Trigger Warning: This story discusses navigating the first birthday after birth trauma, and talks about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and postnatal depression and anxiety. If you are triggered by these topics you may wish to skip this blog or read it once you have support available. If you are seeking support for your birth trauma, you may wish to contact our Peer Support Service.
You always hear people saying the point of a baby’s first birthday party is not for the kid (who definitely won’t remember) but for the parents, to celebrate that they all survived the first year.
But if you had a traumatic birth or there was trauma surrounding your little one’s first days –maybe you were unwell or your baby was – all of the big feelings of the past year can rise up again as you approach this anniversary of the birth event.
You might not feel like celebrating at all. You might dread the day, and not want to hold a party or talk to people.
Or you might feel even more like celebrating, given how far you and your baby have come.
It might seem strange, but you might find yourself wanting to talk about the birth experience again with someone you trust, whether it’s a loved one or a professional.
Whatever you’re feeling, know that it’s totally normal.
As my daughter Zoe’s first birthday approached, I experienced my initial PTSD from the birth all over again, with some flashbacks and sleepless nights. For two nights before her birthday, I barely slept at all even after taking a sleeping pill. All I could think was, at this time a year ago, I was in so much pain, everything was going wrong medically, and my simple, go-with-the-flow birth plan had gone out the window.
I spent a lot of time crying with grief for the birth experience that I had wanted, and for the first few months of my daughter’s life, which were overshadowed for me by my PTSD and postnatal anxiety and depression.
I felt like our whole first year was a failure. My daughter wasn’t a good sleeper, so I was exhausted all the time. My husband pushed me to breastfeed and pump even though medical professionals eventually told us it would be impossible. My husband then travelled a lot for work, often leaving us for half of each month. My birth injuries meant I was bleeding and in pain for five months before getting on the right medications. (And those medications had awful side effects, so I couldn’t stay on them.)
But ultimately, in the lead up to her birthday, I was holding onto the fact that we’d all gotten through it. I don’t use the term ‘survived’ about that first year, because it killed the old me, and I’ve been working hard ever since to try and make my peace with who I’ve had to become to get through it all.
On the day of her birthday, I felt a lot of anxiety about the party, especially because we were holding it in a park, so we nearly cancelled due to rain. I honestly felt like giving up – all the effort to get past my anxiety and depression about whether or not to have a party at all, and for what? We weren’t even going to get to celebrate.
At the party, though, catching up with lots of loved ones and celebrating together did feel good. I was glad I’d pushed myself to make it happen. And my family told me they enjoyed being able to celebrate Zoe, as well.
We had a koala themed party, because Zoe is very physically affectionate and she never crawled, so she spent her first year being cuddled and carried by all of us before she learned to walk. It was fun putting together koala themed decorations. And even though it made me cry buckets, I’d enjoyed printing off lots of photos from her first year to decorate with, as well.
Whether or not you want to have a first birthday party, and if you have a big party or just dinner with family, is entirely up to you, which I know can feel like a lot of pressure. But know that it’s just one day, and it doesn’t last forever.
My daughter’s second birthday (this year) was so much easier for me. I felt anxious again the nights before, but I did some yoga, took my sleeping herbs, and read a book until I was falling asleep.
I feel hopeful that maybe just that first birthday was the hardest one, when my trauma was all still so fresh and painful, and things might get easier over time.
I hope this encourages and blesses you.