From the moment I first held that pregnancy test in my hand, my heart was filled with dreams for my son’s childhood–one that I hoped would be filled with love, laughter, and plenty of family traditions. I envisioned the milestones to come: his first birthday, his first day of school, his high school graduation. My dreams were shattered into a million pieces when our precious firstborn baby was born prematurely and succumbed to a fatal genetic condition at just 93-minutes old. The milestones that I once looked forward to with such joy and excitement were now anticipated with such deep sorrow. Three years later and my heart aches each time kindergarten enrollment begins, and I often find myself blinking back tears as I count down the years until Ethan’s class will start school.
The loss of a baby has a way of changing a simple date on the calendar into a point in time that feels so significant and so heavy with a wide spectrum of emotions. How can we face the due dates, the birthdays, and the milestones that now feel so bittersweet?
As we approached Ethan’s first birthday, I reached out to my friends within the loss community for ideas of ways to spend the day and received plenty of great ideas for celebrating and surviving milestones.
Throw a bash
One of my loss mama friends throws a birthday party for her son each year. Through the years, this tradition has been a great way to celebrate her son’s life with friends both new and old. Some party ideas include a butterfly release, cake and icecream, showing a slideshow, and/or selecting a theme that reminds you of your baby.
Several of my sisters-in-loss commemorate special dates each year by lending a helping hand in their baby’s honor. There are plenty of ways to do this, such as volunteering at a local charity, hosting a Random Act of Kindness day, donating memory boxes through Forever Footprints, or making a contribution to an organization that has had a positive impact in their life (at Forever Footprints, you can personalize a fundraising page with your families story to make it more personal). Here are some suggestions for ways to give back.
Take time to reflect
Whether you prefer to have a quiet day or one filled with plenty of activity, don’t forget to carve out some time for yourself. Go to the cemetery, look through photos and special mementos, take a walk, and/or listen to songs that remind you of your baby. Turn off your phone if you need to. Give yourself the freedom to feel whatever emotions you are met with–whether the day makes you smile, cry, or both.
In my experience, there is no one-size-fits all approach to celebrating and surviving milestones. Free yourself of any pressure to face the day in a particular way. In the first year after Ethan died, I felt pressure to celebrate milestones with grand gestures–I wanted to show the world just how much I loved him. Yet at the same time, I craved a day to myself. It took me some time to accept the fact that, while there is absolutely nothing wrong with grand gestures, Ethan didn’t need that from me. My love for him was undeniable and he was at perfect peace regardless of whether I threw a big party or spent the day alone. That first year, my husband and I each took the day off work, visited the cemetery, ate dinner at Del Taco (I couldn’t get enough Del Taco during my pregnancy with Ethan), and shared a small smash cake at home. We needed a quiet day together that year. However, by the time Ethan’s second birthday arrived we wanted to get out and be around lots of people. What we have needed has changed year to year, and even day to day, and it may be the same for you. Give yourself permission to celebrate each milestone in the way that is best for your family.
And remember, no matter how you choose to spend the day, your baby knows nothing but love.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their rainbow baby. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to one baby on earth and five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.