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Today my baby girl celebrated her fourth birthday. It started out rough. She spent seven hours with her dad yesterday and celebrated with him then. His celebrations consist of a little round cake and some ice cream. No balloons. No special meal. No fan fare at all. Here’s a piece of cake and a couple of small gifts. Then, it’s back to TV.

She was drained. I picked the kids up at 5, and the little two were screaming and fighting. My youngest son refused to get in the car because she got in before he did. She hit him and then immediately fell asleep, like she passed out.

They had to go back today for her birthday for three hours.  He didn’t want them longer than that because he has to drive back to his new life and likes to leave early in the afternoon.

She misses him.  She hates him.  She told me that she wants Mama and Daddy to live together again, so she can have us both.  But, when I offered to buy everyone, including Daddy and his mother, doughnuts for her birthday this morning, she got angry and said, “No!  He can buy his own!”  I let her open one gift before we had to leave, a princess cape from a friend.  She loved it and danced proudly around the living room.  I offered for her to wear it to Daddy’s house to show him, but she took it off and hid it in the box of Christmas ornaments and said, “No, he might steal it from me.”

He didn’t feed them lunch today.  They sat and watched TV for three hours straight.  She was told Happy Birthday upon arrival, but that was it.  No other mention was made of her special day.

She immediately started crying when I picked them up, crying that she was so hungry and Daddy didn’t give her any food.  I told her that we’d get her something, but next time just to tell Daddy that she’s hungry.  She wailed then, as though she thought I was blaming her, “I didn’t know I could!  I didn’t know!”

She and I held hands and went in the grocery store to pick up her cake and ice cream.  She ordered a Rapunzel cake last week–chocolate with chocolate filling.  Next stop was the take and bake pizza place where she picked out a make it yourself mini pizza kit.  We then went to the coffee shop to get her free birthday Not So Hot with peppermint sprinkles.  At that point, the tide of her mood was turning.

My oldest daughter and her husband came over, and we all ate, sang to her as she blew out her candles, and then watched her open her presents.  Three of my friends had sent her gifts, in addition to the ones from me and my daughter and son-in-law.  It was quite a haul!  She went from overwhelming excitement to absolute contentment.  Big difference from last night and this morning.

On my older children’s birthdays I often reflect back to the actual days of their births and ponder the lightening speed with which the time has flown by.  I don’t like to think about D’s birth.  She was my last, my long awaited little girl.  I’d had one girl when I was very young and then birthed five sons over the next twenty years.  I ached for another little girl.  For years I longed to braid hair and skip through parking lots with a miniature person dressed in pink.  But, the day of her birth is not a joyous memory.

I was admitted to the hospital dilated to 6 cm.  Everyone suspected it would be quick.  My last baby had been born at home unexpectedly after a basically nonexistent labor and a very spontaneous delivery.  It didn’t happen as quickly as we had all expected though.

I laid in the birthing bed for three hours, suffering through the intensifying contractions.  My daughter was there, sitting on the window seat, uncertain what to do.  My husband sat on the window seat, too, complaining of abdominal pain the entire time.  He would look at me, pleading, “Babes, what do you think is wrong with me?  Why do I hurt so bad?  What do you think I did?”  I couldn’t answer.  My own pain was so intense that I couldn’t respond, but I had no one to help me, no one to comfort me.  My daughter longed to go to my side and help me stay on top of my breathing, which I was struggling with.  However, she knew that he didn’t like anyone “taking his place,” so she stayed put on the window seat and watched silently.  He complained bitterly and sought attention for himself until I screamed out the door to the nurse that it was time.  I struggled to sit up on my own in preparation for birth.

The nurse was new so had invited an old, iron maiden type of nurse to join her.  She threw me back on the bed.  We fought throughout the birth.  I tried to sit up.  She threw me on my back.  My husband wandered and got in everyone’s way.  At one point someone suggested that he hold my hair back out of my face as I tried to push our baby into the world from an unfamiliar, primarily supine position.

She was my seventh baby, and I’d never had such a difficult time birthing a child.  But, there were too many people, too much noise, and they were pushing me and yanking on me; I was not in control of my birth or my body.  I felt helpless.

I managed to get onto my elbows but then realized I couldn’t breathe.  I wasn’t able to get a deep breath in order to push.  I felt like I was suffocating.  My daughter was standing immediately to my left, and I whispered to her, “I.  Feel.  Like.  I.  Can’t.  Breathe.”   She gasped, “Oh my God!  Dad, you’re choking her!”  With his left hand he had my hair gathered together at the nape of my neck, holding it back out of my face as they had suggested.  But, he pulled so hard that he had forced my face into an upward position, craning my head backward.  He had his right hand clamped tightly around my throat.  He laughed and stammered, “Oh, uh, I didn’t realize what I was, uh, doing.  I’m just, uh, so nervous.  Sorry.”

I had a very long and difficult recovery.  It seemed to take months to not feel overwhelmingly exhausted and traumatized.  It was not the glorious, beautiful birthing experience I longed for.  It was not a special, shared moment of bonding for my husband, my daughters–one grown and one newly born, and me.  It was a draining, frightening experience.

It doesn’t matter now; she’s four.  That was a long time ago.  She’s beautiful.  I like to braid her long hair.  She loves pink, and we always hold hands and skip through the parking lots.  However, it does sting a little bit that he hurt her feelings today on her birthday, just like he hurt mine on the day of her birth.  It pains me to know that he neglected her needs, neglected to feed her today, just like he neglected my need to be comforted four years ago today.  Today should have been just a happy day.  But, November 24, 2008, should have been as well.  Somehow he manages to always rob our joy, and we have to battle to get it back.