October 09, 2007
On Noa's Fourth Birthday
By Meryl Perlson
October 9, 2007
Today is Noa's fourth birthday. She doesn't understand what a birthday is, or what it means to be a year older, or why there are candles and cake and people singing. She has no idea why she's getting presents and wouldn't complain, or even notice, if none were given. But last night when we set a candle in front of her and sang to her she smiled and giggled and seemed to understand the fuss was all about her. Compared to her first birthday, that's huge progress.
On this day four years ago I thought I was the luckiest woman in the world. After years of infertility, I was on the verge of giving birth to my much longed for second child. Compared to the agony of struggling to conceive, unmedicated labor was a breeze. When I held Noa in my arms those first few minutes, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I knew how blessed I was to finally come out from under the black cloud of heartache and anger and helplessness that is infertility to hold my beautiful, healthy, amazing baby. Looking back now I realize the true blessing of that moment was my ignorance. The bliss of prayers answered was just a brief respite of joy before the next dark cloud moved in.
Noa's birthdays bury me in unmet dreams of what life would have should have been like for my beautiful daughter. At four years old, Noa's list of "can't's" is huge. Can't talk. Can't sing. Can't tell us why closed doors enrage her. Can't tell us what's wrong, where it hurts, what she needs. Can't hop, can't ride a trike, can't blow out birthday candles. Can't play house or princess or pretend. Can't understand time or seasons or anything beyond the level of a two year old. Can't understand what a friend is, let alone make one her age.
It's a waste of energy, I know, to dwell on these losses. They are imaginary. The gene responsible for Noa's condition made its random replication error early in my pregnancy. Noa was never going to achieve any of the things I mourn. She has always been herself, fulfilling her utmost potential. This other Noa - the chatty one, the clever one, the one playing dress-up surrounded by friends - exists only in my mind. Noa doesn't know this person, she doesn't miss these things. Ignorance, once again, a blessing.
And what about the things she has achieved in her third year? Noa has emerged from behind a fog to be fully engaged with the world. She has started school and gets excited about it every day. Her teachers and therapists adore her. She's learned to put away her belongings, to sit for circle time, to use her picture schedule, to open her lunch containers. She has learned to use the potty! Noa knows twice as many ASL signs as she did a year ago, and can sometimes voice her thoughts with a special computer. She can count to five on her fingers and reads numbers 1 through 10 and the entire alphabet. She can write a messy but legible version of her name. Noa recognizes "her" people now and greets them with huge smiles. She hugs, she kisses, she signs mommy and daddy. And if she has an opportunity to make us laugh, she'll do it over and over. It turns out that Noa, at age four, is quite the comedienne.
So I bake the cake and wrap the present. I mourn the lost dreams and embrace the new ones. I try to remind myself, Noa is happy. She may not understand birthdays, but she is happy. She may not understand presents, but she is happy. She may not understand she is four years old, she may not be able to blow out the candles, she may not know how to unwrap her presents, but she knows that we are singing to her. She enjoys the attention, the cake, the gifts. She is happy, she is loved, she is as fulfilled as any four year old can be. And so, we celebrate.