Two Birthdays, One Day (Kendra)

Magnolia's due date was February 28th.  Delphinium had arrived 12 days past her due date and we didn't expect Magnolia to be prompt. My last day at school was that week, coinciding with our mid-winter break.  I spent a couple days of break cleaning up all of my art stuff, packing boxes and sending things to storage in the school basement because I would be on leave for the rest of the school year.  Then I settled in at home to wait for Magnolia's arrival.   

My mother arrived a few days later and we busied ourselves with projects around the house.  Obsessive nesting work, like completely reorganizing the linen closet and finding lids to all of our food storage containers and reorganizing the matched containers in their drawer.  We went for walks and made puzzles and played lots of board games with Delphinium.

I saw our midwives each week and kept in touch with them by phone.  Sasha went with me for non-stress tests and biophysical exams--and the baby seemed to be doing just fine.  We saw an acupuncturist several times, resulting in crampy contractions that stopped after an hour or so.  I could feel my body preparing for labor--I was dialating slowly and could feel my hips getting all loosened up.  So we kept waiting.

On Friday, March 18th we talked with our midwives about going to the hospital on Monday to begin an induction.  The baby seemed to be doing well, but we would be past the 43 week mark by then and we all agreed it would be time to induce.  On March 19th, our midwife, Martine, came to our home in the morning and swiped my membranes creating contractions that lasted for an hour or so.  Sasha and I went out on a long walk, hoping to get things moving along, some contractions came and went for the rest of the day and in the evening Martine returned to swipe my membranes again.  Contractions continued for a while and became noticeably stronger, Martine stuck around to see what would happen.   

At 2:41 a.m. Magnolia arrived in the world, still in her caul. It was March 20th, her sister's birthday, the first day of spring and the night of the biggest full moon in 20 years.  It felt like such an auspicious night--full of mystical coincidence and amazing timing.  Delphinium was present for her birth and helped to cut her cord, wiped my brow with a cool wash cloth and helped prepare and bring food to our birth team and her grandmas.

2 hours after her arrival, Martine and the rest of our birth team had left and Sasha and I were tucked up in our bed holding or beautiful new baby girl and whispering about possible names while the others in our house slept.  We were so happy and full of the wonder gazing at the perfect beauty of a new baby.

In the morning, Sasha and I slept as my mother and cousin cared for Magnolia.  Then Sasha's parents arrived with food for a birthday brunch for Delphinium.  She put on her fancy magenta dress, made a pile of all her presents and held court at the dining room table while we passed around the baby and sang "happy birthday".  Delphinium had a great day, surrounded by family and so excited to tell the story of her sister's birth over and over again. 

In the 22 months that she was with us, I invested so much thought and feeling into Magnolia and Delphinium's sisterhood.  It was hard not to think that their shared birthday was fated somehow, that we were somehow meant to have two special spring flower girls.  Delphinium often says that her birthday brings the spring, and we wholeheartedly agreed.  Spring was our favorite season of the year and it felt like a cosmic gift to have two wonderful girls born on the vernal equinox. 

Our two girls felt like a matched set, honoring this wonderful season of rebirth and beauty that had always meant so much to us.  When Magnolia died last winter, I dreaded the arrival of spring and the turning into a new season without her.  The fact that the entry into that horrible season was marked by their birthdays felt so awful, I took some small comfort in the fact that it was still cold and dreary in March.  I felt so sad as the sun returned and the days began to warm. 

A few weeks ago we celebrated their birthday for the second time without Magnolia--which is one more time than we had while she was with us.  And mostly it felt like Delphinium's day.  Which isn't wrong, but it was hard to realize how much it felt like her day alone.  Delphinium was turning 7 and so excited about it. The countdown began on the first day of March and the negotiations about how we would celebrate had been going on for weeks before then.  She is young and ego-centric and utterly and completely normal in her ecstatic anticipation of her birthday.  But it hurts.  

After Magnolia was born, one of Delphinium's favorite things to share with strangers or new friends was that her sister was born on her birthday.  She was so proud of that fact and would often tell people about how she had helped cut her sister's cord and had been up in the middle of the night to watch her birth.  This year, it is still startling to hear people wish her a happy birthday and to feel the absence of that part of the story.  She doesn't tell people now.  Her sister was born on her birthday and that was really special, but now her sister is dead and isn't here to share the day.  I understand why she doesn't talk about it, it seems to be her version of our "how many children do you have?" challenge.  It is awkward and difficult to talk about.  But not hearing it still makes me sad.    

This year we had a special birthday breakfast for Magnolia.  We told stories and shared memories, then we wrote notes to her on wildflower paper and went to the Bronx River and dropped our messages into the gentle current and watched them float away.  After we took Delphinium to school, Sasha and I went to Magnolia's daycare to deliver some new books as a birthday gift.

Then we put on happy faces and went to Delphinium's class with cupcakes and after school we took her and a friend out for a fancy dinner and a trip to Cirque du Soleil.  Delphinium had a great day and we were glad we could make it special for her.  But I worry that it will always feel like her day, instead of their day.  We carved out some space for Magnolia in the day, but it feels like a small token.

Something that once felt so special, now feels so complicated and difficult.  An auspicious arrival into the world, matched by a tragic departure.  A previously joyful beginning of a season that I now resent.  A day we have to get through, rather than a day to really celebrate.  I know that my feelings about this day will continue to change and develop.  I hope I will let go of the bitterness I feel about it now.  I hope to get to a place where I can once again appreciate the coincidences and timing that made it such a special day for our family.  To hold on to that and eventually look past all of the loss I associate with the day.  But I am not there yet and mostly it just hurts. 

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