forced to survive apart from me. On the day he was born people were saying congratulations and they were 'happy' while my world was crashing down. It is hard to understand unless you are the mother and father --- for us, a window of opportunity into further understanding and empathy. I am anticipating Landon's first birthday to be a day full all sorts of emotion. All those old feelings of terror, I am sure, will come rushing back.

Anonymous said...

I just read and appreciated your post, found through a google search. My 27 week preemie just celebrated his 5th birthday as a healthy, normally developing, spectacular boy so I was surprised to find myself still feeling bittersweet sadness and PTS type feelings on his birthday. And then guilty for even having those feelings pop up, given how blessed we've been with our son's development and health. It does get easier through the years for sure, but I'm amazed to realize that, even secure now in the knowledge of positive outcome, the trauma of that birth day and all that was lost at that moment is still there under the surface. Like everyone here has expressed, the knowledge that others with similar experiences can understand is comforting. I look to these stories online, as my own husband is one who sees only the bright side—a wonderful healthy approach, yes, but can be frustrating as he's never really shown me support for the traumatic aspects of our experience. Sometimes I think that's why I hold onto them and that if I could have fully processed that all appropriately with him, I wouldn't look back with such sadness. Yes, our birth, infant and toddlerhood were affected deeply by his prematurity but as I said, we're now as lucky as could be. I wish for all the rest of you the best possible outcome with your own precious children. They are all truly miracles. And I, too, want to say how sorry I am for those of you having to mark the day with a joyous celebration of life while remembering the loss of your angels as well. I can only imagine that and wish you all peace and happiness.