Last night we watched some old videos and came across the one where my now 4-year-old turned 1. It wasn't a big celebration- just him and us, the ones responsible for his entry into this world, and his well-being for the 365 days following that. He watched the video of himself grabbing at the cake and asked "Where are all the other people at the party?" Birthdays for him now are becoming bigger in his head, more crowded, noisier and full of treats in addition to a simple cake. I almost felt a pang of guilt at the subdued nature of that first celebration.
First birthdays for many parents are a very big deal and it's appropriate to celebrate these wonderful additions to our lives in the way that makes most sense to our family traditions, but what felt right for us that day was a quiet marking of the year that had passed. And something that felt right for me personally was to use at least part of that day to reflect on the many changes I had gone through in the year.
Anyone heard of the idea of a birthing day celebration?
Forget about the baby for a moment, we should also celebrate what mothers achieve in that first year. The new mother, born with the birth of her child.
So the day of my son's first birthday, I take the day off work, but instead of spending the day gazing into his beautiful one-year-old eyes, I drop him off as usual at his creche, and I allow myself a couple of hours alone in a nearby cafe. To reflect on the past year, what it meant, how I'd changed, what I'd learned. To quietly consider the gift I had been given of this joyous presence in our lives.
Over coffee, I write and remind myself of the labour (The long labour). The labour at home with the midwife, the up and down the stairs of our apartment block at 4 in the morning to encourage baby to move down towards the escape route. The respite in the birthing pool. The very little happening in terms of dilation. The trip to the hospital. The all day in hospital. The eventual arrival of our baby boy that night. "Look down and see that you have" the midwife said. "Oh my god it's a baby. Where did he come from?"
Later I pick him up from creche and make a cake of cream and strawberries (strangely enough, also his cake request for his 4th birthday this year).
At one year old, he wasn't going to remember a big birthday party with balloons and lots of guests (although his four-year-old self might question the lack of fanfare). It felt right to mark it like this, a quiet celebration, just us three and an acknowledgment to myself of how life can change in a year. Later he will come to know and love birthdays, but that morning was for me to celebrate his birthing day.
There are other celebrations for mothers, I know this. It's not a question of stealing his day. It's not about throwing a lavish party in honour of me, or an ego trip that turns his day into mine. It's not about another hallmark holiday (although you can find birthing day cards online now so it might be turning into something). It's probably not appropriate for all birthdays, maybe just that first one. I'm not going to try to steal the limelight on his 16th birthday (I'm pretty sure 16 year olds don't need reminding that they came out of their mother's vagina...)
But 12 months of being a mother. So much has changed. So much is new. There is often so little space for reflection. It feels like an appropriate point to recognise it.
For some women, who've had a traumatic or difficult birth experience, a little time to acknowledge that experience may be healing. Likewise for anyone with post-natal mental health challenges. Bringing a baby into the world and nurturing that baby for their first year is beautiful and intense and more often than not fraught with challenges, tears and the bumpy ride into a new identity. The first birthday can bring all of these feelings bubbling to the surface and they deserve to be acknowledged. Be gentle with yourself if this is your experience.
If it's your thing, throw a huge party for bambino, with balloons and bouncy castles. Make an elaborate cake. Invite all the family.
But take a little time on your own too. Congratulate yourself. Celebrate your growth over the year. Write yourself a letter highlighting your milestones and achievements as mother.
If the first birthday is already past, then you might even take some time now on your own for the same private congratulations and celebrations.
On my son's first birthday my mother in law sent me a 'Happy Birthing Day' message. It was unexpected, but very much welcomed.
Maybe someone will mark your birthing day in some little way. Maybe not.
But you should. Eat the cake, raise a glass of wine, gift yourself a little something if you like.
Happy first birthday momma. You have come a long way.