05/19/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Happy Birthday to My Daughter ... and The Iraq War

March 19. On this day in 2003 I held my newborn baby girl in my arms at last. After a night of labor, we had our perfect prize - a beautifully robust and healthy little daughter. And across the ocean, that very same day, my country started a war.

It's hard to believe that the war has been raging for Isabella's entire life. I can vaguely remember seeing a New York Times headline the day she was born, but those first few days in the hospital were a fog of bliss and pain and sleeplessness and anxiety and awe. It wasn't until later that I fully realized what had happened in Iraq. Ironically, those first months of parenthood came to be known in my circle of friends as the "shock and awe" phase. A fellow mother would probably laugh at that. A soldier or an Iraqi citizen, probably not.


March 2003: Isabella just a couple of days old; March 2010: Baking cupcakes for her 7th birthday.

My infant became a little girl. She learned to grasp my finger, to smile, to roll over, to sit up, to crawl, to walk. She learned to babble and say mama and NO and then she learned to speak in sentences and now she can read herself a book. The first day of preschool gave way to kindergarten graduation, and today she's a great big first-grader who knows how to add and say hello in Spanish and do book reports on mammals and spell "because."

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Throughout all that time, our troops have been in Iraq. That's how long the people of that country have endured. Can we grasp the magnitude of the bloody and horrifying battles that have been fought and witnessed daily for seven years--far from our eyes, far from our daily lives? It's so easy for most of us to put it out of our minds.

Seven birthday candles. 5,378 dead U.S. service people. Approximately 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians.

And how many wounded? How many lives destroyed?

I was against starting the war. I had been living in New York City for only a few months when terrorists attacked and the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. I still have the email I sent to friends and family back home in California, letting them know I was safe. "Aside from being in shock as I'm sure everyone is, I'm fine," I wrote. "I'm safe in my home, glued to the TV and praying that this doesn't escalate even further." I hoped our president wouldn't use it as an excuse to start a war.

But oh, did he ever.

Now, though, I don't know exactly what we should do. What about the people we'd be leaving behind if the war suddenly ended? I just don't know enough about the whole situation anymore -- I've been distracted by the unfurling of a life right before my eyes, by the numbers and countless milestones of one small, enormous life. I don't envy President Obama and the responsibility that rests on his shoulders.

Today, March 19, is my favorite and most important holiday, the anniversary of the happiest day of my life. Today, I will bring cupcakes to Isabella's class, and everyone will sing to her, and tonight she will blow out seven candles. And I will watch my beloved make a wish, and though I'm not religious, I will send a prayer of thanks up to heaven for the blessing of her. And at the same time I will send a prayer for everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan, a prayer that peace will come soon, somehow, as impossible as that seems.

Happy birthday, sweet girl. I hope that next year, I won't have to write this article again.

This article is cross-posted at