Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Thoughts on Turning 36

I'm struggling with this birthday.

I looked back at last year's blog posts to see if I was freaked out about turning 35, but there's nothing. I don't remember being particularly freaked out about it. In fact, I think I expected to feel freaked out about 35, but then I just... didn't. Of course, my birthday happened to fall at the tail-end of our trip to West Virginia and Pittsburgh for my brother's wedding, so I believe I "celebrated" it in a minivan driving from Cleveland to St. Louis, and we didn't make a big deal out of it, but I just don't remember having a bunch of internal angst about it, either.

This year feels different. And it's not just about wrinkles around my eyes or the fact that my mid-section is still pretty melty looking, no matter how many crunches/flutter kicks/planks I do.

Earlier this month, I was seriously considering whether I want to have another baby. I've now concluded that this longing was actually a combination of nostalgia since Coco has stopped breastfeeding and I'm overwhelmed by how fast time is going and how quickly my babies are growing up, general freak-out about getting older myself, and misplaced grief. I don't think we are missing baby number four. I think we are missing baby number one. And I'm sad to be done having babies.

And while 36 may not be as monumentous as 35 (or 40) in terms of our general culture, my birthday comes toward the end of summer. Birthdays obviously invite reflection on the past as well as looking ahead to the future, and and July 28, all "future" thoughts turn to August and the start of school.

In a family where the dad is a principal and the mom is a professor, back-to-school is obviously a pretty big deal. Everything changes and life is a little stressful and exciting and requires much more planning and organizing and coordinating than summer days. This year, Zuzu will stay at her Montessori Special Snowflake School, as a PK4, and Coco will start at the same school in the Toddler House. All of this is fine, and I love that they'll be at the same place again.

But I'm turning 36 and I should have a five-year-old starting kindergarten.

And I cannot help but believe that turning 36 would feel easier if I had a kindergartener. I would feel like I'm where I am supposed to be in life, if that makes sense. After all, that was the plan.

Maybe that sounds weird, but I really think it's true. I didn't mind turning 30 because I'd accomplished what I'd hoped to by 30: I had my graduate degree and I was pregnant. BOOM. I was OWNING 30. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

(Side note: I realize that 30, 35, 36, whatever looks different for everyone and I don't think people in general who are 36 or 40 without a kid or a kid ok kindergarten are not where they are supposed to be--this is just my own expectation for myself, and I know it's arbitrary but I still feel the loss.)

So I was 30 and life was meeting my expectations, then my baby died and I didn't give a crap about my degree and I still can't believe I actually managed to land a job that year when I was basically a lump of professional apathy and personal devastation.

My friend Christine is a BLM whose first baby, a little boy named Matthew, was stillborn last July. Her birthday is in December. She's five years younger than I am, so this whole thing is unfolding for her along the exact same age/timeline as it did for me (except that she got pregnant with her rainbow sooner than I did and is expecting Matthew's little brother very soon). As I watch her walking this path at the same age and in relatively the same place in life/marriage/career, I try to reassure her that things get easier. That a rainbow baby really does bring color back to the world. That right now being a BLM feels like an entire identity, but in five years it will feel like an important part of a bigger identity.

But I also have to tell her that the milestones are still really hard, and sometimes in unexpected ways. Summer is generally the happiest time for me--the season of Zuzu and Coco's births, David's birthday, my anniversary, time off of school/work, vacations, and I'm a fan of warm weather. But there are still occasional grief slumps, and I guess I'm in one.

I can't help but recall my 31st birthday, which was undoubtedly one of the most miserable days of my life. I painted a console table on my deck in the sweltering heat and humidity and missed my baby so much I thought (hoped?) that I would literally just fall over and die. By the time I turned 32, Zuzu was here, and the distraction helped, but I definitely don't feel like celebrating my birthday the way I used to.

