We celebrated Nicholas turning five last week and what a happy occasion it was. It was a day filled with all of his favourite things. He received alphabet-themed presents, ate cupcakes for breakfast, watched Cars 3 at the movies with his brothers and ended the celebration by tucking into scrambled eggs for dinner. A very happy (and full!) little boy went to bed that night.
For me, the remarkable thing was that for the first time on Nicholas’s birthday, I didn’t relive his birth over and over in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that with time I’ve forgotten. I still remember every detail and feeling that day. I remember driving to the hospital at the cold crack of dawn, listening to Florence + the Machine. I remember the blinding lights and the sterile smell of the theatre room as they wheeled me in for my Caesar. I remember feeling like my heart had just stopped, when the paediatrician came into the recovery room to tell us she suspected Down syndrome. And I remember all the phone calls and visits from family and close friends, me reassuring them that everything was going to be ok, although I didn’t have a clue what the future held for us and our little boy.
I can say without a doubt that the day Nicholas was born, was one of the worst days of my life. And I don’t feel ashamed or guilty saying that. The day wasn’t actually about him. In no way did it involve the celebration of welcoming our son into the world. It was all about blood tests, overwhelming Google research, insensitive comments from medical professionals and that gut-wrenching feeling of ‘what now?’ With just a few words, hopes and dreams were shattered. But by slowly giving into all those emotions, an acceptance of a new reality set in. Going forward, I chose to celebrate Nicholas’s life and not his birth. And I wake up each morning feeling extremely grateful.
I can’t believe Nicholas is now five. It feels like yesterday that I held this tiny four-week prem baby in my arms. The age of five is quite a big deal. It’s half a decade! I was looking at him the other day thinking ‘he really is a proper little boy’, my baby and toddler no longer. And on his birthday, I didn’t compare him to other children the same age. No, he doesn’t speak as clearly and yes, he’s still in Huggies pull-ups. But my Nicholas is now saying three-word sentences, chewing solid food and sipping through a straw. Such an achievement! If these are the milestones he conquered at the age of four, I can only imagine the amazing things he’s going to accomplish whilst being five.
And so I say to any parent perhaps having just gone through the birth of a baby with special needs, or maybe recently been given an unexpected diagnosis along the way, take heart. Yes, you will feel an overwhelming flood of emotions, be it sadness, anger, grief or just plain shock. Those feelings will never go away, but the all-consuming love you have for your child, will dilute them. With time, that day won’t be a reminder of how you felt your heart breaking into a million little pieces, but rather how this little person stole your heart and how you possibly couldn’t imagine a life without them, just the way they are.