Monday, June 1, 2015

Birthday Blues

Today is my birthday. I turned 34 years old, and it seems every website I ever registered for has remembered the day judging by the sheer number of emails that have been filling my inbox since last week. I think I could paper my walls with all the various coupons I've received, and each one so far has been helping me count down the days until today. I have dreaded today all week, finding myself heartsick as the day loomed closer on my calendar. This is a year of firsts without Mom, and every first is a milestone to get through.

Birthdays were something we were more casual about when I was growing up. We tended to forgo parties and big gestures. We did have our own way of celebrating, though. My sister and I would be excused from doing chores on our birthdays, and Mom would make us whatever we wanted for dinner (my choice was always hot dogs, mac and cheese, and pumpkin pie instead of cake). One of Mom's birthday traditions for me specifically revolved around her extremely long labor when giving birth to me. When I was a kid, she'd knock on my bedroom door throughout the morning and call out "Still in labor!" up until the hour of my birth. When I grew up and moved out, I'd get a morning call from her. "STILL IN LABOR!" she'd cheerfully yell down the phone as soon as I answered. This was the first year without my morning call, without that reminder of just how much of a pain in the ass I was even from the beginning

Her pregnancy with me was a difficult one, requiring bedrest due to a near miscarriage. She hadn't yet been diagnosed with the autoimmune illness and it was causing complications that no one could figure out. She had difficulty gaining weight (at seven months pregnant she'd gained only a single pound) and then towards the end of it she kept going into false labor and was sent home from the hospital more than once. The final time, she told the doctors "I am not leaving this hospital without a baby, so you'd better be sure I have her this time." By the time I was finally born, she was two weeks past her due date in start of a hot Florida summer.

The labor itself was long and difficult and painful. Mom had both my sister and me without the benefit of drugs. From what she told me, by the end of it she regretted that choice. I had to be turned and removed with the aid of forceps after hours of seemingly fruitless labor. There are pictures of me and my mother shortly after birth, where I am an ugly red-faced thing with a misshapen head and dents on either temple from the forceps, and she is absolutely exhausted looking. I had to wear a little rubber cap for the first few weeks to help round my head back out. After I was finally born and cleaned up and put in the nursery, my grandparents brought my sister to the hospital. She was only 3 years old, and she thought that she got to pick which baby they would take home from the ones in the nursery, like picking a piece of fruit at the grocery store. She wanted to take home the black baby with a headful of hair, and cried with disappointment when she was told that no, the one with the rubber cap and the weird head was her sister.

I was just as difficult as a baby as I was during birth. I screamed constantly and for no reason, refusing to be soothed or settled. I was lactose intolerant and had to be fed soy and rice milk and my mother went through more than one doctor trying to find out what was wrong. One doctor accused her of "sneaking chocolate", claiming that was the reason why I screamed and was sick after she tried to breastfeed me. Even after they figured it out, I still carried on wailing as though I was in pain, but no one could find the cause for it. My Mom always said that if I had been born first, there would not have been a second baby.

I like to think that I made up for it when I got older. It was as though my sister and I traded places as we grew up. Shannon had been the easy labor, the easy baby, the easy child. By the time we were teenagers I was the quiet one and she was the difficult one, the one who snuck out to meet boys while I only stayed up late to read books.

Mother's day was hard this year, but for some reason today is harder. I've never really been big into birthdays. As a kid (and an adult) I enjoyed the cake and gifts, but a birthday has really mainly just been another day. They have always passed quietly and without much fanfare. Today just plain hurts, though. I suppose it's because the person who was the center of my life for so long is gone. I wouldn't exist without her, after all, and today is the 34th year I have existed in this world and my very first one without her as a part of it.

Grief has been a long road to walk, and I've not yet reached the end. I'm still walking it every day.

I guess you could say that like her, I'm still in labor.