Monday, April 7, 2014

Bracing for a Pending Birthday

Ethan's birthday is a week from today. While I don't know how I'm going to handle it I can no more avoid it than I could his pending birth 24 years ago.

For my entire life April 14th has had meaning -- it's also my mother's birthday. While she has said she wants no observance of the day for the anniversary of her birth, I don't think I can ignore the day completely. I can't pretend Ethan never happened and that the day doesn't hold meaning for me.

I also don't go for the first birthday in heaven idea. I'm pretty sure this earthly observance would have no meaning once such things as age, time, life and death are just abstract concepts.

Those who have walked this path before me have told me holidays and anniversaries, times we mark here in this life as meaningful are hard. Those will be the times we come together as a family and feel the absence of Ethan like a jigsaw puzzle carefully put together, except for that missing piece that we've somehow lost despite all our care and work. Those will be the dates ultimately inscribed on a grave marker, the parenthesis around an earthly life when our souls are bound by a fragile shell.

Twenty-four years ago I was big as a house and full of life. Today I feel withered and at times empty, not of just the baby I carried, but my own spirit as well. People were insistent that I was having twins and I had no ultrasound to prove them different. Now my daughter is an only child, not remembering a lonely childhood, but looking at a future where she will be the one alone to care for me should I age less than gracefully.

I remember the anticipation 24 years ago, as the due date approached, my eagerness to meet the unknown life I'd carried inside of me for nine months, the little person who'd been barely an uncomfortable bump when we huddled by the wood stove after Hurricane Hugo had blown through in September, sleeping on the floor in the unseasonable chill. I remember how much better the winter pregnancy had been than the summer one leading up to my daughter's birth. I remember those last few weeks out of work because of complications after my daughter's birth, waiting for labor to begin and not knowing exactly what to expect this time around.

This week is much the same, although instead of anticipation there is more of a sense of dread. Instead of some unknown date bringing life, I know that next Monday will dawn marking what should have been the anniversary of a birth, but instead will just be a day of memories and regrets.

I don't think his sister and I can ignore it, but right now I'm not sure how we'll recognize it either. It's just a part of this year of firsts that we have to get through somehow and perhaps, in doing so, find a way to get through these days as they roll around in the years to come.

At the same time, I don't want to burden the day before it arrives and give a date on the calendar too much power. So this week I'm treading cautiously around the past and the future, trying to carefully touch my memories of birthdays past in the hopes that they don't all come hurling at me next Monday and knock me flat with the reality of untasted birthday cake and candles never burning.

Perhaps instead I'll find some completion in this time as I realize that Ethan once again lives in my body and in my heart as he did 24 years ago, before pulled forth in a tangle of umbilical cord and smacked by doctors into a life that he ultimately could not handle. Here, within me, he's still as safe and loved as he was 24 years ago, but this time I never have to let him go as long as there is breath in my body.


  1. I'm still learning how to handle these types of dates myself Angela, and this year will be the fourth birthday since she passed away. Just like all holidays or important dates, I do try to stay in the moment as best that I can so I am not spending too much time dwelling on it ahead of time. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  2. I think staying in the moment will be my approach in the future, or at least trying to do that. Having a goal is better than stumbling through.