When Birthdays Bring Both Celebration and Sorrow

June 23, 2014

Birthdays are a big deal… especially when you begin life more than 17 weeks before your due date. My surviving triplet is considered a “22 weeker”, and in a matter of days, she will be one year old. Born June 23rd of last year, Peyton faced an uphill battle from her first breath. Her identical sister passed away a few hours after birth. Yet here is Peyton, alive and well, nearly 365 days later.

Peyton smilingPeyton was given a less than 10% chance of survival and faced a laundry list of complications. She overcame a brain bleed, a massive infection, ROP and chronic lung disease, among other issues. Yet when you see her, she looks like a typical baby, just a petite version of a one year old. She deserves a massive celebration, marking a major milestone. But therein lies the problem—I can’t bring myself to plan a big birthday bash.

Peyton is about as young as you can get when it comes to being premature. So for the past year, we kept our little miracle at home in isolation, per doctors’ orders. Group play dates and shopping? We stayed home. Daycare with dozens of kids? Not a chance. We hired a nanny. So when it came time to plan her 1st birthday, the thought of a group of people in close quarters made my skin crawl with visions of germs taking over my child. It’s something only preemie parents truly understand. A simple cough could land a preemie in the hospital. At first I didn’t believe the doctors. But after spending the winter months in hibernation, and without Peyton getting sick, I understood their recommendation.

And while the fear of germs is a good excuse to skip a birthday celebration, deep down I know I just can’t handle a party. Two of my triplets are now angels. How am I supposed to celebrate when all I want to do is grieve? A year ago, losing my children wasn’t even a thought in my mind. Even as I faced pregnancy complications, I pictured Peyton, Parker and Abby laughing and playing together at one year old. Instead, I have one amazing survivor and two precious angels. And as the days get closer to their birthday, I can’t help but relive every scary moment.

abbyHaving children in both heaven and earth can be tricky. I want Peyton to be celebrated for the amazing little child that she is. “Princess Peyton” has thousands of friends around the world. She deserves to be treated like royalty as she reaches a milestone that doctors didn’t think would be possible. But as I’ve learned from other parents of angels, those no longer with us deserve to be celebrated. It doesn’t matter how long they were here on earth, Parker and Abby were so full of life.

My triplets have touched lives in a way I never imagined. And so, as we reach their birthday, I find myself planning the perfect way to honor my perfect children. It may be a simple gesture of lighting a candle in remembrance. Or maybe we’ll plant flowers and watch “Abby and Parker” bloom this summer as Peyton grows along with them. Whatever we choose, one thing I know is for certain, there will be plenty of tears. As I learned many months ago, grief has no timeline. It’s completely normal to feel a void and to long for your children who are no longer with you.

peyton and parkerToday, on their birthday, I plan to cry. My journey is still raw; the emotions and heartache linger deep into my soul. While on the surface, I’ll be celebrating our survivor, deep down I will be trying to just survive. And as the years go on, I know the pain and heartache will change. We will have big celebrations for Peyton and her larger-than-life personality will light up the room. But this year we’ll keep it to family… mom, dad and Peyton. We’ll let ourselves mourn, but we’ll also celebrate life. We brought three precious miracles into this world exactly one year ago, and the memories we’ve made will last a lifetime.