It's a special day that only comes around once a year; a day filled with cake, presents and happiness. But, as I found out this year, it's difficult when a birthday brings both celebration and grief.
My daughter, Peyton, deserves the biggest celebration and as much cake as she can fit into her petite little body. She's our miracle child; a 22 weeker, born weighing just over a pound. But, with the happiness of our beautiful girl, comes sadness as we think about Abby and Parker, her triplet siblings who didn't survive. Unfortunately, this is the reality for parents of multiples who have children both in heaven and on earth.
The weeks leading up to Peyton's 3rd Birthday were rather mundane. The occasional tears would arise as I replayed my pregnancy in my mind; the exact moment my water broke at 20 weeks gestation and the weeks of bed rest leading up to the moment I went into labor. But for the most part, the grief has subsided over the years. As a parent of two children in heaven, I know the pain will never go away. Instead, we learn to live with the grief and create a "new normal" in life. As the birth of my triplets approached, I thought I was fully prepared. Boy, was I wrong. June 23rd arrived and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
The night before their birthday, I was restless. I glanced at the clock several times, picturing myself in the hospital bed, reliving each minute leading up to the birth of my first triplet, Abigail. I was brought back to present day as I heard my daughter wake up. I once again glanced at the clock. 6:42 AM. The first thought in my mind was not my surviving triplet's birthday. Instead, my mind drifted to three years ago, just minutes before doctors called Abby's time of death. I wiped away the tears as I got out of bed. I blotted my cheeks and walked into my daughter's room, a big smile on my face as I cheered, "Happy Birthday Peyton!"
Each year has been difficult, but this birthday felt different. As a 3-year-old, my daughter is finally understanding what her birthday means and was ready to celebrate her special day. The entire day, I found myself fighting back the tears in front of her, using a smile and laughter to shield the pain I felt inside. When she wasn't looking, my eyes welled up with tears. During her nap time, I sobbed in my bed. I sobbed for my two triplets who were not here to celebrate their birth and I sobbed for the guilt I felt because I couldn't be 100% happy as my living child celebrated her birthday. Of course I was thrilled for my daughter and wanted to celebrate. She's absolutely perfect and has fought so hard to become the fierce child she is today. But, truth be told, I will always feel sadness on this day. I may not show it to Peyton, but it's etched into my soul forever.
Peyton had a wonderful day, her exuberant personality even more lively with the extra love and attention. As we lit three candles on her cupcake, we also lit two memorial candles in honor of Parker and Abby. Before we even started singing to Peyton, she had already broken out in song. But, instead of singing to herself, Peyton sang "Happy Birthday" to her brother and sister in heaven. I couldn't hide the tears this time. A sense of pride and joy filled my heart as I realized that our two angels will always be part of Peyton's life.
June 23rd will always be Peyton's happy day. I don't want her to ever feel sadness as we celebrate her birth and the miracle child she has become. There is no handbook for grieving parents; no right or wrong on how to handle the loss of a child. I know I will face more challenges in the coming years as I balance the celebration and grief of Peyton's birthday. But on this special day, I went to bed happy, a sense of relief when I closed my eyes. I survived this day, and as a parent of child loss, that's something to be proud of.
A version of this originally appeared at: http://www.perfectlypeyton.com/2016/06/when-a-birthday-brings-both-celebration-and-grief/