This year I'm definitely in a better place, but alongside this grief is a lot of anger this year. I'm furious that Eliza isn't here. I'm angry that I lost whole years of my early thirties to grief. I'm mad that the cohort of kids and parents I should know with Eliza as a kindergarten is forever lost to me. I'm already pissed off that I'm going to have to brace myself for first day of kindergarten photos on IG (still not on FB for mental health reasons) and that as much as I'm excited to celebrate the start of this academic year for Zuzu and Coco, some of that joy is overshadowed by how very much I want there to be three little girls lined up on my porch steps. I'm so angry about her not being here and it's like I'm suddenly recognizing all over again what I thought I'd known all along: She's always going to be gone. I'm always going to miss her. I'm never going to catch up to where I thought I would be. No matter how many babies I have, none of them is going to start kindergarten this year.

I know it's not true that everyone my age has a child entering kindergarten this year. I know it's not really any easier to lose a baby at 25 or 28 than it is at 30. I know that there are many people whose families have not been created according to plan. I know that there are many people who lose years of their lives to illness, to cancer, to depression, other kinds of grief. I know I'm not alone this struggle, even when it feels that way.

But it's MY birthday, so I guess I'll cry if I want to. And when I think about turning 36 right now, that's kind of all I want to do. Maybe I can get it out of my system now and actually enjoy the day when it rolls around next week.


  1. It's okay to feel sad, Brooke. It's weird, as much as we know the emotional ups/downs of grief & babyloss, sometimes it takes you by surprise. As you know, there is no way around it, only through it. I hope you have a happy-ish birthday and you eat some cake. Sending love.

    1. Thanks, Monique. I guess one of the lessons of being this far into it is that I've learned that I do get through these moments and I just have to let it ride until I'm feeling better. Being reminded of that helps, though!

  2. Thirty six was a rough one for me too, fwiw, albeit for different reasons. It was related to getting older and our family not looking like it was "supposed" to look, though, so I can kind of identify. The frustration when things aren't going like you planned, the sense of time going by that you'll never get back... Not a recipe for happiness. Thirty, and then 40, were much better for me. I hope by the time your day gets here, it feels better, but it IS your day, so cry if you want to! <3

  3. I don't think we are missing baby number four. I think we are missing baby number one.

    So well said, I feel the same way.

  4. Milestones magnify things, for sure. And I agree with you, even though I'm no longer in academia, I still feel the end of the summer stress. (Some of that probably comes from my sister's stress over it.)

    Go easy on the things you can go easy on yourself over. Your eyes (and stomach) are lovely. You make almost 36 look great.

    You are such a good friend to so many people - I can only imagine how grateful Christine is for your friendship. I'm making dinner tomorrow for a family that is exactly where you were 5.5 years ago. I know that I'll never have just the right words for their grief right now, but at least I can be a friend, and take a small thing off their to-do list tomorrow.

    1. A local family? Let me know what I can do--I would be glad to reach out to them if it might help.

    2. I love this about you.

  5. I needed to read this tonight- it's the late night hours of my first birthday without my daughter and layered on top of that is the fact that it's "the big 3-0". I'm feeling the same anger about life just being so far from THE PLAN, and also the extreme difference of what I was feeling last year at this same time laying in bed almost 8 months pregnant. How could 365 days turn into a completely different life? I just want to say that you're not alone. And if we both have to make it through a less-then-enjoyable bday we can sit in that place together.

    - lydarose

    1. The first birthday after is so hard. It just feels completely wrong, and I know what you mean about the unbelievable difference between what you expected a year ago and where you are today. Sending good thoughts your way and hoping for a gentle day as we sit in this grief pit together.

  6. The kinder pictures will be rough. We had planned to start Cale (as we do with Finn) a year late so Cale and Eliza would have been in the same grade.

    Sorry 36 is feeling heavy.

  7. We were busy having Ethan on the first day of school last year which would have been Olivia's first day, as far as distractions go it was a pretty good one. I get it though. Sigh.

  8. Oh Brooke, I feel like we are sharing a brain. I am 36 and a half, and I have had all of these same feelings, the anger about losing my early 30s to grief, the uncertainty about wanting another baby, the feeling that I have been left behind. I think I know seven families with children starting kinder, many of them close friends. August and September will be rough. I try to console myself with the thought that I still get to have a preschooler when they are all mourning the end of that. Hope that you find a few bright moments on your birthday.