A Special Needs Mama’s First Birthday Feelings

Bryn turned one on January 22nd and I’ll be honest, I’ve been struggling to work through my feelings ever since. A first birthday is such a monumental occasion. It signifies the end of the true baby phase and the beginning of the toddler phase. It comes with new milestones, new foods, and new things to teach your child. It often brings less pacifier time and fewer bottles. With our other two kids, the first birthday included a mix of all of these things. It was pure celebration and excitement.

With Bryn, it’s been much different. Her first birthday came with an overwhelming sense of joy and pride for all that she has overcome and achieved. It also came with fear of the future, grief for what could have been, and a longing for normalcy.

Different can be good, great even. Different can also be worrisome, scary, and even sad. The first birthday for a mom of a child with special needs is confusing. And where you have confusion, you also have sleepless nights, heartache, and loneliness. Which is why I am writing this very vulnerable post. I want all of the other special needs mamas approaching a first birthday out there to feel seen and loved. I’ve had a month now to reflect on my feelings, listen to advice from those around me, and process. What started as a glass half empty attitude surrounding her birthday has transformed into shock and awe about what an incredible daughter I have. I hope to encourage and pass this feeling onto you, sweet mama.

Your child is an absolute gift and there is so much to be learned from them.

I almost can’t believe how much I have learned from tiny Bryn in her one year of life. Her strength, her determination, her beauty, her intelligence – none of these things, or so many of her other amazing qualities have been affected by her disability. It does not define her. I used to think meeting milestones on time or early was the ultimate show of a baby’s health and success. The milestones are important and we strive to meet them everyday. But I have also learned that there are so many other benchmarks that are far more important. These kids are on their own timeline and there is nothing wrong with that. Every milestone she reaches is the best gift.

Bryn, along with so many other families and individuals we have connected with, have taught me to think differently about the disabled community. Instead of looking away or feeling sorry for someone with a disability, I now admire them for all they have overcome in life and aspire to teach others about ableism and inclusion.

The progress is there, you just can’t see it.

I had a conversation with our physical therapist recently expressing my concern that Bryn was hitting a plateau and not seeing as much steady progression as we’ve been used to. After going through every explanation as to why this might be, I was still feeling uneasy and like there was more I could be doing. What she said next changed the way I’ve approached physical therapy and my view of Bryn’s development ever since.

She told me that over the past two months, (the amount of time since I became a stay at home mom) Bryn has grown in leaps and bounds with her mobility. I just can’t see that as clearly because I am here, doing the work day in and day out with her. I don’t see the culmination of her little victories because I’m too close to the situation. If you are feeling the same, beat down by the constant PT tears and overwhelmed by the fear of failing your child – know that there is progress every day. In the little moments and the big you are helping your child succeed even if you can’t blatantly see it. Over time, (maybe even a lot of time) we will get to see our victories. When that time comes, I hope you will celebrate big with me.

You have very likely just made it through your hardest year yet.

For us, this could not be more true. The last year has been full of learning, adjusting, and feeling it all. But we made it through and I truly think we are stronger and happier because of it. That is something to be celebrated. For that, you should absolutely pop open a bottle of champagne and toast yourself and those around you while your precious babe is blowing out those candles.

Never back down on your hope.

Everything we have been through, and continue to go through with Bryn has taught me that nothing is impossible. There is nothing that cannot be achieved in this life. We have so much hope and so many dreams for our kids day in and day out. It’s normal to loose sight of that sometimes.

At our last Ortho visit, our doctor asked what mobility for Bryn has been like lately. I was embarrassed to tell her at the time that we hadn’t made much progress since our previous visit. She didn’t even bat an eye. She immediately told me that Bryn would get there, to not loose hope, and to give her time. If she can have so much hope for my child, why shouldn’t I?

If you are approaching a big time in your child’s life; the first birthday or any other occasion, I hope you will take the time to reflect. Feel all the feelings, good and bad, be proud of how far you all have come, and recharge your hope. You are an incredible mama and your child is absolutely amazing. You deserve to celebrate like you never have before.

Happy birthday to your little one, and happy BIRTH day to you! I’m here celebrating you both right alongside you.

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