On Birthdays and What My Son Has Taught Me

My son is 6 today…and while I don’t think anyone is out there thinking ‘please write about your kid’ at the same time, his birthday brings up complex emotions and thoughts in me. Maybe you can relate.

When you’re a kid, every birthday is a big deal. You’re one year older and one year closer to doing really cool stuff. Maybe you get to stay up later, or maybe you get to finally ride a roller coaster because you’re tall enough. Birthdays are exciting. First, they’re all about you. Secondly you get cake and presents. What’s better than that?

Then you get older, and older, and older and birthdays lose a little of their shine. For me, a birthday is really important. It’s a chance for your loved ones and family to acknowledge you, to let you know that you’ve made an impact on their life. And it’s why it hurts so deeply when you’re forgotten on your birthday. It feels sort of like you’re not important or don’t matter.

I’ve had 37 birthdays and they’re still fun…but the ones I look forward to now aren’t my own, but my kids.

My kids’ birthdays are now a reminder to me of what a gift they are. It makes me think of when they were born and how.

Six years ago, Louis came into the world. Anyone who’s gone through giving birth (and this includes dads because you’re right along in the delivery room) knows that it is deeply traumatic, painful, and then hopefully filled with joy. So, I guess the whole process of entering the world is a little bit like life itself.

At age 30 (and after witnessing 9/11 and then moving home) I no longer wanted to be a writer. I mean, I wanted to write, but it seemed to me that living just for my art had cut me off from a whole range of experience. And after September 11th, I was more certain than ever that what I wanted most out of life was not to be famous for my words: I wanted a family. I never thought it would happen for me. I’d fallen in love with men who would not or could not love me back and I thought, at 30, that I was losing out. I was certain that it was too late.

Then I met P., my now ex, and I have to say that no matter what happened later with our relationship, at the beginning, we both wanted exactly the same thing: and that was to have a family. And I am so grateful for that because now I have two wonderful children, and they have a great dad.

So I was pregnant and it was awful. I hated it. I threw up five to six times a day. I had gestational diabetes and had to check my blood sugar seven times a day. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. And I wanted desperately not to be pregnant anymore. Finally, November 23, 2004 rolled around and I was in labor. It was five in the morning. I made P a pot of coffee and let him sleep in. Later, I woke him and then my mom.

P. ended up heading into work. He had a huge conference he had to take twenty students to. My mom drove me to the hospital and brought supplies. She filled a black garbage bag with rolls of paper towel, a two liter of pop, and about twenty aromatherapy oils. She threw in a CD player (but no cd’s). Then we were in the waiting room and as I tried to ride out the pain she tried to do reiki on me. “Mom! Not now!” I cried. And then “I love you , Mom , but I really can’t handle all this junk in here. Can you please take it out.”

Mom looked at the garbage bag and then we both started laughing. “I don’t know why I brought all this,” she said. “You want some paper towel?”

Later P. joined us, leaving the conference. And then it was just me and P and then the delivery room.

I won’t go into all the details here. It was intense. The baby was pressing on some nerve and I felt like my legs were literally burning. I’ve never experienced that pain before. I was certain they were encased in flames. They gave me the shot in the back, but it didn’t help. And then, I was pushing and the doctors were counting. In between contractions, P and the doctor talked about the East GR Football team. I was actually relieved because it meant I didn’t have to contribute to the conversation. (I honestly thought that. I’m always trying to be a good hostess.)

Then Louis entered the world, not with a scream, but with utter silence.

I have never known such fear as those few moments. It might have been a few seconds, but it felt like a lifetime, or worse, the end of a life.

The cord was wrapped around his neck, and tightly. He wasn’t breathing. The laid-back atmosphere quickly changed to one of urgency. I couldn’t see what they were doing, but that doctor swooped over to Louis and worked on him and then finally, finally, Louis cried. He cried! Then I cried. Then P. cried. It was beautiful.

I don’t remember much after that. I remember later when I held little Louis I thought “Oh, god. What do I do now?” I wanted him so badly and then when I held him I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel that mother-love they say happens. What I felt was absolutely terrified. What made me think I could be a mom? What did I have to offer?

Louis has taught me a lot of things in these six years. He’s taught me patience, he’s taught me kindness, he’s taught me to believe that good things happen. He also taught me that love isn’t something that happens instantly, even between a mother and child. It’s something that grows through experiences, through shared pain and laughter, through panic and tears. P changed Louis’s first diapers because I was terrified. But slowly, slowly, I grew to have confidence in being not just a mother, but Louis’s mother.

And later when Simone was born I realized that love wasn’t finite. That I could love infinitely. And that there are two little people in this world who can do anything and that my love for them will not break, it just gets stronger every day.

Yes, I know there’s an element of cheese to this, but if you’re a parent, you know what I mean. Shoot, if you’ve ever loved anyone, you know what I mean.

A birthday is a time when we acknowledge that love…and greater still that someone is a gift to our lives. Today, I celebrate my son, who I never believed I would be lucky enough to have and then…because maybe miracles do happen…I did.