If someone would have told me, just three years ago, that I would spend an obscene amount of money on my kid's first birthday party, I would've told them they must have me confused with someone else. After all, I was never going to have kids, thank you very much. They would've been right, though, and I would've had to eat some major crow. I went all-out for my kid's first birthday party, but that won't be something I"ll be apologizing for anytime soon (or ever, actually).
In my short time as a mother, I've become painfully aware of just how little life gives a you-know-what about your plans. I never wanted to have children, then I found out I was pregnant with twins and suddenly felt this innate, deep-in-between-my-ribs, acute realization that I could not only be a mother, I wanted to be a mother. I planned to raise two babies, simultaneously, then felt the helplessness that accompanies a doctor telling you that for reasons beyond your control, one of your baby's has a heart that's no longer beating. I planned to give birth to two babies who would cry and breastfeed immediately, but I endured bringing a baby into the world that was alive, and a baby that wasn't. I had planned to love my son immediately and be filled with this overwhelming, all-encompassing connection, but postpartum depression covered me in a weight and sadness and darkness the likes of which I've never experienced before.
In other words, the months leading up to and the first year of my son's life, were nothing like what I planned. However, that first birthday party was something I could plan, and I wanted to plan something so beautiful, so over-the-top, so "perfect," that everything my partner and I went through the year before would be nothing but a figment of our collective imaginations. I couldn't re-write the past or what I had experienced as a pregnant woman or a new mother, but I could fill in the gaps with a celebratory day that was all about my son, my partner, and myself. So, even though I don't need to give an explanation, here are just a few reasons why I went "overboard" for my son's first birthday party, and why I don't regret a single second of it:
I Had A Difficult Pregnancy
My pregnancy was exhausting, scary, traumatic, and life-altering; and that was just during the first 19 weeks. I was initially pregnant with twins, and carried two growing baby boys until, at 19 weeks, I was informed that one of my twin sons had died. I was hospitalized for over a week, we feared we would lose the other twin, I was in and out of the hospital with pre-term labor scares for the remainder of my pregnancy; it was grueling.
To make it through a pregnancy that was so physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting, and then through the first year of my miracle baby's life, seemed nothing short of monumental. I wanted my son's birthday party to be a "big deal," because, to me, it was.
I Had A Traumatic Labor And Delivery
Because I lost one of my twin sons at 19 weeks, I had to give birth to a baby that was alive, and a baby that wasn't. My labor and delivery was this cruel mix of happiness and overwhelming mourning. I was so thankful that I had a healthy baby boy — a baby boy I was going to take home, even though we had to spend an extra day in the hospital, as he had breathing problems and a difficult time regulating his body temperature — but I was acutely aware that I was "supposed" to be taking home two. The remains of the twin son we lost in the womb were going to stay behind, and that was a difficult reality to comprehend after 23 hours of labor and delivery.
Throwing my son an extravagant birthday party was about celebrating his life; the life we were so dangerously close to losing. It was about setting time (and money) aside to be appreciative of what we have in our son, and what I endured in order to bring him into the world.
I Suffered From Postpartum Depression
Due to my difficult and traumatic pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I suffered from postpartum depression. Those first few months of motherhood didn't seem like a "gift," even though I knew I was very lucky to have my son. I was detached, exhausted, horrifically scared that my son was going to die at any moment, and filled with self-doubt.
To have this tangible thing, this party, signify a year of my son's life but also my first year as a mom, meant something to me. I crawled out of the hole that is postpartum depression (with professional help) and to stand in the middle of a party, happy and overwhelmed with joy, was significant. There were so many nights during those first postpartum months, when something as superficial as a birthday party seemed nothing short of impossible.
It Felt Like, After A Year, I Could Finally Relax
While coordinating, paying for, and throwing a birthday party of that size wasn't necessarily stress-free, after a year of parenting through postpartum depression and anxiety, that day felt like a relaxing get-away. My partner and I live away from family, and none of our close friends have any children of their own. We were "on our own" as first-time parents. So, I felt like if we made it through that first year, my partner and I could make it through whatever else parenthood was going to throw our way.
So yes, we wanted to celebrate the precious life that is our son, but we also wanted to take a moment to celebrate ourselves and our hard work. We wanted to take a "break" and look around and say, "Hey, we did this. We made it this far, and through so much heartbreak and struggle. We did this, on our own, and that's worth celebrating."
I Knew My Son Wouldn't Remember It
I wasn't worried about setting some ridiculous, over-the-top precedent for future birthday parties to come, because my son wasn't going to remember his first birthday party. Sure, he would have the pictures, but those would just be quick snapshots of a day that wouldn't register in his mind. Those pictures, no matter how adorable and no matter how telling, were never going to signify anything more than "that one birthday party my parents threw for me, that I in no way remember."
I knew we could go all-out one year, and then go low-key the rest. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what we did for our son's second birthday party. We celebrated at home, just us three. No party allowed.
I Wanted A Reason For Family And Friends To Get Together
Because my partner and I live far away from any family members, we wanted to throw a big birthday party and give those family members a reason to spend the money and make the trip. My mother flew down from Anchorage, Alaska, and I had friends from Canada and neighboring cities make the trip, too. If they were going to spend their time, money, and energy to be there, I wanted it to be worthwhile.
I Knew We'd Only Be Doing This Once
Full disclosure: I spent a ridiculous amount of money at my kid's first birthday party. Like, it's stupid how much the cake cost, and the food, and the decorations, and the professional photographer because we didn't want to spend our time snapping our own pictures; we wanted to actually enjoy the day with family, friends, and our now 1-year-old.
However, just like it was worth it to spend money on so many of the maternity necessities I knew I was only going to use once, it was worth it to spend the money on a party I knew I was only going to throw once.
It Was More Than A Birthday Party, To Me...
Of course, people can (and probably will) argue that it's a little selfish. I mean, my kid had no idea what was really going on, was never going to remember that day, and definitely didn't need an expensive cake, a bunch of food he can't even eat, and all the presents.
However, to me, that day was more than just a day to celebrate my son becoming a 1-year-old. That day was a chance for my partner and I to celebrate ourselves, and all that we endured that first year of parenthood (and pregnancy, and labor and delivery). I know it's not in keeping with the "a good mom sacrifices everything" dialogue our society tends to uphold when speaking about motherhood, but I deserved a day to sit back with friends, family, my partner, and my son, and just enjoy being a mom.
...And After Everything We Went Through, A Year Of My Son's Life (And Of Parenthood) Was Worth Celebrating
I wouldn't take a single thing about that day, back. My partner and I aren't married (and don't want to be married), so I imagine that ridiculously expensive birthday party is the closest we will ever get to a wedding.
And I loved it. I loved everything about it.
I loved how beautiful the party looked; I love the professional photographs that captured that day; I loved the look on my son's face, even though he had no idea what was going on; I loved being surrounded by my friends and family; I loved having something that signified just how far I had come as a woman, a mother, a parter, and a human being.
We'll never have a birthday party like that again, but I'm so glad we had it once.