Thursday, July 21, 2005

Birthdays Worth Celebrating

My husband and I both grew up in families that eschewed (like that word?) birthday celebrations for quasi-religious reasons: bad things happen on birthdays (think John the Baptist's head on a platter), expecting birthday presents breeds selfishness, Jesus Christ told us to remember his death not his birth, yadda, yadda, yadda. We were not allowed to go to other birthday parties either.

It was all nonsense, really. Having severely premature children revealed this ridiculous point-of-view for pure pessimism. My twins were born weighing 810 and 850 grams--about the size you see in that picture. One child died a couple weeks after birth and the other survived and spent many uncuddled weeks and many pain-filled surgeries and many harsh days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before coming home on a cocktail of medication, an apnea monitor and oxygen with pulse-ox.

One child made it and now has more siblings and we celebrate. Because of the dates of the birthdays, we celebrate most of the summer between birthdays and anniversaries and of course, July 4th!

Life is a gift. People talk theoretically, saying, "I would never want to live like that" when they hear about difficult life circumstances. It is the rare person who doesn't struggle to their last dying breath and that was certainly the case in the NICU. Every child fought to live and had an amazing capacity to endure pain. They wanted to live.

I wanted my kids to live. Bargains with God were made. Prayers never ceased. Hope was clung to. In the end, my thought was: every moment is a blessing. I'm so glad I had even just days with my one child. (Because some ask, "would it have been better not to have the child at all?" No, it would not have been better.)

Alfred Tennyson's poem: In Memorium: 21, 1850 says it best:
I hold it true, whate'er befall,
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.

It almost seems thankless to ignore birthdays since every moment is filled with possibility and wonder. We have so many choices before us, and nothing puts life in stark contrast like dying.

With my husband having already dealt with cancer, friends who have survived and died from it in their 20s and 30s, a friend who recently simply dropped dead at the ripe old age of 35 of some freak virus and too many clients for my comfort who died and left 4 children behind, I view birthdays as the one day a year set aside for gratitude, humility, life assessment and happiness.

Presents are great, too. Link
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