I remember the last “good” birthday. I was turning 23, the weather was gorgeously sunny, and my husband was home to spend the day with me as it was a Saturday. And perhaps the best part – my belly was perfectly round with our soon-to-be-born first baby. The weather could not have been better, so we packed a picnic lunch and headed to a park opposite the beach to make the most of the sunshine, something my knees would regret later, as I somehow missed applying sunscreen on them!
As we started our lunch, I looked across the park and saw the local babywearing group start to gather. They were holding a meet, so there were lots of parents with little babies, all trying out different types of carriers. I was very keen to wear my baby, so I watched from a distance, eagerly anticipating being able to join their meets in just three short months. After our picnic, and a relaxing afternoon by the water, we met up with some friends to have dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant.
The day finished with us all walking back to the beach for some delicious ice-cream, as it would have seemed wrong not to have some ice-cream on such a gloriously sunny day! It really was the best day, and I just knew that the next birthday was going to be even better.
Except that it wasn’t.
Three months after that perfect day that was my 23rd birthday, our girl was stillborn. And I knew from that moment, birthdays would never be the same.
Instead of taking our nine-month-old to the beach with us, I went to visit her grave. Instead of enjoying some sunshine with her, I grieved the fact that she never saw or felt the sunshine on her skin. The lead up to the first birthday without her was horrible. I dreaded every single moment of the day – from waking up, to blowing out candles, to eating cake and falling asleep… another day without her. I really didn’t want to face it!
There was one good thing about the day – instead of giving gifts, I asked my friends and family to donate to Heartfelt (an organization similar to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep) in order to raise money for a camera kit. These cameras are given to hospitals around Australia, to use when a family is experiencing a loss. Imagine my surprise when people donated enough money to fund three kits! Knowing that Ariella’s short life was making a positive impact in the world put the only smile on my face that first birthday without her.
This month was my fifth birthday without her. And for the first time, some joy returned. I’m not sure whether it was the fact some more time has passed so I am used to spending important days without her, or that we now have three living children. Most likely, I think it was a combination of both. I didn’t feel the same dread in the lead up to the day, and nor did I feel like a dark cloud was hovering all day. I felt able to celebrate with my family and friends, and what a sense of freedom that bought. I actually wanted to wake up in the morning, I enjoyed the cake my family made me, and I went to sleep with a smile on my face.
For the first birthday since she died, I was able to look back on the one, perfect birthday I had with her, and smile.