A child’s birthday is full of happy, joyous moments. As parents, we relish in watching our child burst with excitement. We shower them with toys and love. The day is a celebration of the birth of our child. It’s a time to remember that precious moment and to overflow with pride at how much our child has grown. The day means celebration, sugar-highs, and pure joy.
Yet for me, as my daughter’s first birthday was approaching, I felt none of this. Everyone around me was full of excitement and on some sort of cloud of bliss. Whatever feelings of happiness I had were overshadowed by a looming sense of dread and fear. For weeks I couldn’t figure out what was going on. All I could feel was confusion and a sense of failure at not feeling what was “expected” of me.
Then somehow it hit me ~ I was feeling anxious because my daughter’s birthday also was the anniversary of the onset of my PostPartum Depression. In my case, I felt the effects of my Perinatal Mood Disorder from the moment I went into labor with her. The next year of her life was a blur for me, emotionally speaking. Then it comes time for her birthday, and instead of elation, I feel anxious and uneasy. It was one of the most confusing times in my life. It felt as if I was about to go into labor all over again. Memories flooded me as my mind replayed many of the difficulties I experienced. All of this while I was also trying to truly enjoy this precious moment in my daughter’s life. Equal parts joy and trauma.
Anniversaries are powerful moments in our lives. The word is often attached to the joyous occasions most of us experience in our culture, like wedding anniversaries. Yet there are plenty of other, more challenging anniversaries that many people experience, yet often do not acknowledge to the outside world. The anniversary of the death of a loved one. The anniversary of being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The anniversary of September 11, 2001. Many people have clear, visceral reactions to the approaching day. In my Social Work practice, I’ve worked with many people who struggle the most the same time each year as an anniversary approaches. We often work to better prepare them for the moment. They have come to realize that they will be consumed with many conflicting and potent emotions during this time. We work together to prepare them and help them get through this time in the most positive way possible.
I have come to fully appreciate and respect the power of all anniversaries on us as human beings. If any one of us experiences a life-changing moment – whether positive or negative – we never forget that moment. We may learn ways to resume living our lives, yet when that same date comes around the next calendar year, it’s almost a guarantee that our emotions will get stirred up all over again. To not fully acknowledge this process will only cause greater distress and confusion. This is exactly what was going on for me.
Our daughter’s first birthday party was small and intimate – just a few close family members and Mia’s first taste of pure sugar. It was a sweet day. We were mindful to keep it simple and to focus on all the positives, while helping to ease my tension and anxiety. As we toasted her first year, I also toasted my family for helping me get through. It was my way of acknowledging both her birthday and my anniversary.
This process gets easier for me each year, yet it is still such a difficult contrast for me to accept. Being a mom can be so wonderful and so confusing. We have beautiful children, yet we may also be struggling with our emotions and the adjustment. Our children’s birthdays are a clear indication and reminder of this. All the intense emotions all wrapped up and jumbled together.
Acknowledging this anniversary is so powerful for me. I have more practice now that we’ve had four of her birthdays. Now, not only do I plan for her party, I also begin arming myself with extra self-care strategies. I’m able to face the anniversary and all the feelings that accompany it. I am certain to care for myself even more so that I am better able to focus on Mia and her birthday. In doing so, we can give her the crazy, silly, sugar-filled celebration that she wants … and I’m right there with her, celebrating the day of her birth.