Today is Aleck’s 6th birthday. Even typing it feels really strange. It’s not like we didn’t know the date was coming; it’s been circled on our calendar, multiple birthday celebrations have been planned with family and friends, yet as I sung “happy birthday” when I woke him up it all felt very surreal, like 6 years somehow crept up on us when we weren’t looking.
The other week we had one of Aleck’s buddies and his mom over for a day before the big day celebration for his friend’s birthday. His mom retold the story of the day his friend was born, going into labor, pushing for 15 hours, then the hospital using forceps to deliver her beautiful baby boy. She told the story with such flair for the drama, so much love pouring out of every pore, down to the moment when she looked down at her new baby boy and realized how much she loved him in the few short days he was alive. Aleck was captivated. He hung on every detail of this story, wanting more and more. When he’d extracted every last morsel of his friend’s birthday story he turned to me and asked me to tell the story of the day he was born.
Well friends, I’m sure you know by now that the story of the day Aleck was born wasn’t a happy day for us. But before I had time to think of how I could spin this I started telling him about his big day anyway. How I was on the computer retouching pictures from the Groupon promotion I had run while he was pregnant, you know, back when Groupon was cool. I had sold out 300 portrait sessions and had 6 months to shoot as many as I could. So I was on the computer working on a friend’s family who had a son named Ezra, when Craig had to grab me by the elbow and escort me out the door to go have Aleck. He was breached so he was a schedule C section right after Yom Kippur and we were terrified. They took him out at 37 weeks, as soon as they could, since our loss prior to Aleck was at 34 weeks. I brought a stack of cds and thank you notes I was going to write while in the hospital, you know, with all the downtime I would have.
I told Aleck about the epidural, and about getting cut open, and how my brother in law and my sister were the first to arrive at the hospital. But then I stopped short as I remembered what the staff said when they pulled him out of me, “his arms are short.” Such a simple phrase that echoed inside of me like an earthquake right under my feet. So I skipped over a lot of that part and told him about how I was convinced his name was Ezra, and how as we tried to feed and burp him in the NICU we were so surprised by how he could already hold his head up and clearly didn’t want us supporting his neck. We knew we were no longer in charge.
I also skipped over the parade of doctors entering our room with somber faces and half-baked jokes as they spelled out, “Arthrogryposis” over and over again. Every single doctor in the practice came to visit us in the hospital, with the senior partner telling us how in 25 years she’d never heard of his condition. This condition that came with the prognosis that your baby isn’t going to walk or move their arms. I especially skipped over the part where the first doctor showed up at 8 am the next morning, with his Wall Street Journal under one arm and his Starbucks in his hand to be the first person to deliver the bad news. Craig had run to McDonald’s for some breakfast and I was alone in the room. I remember asking him if he’d seen my baby, and how could he make this diagnosis without seeing my baby. I definitely skipped the part where I broke down, all alone in my hospital room calling my mom and telling her, “you have to come to the hospital, there is something wrong with my baby.”
And as I sat at the table trying to tell this story and make it full of the warmth and love that his friend got for his birthday story I realized that it was time to cut it short. After all, it was just the beginning of our journey, it doesn’t even come close to expressing how important he is to us or how much we love him. It was a dark beginning to a life that is really full of light and love.
We were reading a story together the other night that talked about this boring world where everyone was happy all the time. Aleck was confused; why is it a boring world if everyone is happy? I explained to him that you really can’t have happy without sad, you can’t have light without dark, it’s those opposing realities that make the good times more enjoyable, that make life truly worth all the effort. So even though my Facebook feed wants to remind me about the terror that was Aleck’s first birthday; getting his spica cast off while screaming in pain, checking into the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to discover that we would be sharing a room with a 17 year old girl who had been hit by a drunk driver and could only move her thumb, and culminating in take-out at the RIC with my parents and my aunt while coaxing Aleck to eat frosting off his first cupcake only to have him vomit it all over me while trying to get him down for bed.
On Aleck’s birthday, I always feel exhausted, my nerves are raw with emotion, and my heart aches. I’m reliving those days in the hospital, trying to figure out this ridiculous harness they tried to teach us to put on him in his first days of life, how I cried when the woman from Baby Bella came in the room to take his picture, and how I tried so hard to plaster a brave smile all over me as the brand new mom is supposed to wear proudly. I was terrified. I wasn’t in love. I was heartbroken. I was robbed of the healthy baby that was supposed to be delivered in the same place where I delivered my baby girl without her heartbeat. It was supposed to be my turn for puppy dogs and rainbows, and ringing throughout my room I was going to blast, “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine, because this was supposed to be our happy day to overtake all the dark days we had just survived.
Now, just about every other day except today is our happy day. Random days where we go to the park just because the sun is still out. Lazy days where we cuddle on the couch or watch Aleck cheer on our favorite characters as we introduce him to our favorite movies. Any day where we get to watch him interact with new people, trying to teach babies how to talk or console his classmates when they fall down. Watching him spread his own magic to anyone who will listen or interact with him is a great day, it just isn’t October 10th.