By Barbara Brockway
After the initial joy of finding out I was expecting my first baby, a dark thought crossed my mind. This was in addition to all the concerns first-time parents have; will my baby be healthy, will I make a good mom, will I survive labor?
“I’m worried about the baby’s birthday being so close to Christmas,” I said to my husband, Matt. The December 19th due date was determined after an early sonogram, and declared to be extremely accurate by our doctor.
“Honey, I know how you feel about your birthday being right after the holidays,” Matt said, wrapping me up in a hug. “We’ll do things differently than your parents.”
“We have to always make a big deal out of the baby’s birthday, to not let it be overshadowed by Christmas” I said, thinking about a young me feeling hurt that my special day was treated as an afterthought.
“I promise,” Matt said, smiling a goofy expectant-father smile.
I secretly vowed to hold him to that, more importantly, to hold myself to that.
I had first hand knowledge of the disappointment that comes with having a birthday so close to the holidays. Raised in a small, midwestern town with no diversity, Christmas was my end-all, be-all of holidays, followed by runner-up New Year’s Eve. My birthday, coming on January 2nd, was at the tail end of this bacchanalia. After all the rich food, expense, and parties of the holiday season, who wanted to celebrate a birthday–my birthday?
As a kid, my presents were always wrapped in leftover Christmas paper, my birthday cake eaten begrudgingly by my parents on what should have been the second day of their New Year’s resolutions. My friends were no better. Amidst the excitement of returning to school after the long break and exchanging stories about what Santa had brought, they rarely remembered to wish me happy birthday. What should have been my special day was celebrated as a half-hearted afterthought or forgotten altogether.
I pledged to do things differently for my child.
The weeks leading up to my due date flew by, filled with an ambitious home remodel, gearing up to turn over my job to a co-worker, and frenetic nesting. I stopped working on December 18th and picked my mom up from the airport on my due date.
“Any signs this baby is coming?” she asked as she happily clutched my big belly.
“The doctor says it could be anytime,” I replied. I unfurled a big list from my purse.
“In the meantime, let’s do some last minute shopping,” I said.
I dragged my mom around Atlanta the next few days, running Christmas errands and buying last minute things for the baby’s room. I delighted when someone asked me when I was due.
“Last Tuesday,” I’d say with a big grin. My mom and I loved the shocked responses. Inside, my worry grew. Each passing day meant future birthdays would be that much closer to the “big” day.
I took to walking around our neighborhood for hours, as walking was supposed to induce labor. Not one contraction. I ate spicy foods. Nada. On December 22nd the three of us walked up and down Stone Mountain. The baby didn’t budge. On December 23rd, Matt and I dined at Indigo, requesting the locally famous “labor table.” I kept the fingers of my left hand crossed all during dessert. I woke up the next morning feeling no different.
With each passing day I worried not only about the baby’s birthday being one day closer to Christmas, but about the health of my overdue child. The doctor started to talk about inducing labor.
On Christmas Eve, the three of us went to see the Live Nativity at East Rock Springs Presbyterian. Matt grabbed my gloved hand and held it in both of his. “You know, honey, at this point, I’m almost hoping the baby is born on Christmas,” he whispered.
My heart swelled as the tinny first notes of “Silent Night” strained through the outdoor speakers. “Me, too,” I confessed. “If it’s this close anyway, it might be better if it’s actually on the same day.”
We stared into each other’s eyes, grinning like two fools who didn’t know what was about to hit them.
At about 3am on Christmas morning, I woke with a start. Was that a contraction? I waited a few minutes. It was definitely a contraction. My heart pounding, I woke Matt.
He flipped on the light and started timing them. At about 6am, we took a two-hour walk around the neighborhood, reveling in the perfect quiet that is Christmas morning. I spent the day alternating rest with walking, squeezing in Christmas dinner, present opening and It’s A Wonderful Life.
At about 10pm we headed for Northside Hospital. Sweet baby Nicholas was born at 2am on December 26th, missing Christmas by two hours. And no, he’s not named after that Nicholas. My husband is Italian; it’s practically a requirement that every Padula family has a Nick.
Was I disappointed that our baby was born the day after Christmas? In retrospect it seems so silly. Once I locked eyes with my trusting, precious little soul all else seemed insignificant. I understood the meaning of unconditional love, and, as a faithful person, felt closer to God. I understood the fuller meaning of Christmas for the first time in my life.
Have Matt and I kept our promise of always making a big deal out of Nick’s birthday? We’ve tried to, although as the years have ticked on, we might be slipping a bit. Last year, we gave him the dreaded combined birthday and Christmas gift, an expensive GoPro camera that seemed too extravagant to be given for just one special day. Did Nick think he’d been ripped off? I’d like to think not, but I can’t really be sure.
One thing I am sure of is that my perspective on having a holiday birthday has changed. Gifts and celebrations aren’t meaningful, no matter what time of year, unless you’re spending them with loved ones. My favorite birthday memories now revolve around special times: ice skating, playing board games, or just watching a movie. No need for cake or decorations, just togetherness. Maybe keeping the focus on that should have been my objective for my son, instead of trying to create space and distinction between the two events.
As for me, If I’m ever asked about a favorite Christmas, how could I say anything but the day I spent laboring with my firstborn, and how could I say my favorite present was anything but my son?
Not a cherished family tradition or a perfectly wrapped gift, my favorite Christmas memory involves sweat, panting, excruciating pain, and, of course, a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Barbara Brockway’s work has appeared in The Maine Review, The Southern Tablet, Torrid Literature Journal, and elsewhere. She’s received writing awards from WOW-Women On Writing, the Chattahoochee Valley Writers, and the Atlanta Writers Club. Read more on her website: barbarabrockway.com.