I have a confession to make -- a deep, dark, mommy-secret. Every year, a few weeks before Simon's birthday, I go through a bout of mild depression. It is a slow moving, creeping kind of sadness. For years, I'd feel badly for days, without even identifying the cause. Last year was the worst, and it was the first time I made the connection. This year, I knew it when I felt it come on, and I tried to be ready for it.
It all starts innocently enough, with cheerful thoughts about what to do to mark the birthday.
Party? Guests? Theme? Gifts?
As I try to decide what Simon would like, I inevitably find myself wishing I could ask him. I try to tell him about his birthday. I describe party ideas. I provide options for cake and ice cream flavors. I ask him what he would like to get as a gift.
I don't get any answers.
Then, like inebriated, unwanted party crashers, the "bad" thoughts tumble gracelessly into my consciousness. As Simon turns another year older, though I try never to compare him to "typical" children (if I can help it), I find my thoughts permeated by such comparisons.
"Most five-year-old-to-be's would've had this information hashed out in detail as soon as their last birthday was over... They'd want a big party (the kind Simon can't handle...we tried once..should we try again? What a disaster...); They'd list their favorite playmates to invite.. (Simon has none). They'd choose their own cake (at least I know what Simon likes to eat), They'd have a long list of presents they were dreaming about (Simon can't think that abstractly)."
These are black thoughts. They fill me with sadness, and make me feel sorry for myself, and my son. I mourn what I have lost. I remember the day he was born, and the fear and anxiety take hold of me again.
I become angry with myself. "What kind of a mother are you?," I ask. Focus on the positive! Be grateful for what we have, and how far we have come.
Then I am both sad, and angry. I try to bottle it up and push it away. I try to ignore my depression; and so it oozes out from my pores in the forms of lethargy, irritability, and volatile mood swings for the rest of the long and rainy month.
But this year, I found I was ready for it. Though I felt the fear and sadness and anger all over again, it didn't last as long. I tried to recognize that grieving is natural and okay. I tried to acknowledge that it doesn't make me a bad mother to wish for a better life for my son.
I let myself feel it. I let myself cry. I went to bed early. I ate a little extra chocolate. I told myself that I am okay, and so is Simon.
And I felt better. I was able to focus once again on all the good stuff, and there is so much good stuff. Simon's Birthday is in a couple of days, and I am ready to celebrate all the new accomplishments; the physical and the cognitive: our new language gains (whoohooo!), the increased use of the left side (yipeeee!), I am even grateful for our new understanding of Simon's challenges. Most of all, I'm profoundly grateful that we are simply able to celebrate Simon turning another year older after our terrifyingly close call this past November.
After everything was over, and she showed me how to deliver my own pain meds (ah, Morphine button!), she told me she had decided what to name her baby girl. I remember giving her the best smile I could, and told her that I thought she was brave to have a baby after all she witnessed as a labor and delivery nurse. She laughed (a little wryly), and said she had decided to name her baby Laura, because I was the bravest mom she'd ever met.
Every single day, and especially on Simon's birthday, I try to live up to that.