Friday, 23 July 2010

I Was Not There

A year ago today, my babies were born. I was not there.

I've known this for a while, of course, and I shouldn't be so surprised. After all, I think I would remember, if I had been in the room when it happened. I think I would remember, if I had seen them emerge, red and screaming. I think I would remember, if I knew what happened next, who said what, who laughed, who cried. I think I would remember.

But this morning, J carried the babies into our room, as he always does in the morning. We sang happy birthday while they drank their bottles and they just blinked, milky and uncomprehending. I stroked baby L's face and said Babies! You are ONE! Today is the day that you were born! A year ago, you were inside your birthmummy's tummy and then today you were BORN! And then --

And I realise, too late, that I didn't have an ending to the sentence. And of course I already knew that, but now it really hits me. I can't really tell this story, because I was not there. And now it feels like those words are following me around. Washing the dishes - I was not there. Cooking their lunch - I was not there. Opening their presents - I was not there.

I feel like a fraud, on this happy day. What do I have to do with their birthday? It has nothing to do with me. Why am I accepting people's congratulations? I was not there. I was half a world away, typing numbers into a spreadsheet or vacuuming the floor or -- okay, almost certainly not vacuuming the floor. But in my family, birthdays were a time of shared memories. My mother had a horrific pregnancy with me that very, very nearly miscarried (early labour at about 21 weeks) so my birthday dinner always started with a stirring little speech from my Dad about how I nearly died, and how glad they were that I didn't die, and how nice it was that I was still around. I pretended to be embarrassed but I loved it. But we can't tell any of those stories, or stories about rushing to hospital, because I was not there. And of course, I know that there's another, much harder, side to this. I missed out on that, but their first mother is missing out on this. I was not there, but she is not here.

On a day like today, I worry that all of these complications are going to mar my babies' birthdays for them. This day isn't easy for me, unexpectedly not easy, but I can take it. I'm the grownup. I don't really ever want them to know, either, because this day isn't about me, it's about them. But when I wasn't a grownup, when I was little, my birthday was my favourite day in the whole year, a day of days, long looked forward to and long remembered. I find myself intensely thankful that children are so self-centred. I expect that, for a few years at least, the presents and cake will loom larger in their minds than what they have lost. I hope they can have the same set of happy childhood memories that I do, minus the stirring speeches. But I'll be surprised if it doesn't get harder for them as they get older. As they become more aware that getting born means that someone gave birth, and that this someone is always absent from the party. (And if anybody reading this- adoptees, APs, first parents - has any advice on how to handle children's potential birthday grief, I would be glad to hear it).

But for now, I'll bake cupcakes. I'll wake them from their nap, hold them tight and thank God that they have had a year of life. I'll dress them in their birthday clothes and go out to buy the paper plates and cups that we need for tomorrow. I'll do my best to make today the first link in a chain of happy birthdays. And I'll do my best to make sure that I'm the only one who can hear the words in my head. I was not there. I was not there. I was not there.