Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Very Different Birthday

Today, our oldest daughter turns 3. There will be no party. No blowing out the candles. No gifts for her to open. We’ve been through this day before, so you’d think we’d know what to expect. But this year is different.

This year, we have her baby sister in our arms. There is no doubt that she has brought joy and light to our lives that we desperately needed.  You couldn’t find a child that is more wanted than Ellie – we certainly had to work hard and take unexpected paths to get her here. And we love her more than words can say.

But (you knew there would be a but), her arrival has raised some very complicated emotions. Ones that I’ve been struggling with since she arrived. And Vivienne’s birthday emphasizes them much more strongly.

I recognize that most of the people around us want us to be “fixed” and fully expect that having Ellie means that we are completely healed from Vivienne. After all, one child easily replaces another, right? When you have a living child, then have another, you don’t stop loving and parenting your oldest, and it’s the same even when the oldest isn’t here. I still grieve Vivienne even as I celebrate Ellie.

Every activity we do with Ellie brings me happiness. But with every activity, there is an undercurrent of sadness. When we took our first walk, gave the first bath, saw the first smile, did the first midnight feeding, our first thoughts are about how happy we are that she is here to do these things with. And our second thoughts are how sad we are that we never got to do any of these with Vivienne. It’s always there – the sadness behind the smile. And it will be there for every first and many seconds, thirds, fourths. . .

And this all leads to one big realization that I had after Ellie was born. If Vivienne had lived, she wouldn’t be here. I have 2 children, but there is no path I could have taken in this life to have them both with me. If Vivienne had lived, there would be no Ellie. And because Ellie lives, there is no Vivienne. I was given no choice for which child I would get to keep, which I suppose is a good thing. I love them both too much to choose which one to raise. But it breaks my heart to think that my life path has that fork in the road. My life took the road to Ellie, and Vivienne is on a different path. It’s a very complicated thought process to work through for a Mom. I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile this thought – I can only hope that one day, I’ll just accept it.

I was also so busy leading up to Vivienne’s birthday (a one month old requires a lot of time) that I didn’t give her the time that she deserves. I know all too well about this Mommy guilt, but you don’t know guilt until you feel like you’re choosing one of your children over the other.

Typically, the week build up to Vivienne’s birthday is an emotional time for me. This year, I didn’t feel it. Last night, I had the first inklings of “OK, here we are. Another birthday without her.” I was just sitting and watching TV and felt an emptiness. It’s a feeling I’m familiar with, and there is both a comfort and unease in it. And the tears finally showed up this morning as I fed Ellie her morning bottle. As I talked to her, I told her that today was her big sister’s birthday. And I just started to cry and couldn’t stop. Maybe I’d been holding in the tears and didn’t know it.

And so here we are again. Gifts for a 3 year old that go to charity instead of our daughter. Singing “Happy birthday” through tears and wondering who should blow out the candles. Wondering who she would be at 3 years old and what she would be like. But this year, we add Ellie to our traditions – telling her all about her big sister and guardian angel. And thinking about a life with a 3 year old and 1month old that can never be.