First birthdays are important and momentous. It’s the ending of the baby phrase and the beginning of toddlerhood. It’s the time where major milestones start —first steps, first words and a first introduction to dramatic tantrums — as well as a celebration of your child’s first year of life. First birthdays are guaranteed to have mothers everywhere crying hysterically as they rock their now one-year-old to sleep. My son’s first birthday was no different. Except in addition to celebrating him and his budding little personality, I took a second to celebrate myself, too.
For me, his birthday marked the fact that I had survived my first year of motherhood. I had made it through the trenches, reached the light at the end of the tunnel and officially survived the longest and hardest 365 days of my life.
There were so many times in those days where I didn’t think we would make it. From breastfeeding struggles, sleep regressions and teething nightmares, I would barter with the higher powers that be, begging for the misery to end.
“Please, God, if you could just keep this baby asleep for the next two hours, I promise to not say any curse words for three days. I promise! Three hours and I’ll drop every bad word from my vocabulary.”
Needless to say, my bartering skills were rough in the extreme times of desperation, but my mother was always there to give me her dose of helpful advice.
“This too shall pass,” she’d say with pity in her eyes.
Deep down, I knew she was right. My son wouldn’t be 16 and still only living off applesauce and toast. But at that moment in time, I needed more.
I needed to know that I would sleep again, and for more than an hour and half at a time. I needed to know that the only pressure to keep breastfeeding was coming from myself. I needed to know that I wasn’t royally screwing up my son. But my mom knew that she couldn’t tell me that, because like she said, this too all did pass.
In fact, I did survive those first weeks home, where my body felt foreign and a screaming little stranger had invaded my house. I survived all the times that my son peed on his face because I hadn’t yet figured out to “point it down.” I survived staph, thrush, Children’s Mercy Emergency Room visits and a family-wide stomach flu. I survived returning to work and handing my child over to three strangers, who eventually became a part of our family. I survived buying a house and moving with a 6-month old. I survived teething pain, busted lips and our first tumble off the bed. I survived postpartum depression.
All those moments — the good, the bad, the ugly — they all came and I stumbled my way through them and guess what? They passed. I caught my breath, I thanked God for when He upheld his end of the bargain, and I survived.
So on my son’s first birthday, as he sat in his high chair, diving, face first into his cake, tears welled up in my eyes. My baby boy was no longer a baby. He was a little boy, who already liked to test the boundaries, hug everyone and would prefer to never wear pants. He was smart and funny and oh so very happy. As I watched him giggle at sprinkles and lick icing off his fingers, I realized that while he was growing and changing into this little boy that sat before me, I had grown into motherhood.
And so we celebrated. We celebrated first milestones and the start of being a toddler. We celebrated the first time we tried cake and learning to tear open presents. We celebrated with friends and family that helped us through the journey. We celebrated surviving 365 days, together.