February 18, 2013

Merritt is two years old today

Every year I look forward to these three months between February and May. To say that the boys are just a year apart in age offers a simple explanation for how crazy our days can feel.  Ooh, they're two and three. 

Last year we celebrated Merritt's first birthday with a colorful celebration of hearts and lions. This year, we opted again for a small party with even less fanfare. A simple home cooked meal, a few surprises for the kids, and a short guest list of his two primary caretakers and their partners.

On the menu: chicken adobo (a filipino dish that I grew up on as a kid), coconut rice, a green salad with garlic dressing, and roasted root vegetables. For dessert we shared a mountain of doughnuts served with miniature glass bottles filled with milk, and paper straws.

It snowed most of the day, so by dinnertime the long and blue shadows of winter cast over our meal as we sat down at the table. The kids wanted nothing to do with the food so they played while we indulged in the warmth of good company and candlelight.

While it is Merritt's second birthday, today also marks the anniversary of my second birth. Last year I was melancholic as February came around. This year felt a little less so. I'm not sure what that means as far as progress and healing are concerned, but it appears at first as an improvement. In truth, our beginning still pains me. I try to avoid acknowledging the still tender disappointment when it creeps into an otherwise happy moment. I wish I could pinpoint exactly the thing that is so painful about the birth, or the NICU, but I haven't yet been able. I'm afraid it is all the little things that add up. It makes me heartsick knowing that we can't influence the past. The more time that separates then from now, the less clarity I have. The deeper involved I become in my work supporting women through their own family beginnings, the better I understand how complicated this could be, how unhealed I am, that I may always carry with me a sense of loss and grief. Being made aware of that last little piece was a bummer all on its own.

Though I experience this day with all the bitter sweetness that it brings, Merritt shined his light brightly and enjoyed a very deserving birthday party on Saturday and a worthy encore today with ice cream, a park trip, and many, many, renditions of happy birthday. He is the kind and gentle little brother of our family and we love him so much.


  1. Sounds like a perfect birthday celebration! I love when my kids are "a year apart" as well, especially when they were 1 and 2. Totally justifies the chaos :)
    Side note: do you have a recipe for your chicken adobo that you make? I have a college friend who used to make it and I LOVED it, but have never made it myself.

    1. I used a recipe I found online because I always forget the of soy sauce to vinegar... I'll write up a little post when I get back home :) Basically you marinate the chicken pieces in soy sauce and garlic for a few hours then brown each piece for a few minutes in med/high oil. Then you put all the extra marinade and all the chicken back into a big soup pot, add some some water, bay leaves, and ground pepper into the mix and let it simmer for 30 minutes, add a few tablespoons of vinegar (depending on how much soy sauce you have in there) and let it simmer for another ten minutes or so until the meat is tender. We always eat it with steamed rice (and applesauce, when we were kids!).

  2. I have been following your posts for quite some time now. I guess I don't quite understand why the premature birth and NICU stay are so traumatic for you still. The important thing is that he's healthy, I'm sure you agree . . . but I also feel like you think that statement is trivializing your feelings. Many, many (did I say many?) women don't experience the birth that they dreamed of, for different reasons. I feel like in the long run, it doesn't matter. My relationship with my oldest child isn't changed by the fact that I broke down and got an epidural. Your relationship with Merritt is not changed by the fact that he was in the NICU for a short time.

    1. Anonymous: I appreciate your comment. I sometimes wonder how continuing to write about the honest and true feelings that I carry for my preterm birth experience and four week NICU stay followed by the stresses of mothering a special needs baby, etc. is interpreted by others.

      I hope that my writing doesn't in any way convey a belief that my relationship with Merritt was marred by the experience. I feel deeply connected to him and always have. When I write about his developmental milestones or birthdays I am reminded how far we've come (it’s hard not to think back to the beginning!), and the residual feelings that stem from those memories are worthy of being shared 1) because through writing I process experience, and 2) I know I am not the only mother who feels conflicted in the face of so much joy. We have a very complex role as mothers, and our unique experiences are not easy to convey in words, through writing, or at all. I can say with certainty that what I feel in my relationship with Merritt is separate from what I feel in my recollection of his birth and my early experiences as his mother.

      The thing that often contributes most to a mother’s memory of whether her birth experience was “bad” or “good” or somewhere in between, has less to do with her birth experience measuring up to that which she “dreamed of” or prepared for, and more to do with whether or not she felt empowered and respected in her process. Did she have a voice? Was anyone listening? I might argue that I did have a voice that was largely respected during the birth (save my staff nurse), but the NICU was a different story. It’s difficult for me to tease apart one aspect from the other, and I often lump them together.

      Many do not feel that birth experience matters. That is the unfortunate tone of current birth culture, although change is underfoot. The fact is that giving birth is a profound life event that has the potential to empower our parenting, and our relationships with our partners and children. We can have a birth experience that does not go the way we planned, for whatever reason, and walk away from it feeling whole and content, so long as we believed we were well supported and respected. The truth doesn’t matter. The woman’s perception of the truth is what matters. Healthy babies certainly matter, and healthy moms too—physically and emotionally healthy mothers.

      It is a courageous thing to share our imperfections and our vulnerabilities with others through the telling of our stories. It can be very powerful for the teller and the listener. There is also risk in doing so, and I think it is worth it.

      I realize that I may not be directly answering your question about why is this birth so traumatic for me still. If I completely understood the ways in which my birth and postpartum period have affected me then I would likely have more clarity to foster working through it. Another aspect to consider is how our culture treats the experience of grief and loss by not talking about it, not addressing it, and largely expecting those who feel it to get over it and move on. Whatever the loss, however the grief manifests itself. That is a huge problem. I want more women to feel safe to own and share the thoughts and ideas that matter to them, and to use their voice to create community and connect with one another.

      I hope that this long response provides you some insight into the perspective from which I write.


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