This day last year, at 2:33am, a 6lb 40z bundle of Leo Phoenix entered the world, with long feet and surprisingly dark hair. With him came the start of a year we could never have prepared for, but complete with a continuous, overflowing unconditional amount of love. Leo was born silently into this world, just three days after we discovered he had died. We would do anything to change that, but we wouldn’t change him. We would always take him silent, over not having him at all.
I’ve been quiet lately, not really knowing how to put into words the emotions that his first birthday has created. Over the past few months, so much has happened – returning to work, falling pregnant for the third time, celebrating Christmas without Leo, and entering a New Year that he neither lived or died in. I don’t feel like I’ve really tapped into my grief over these past few months, most likely because before I’ve had time to process one aspect of our journey, another presents itself. Yet, entering January has been hard. Really hard, and as a result I’ve stopped talking so much about how we are doing – because I don’t really know how to describe it.
One of my biggest struggles has been finding that balance between wanting Leo’s first birthday to be beyond perfect, and accepting that it can’t be, because he isn’t here. Trying to decide what to do, who to include, how big or small to make it – when all you really want is the typical first birthday party for your son. I’ve struggled, we’ve struggled – we’ve been propelled back into the emotions of last year, but I’m proud to say we’ve managed to make Leo’s birthday one filled with love, smiles and memories. Given our reality, I think that’s pretty perfect.
A year ago, the concept of Leo’s first birthday was already playing on my mind. It felt like an impossible milestone to reach, far far away in the distance – but a significant one, that if we made it there alive, still standing and somewhat resembling our former selfs, then we had achieved, and we could in fact continue with our lives. Our new, redefined lives – but continuing was an option.
Now, as we sit on the evening of Leo’s first birthday, caked out and defrosting from a day at the beach, I wanted to share what we have done – to celebrate a year of survival, and to thank those who have made that possible.
One thing we knew we wanted to do was to thank some people who have made a positive influence on an incredibly challenging year. Bereavement, trauma, stillbirth – it divides people instantly, and a year later there are a small handful of people who were not obliged at all to hang around and see this journey unfold – yet they did. Some we hadn’t spoken to or seen in years, others were at the very early stages of friendship that if we are honest, meant we probably wouldn’t have even noticed if they’d decided to bow out.
So we sent a few Thank You cards, and for an even smaller handful, a small token of our appreciation. What stands out about these people, is that generally they don’t consider that they have done anything out of the ordinary – but they really, really have and it felt important to us to make sure that they knew that, that they have value to the world, and value to us.
Making Memories for Leo
A few weeks ago, we asked that should anyone want to honour Leo this month, we’d appreciate memories being made. Whether that was something small or large, it didn’t matter, but just making memories for themselves or their families. It is something that we have really cherished doing this year – even though Leo isn’t here, we can make memories still with him as the focus, and that is so cherished. If you still want to do something for Leo, feel free to and share using the #MakingMemoriesForLeo.
So, as a family with Leo’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins we went to Marwell Zoo, on the anniversary of his death – a perfect anecdote to the 14th January last year. Obviously, Leo would have been incredibly animal obsessed, with Lions being his favourite, so Zoos would have been his favourite place to be (he probably hates us, insisting he’s a Lion fan…!). It was a lovely day, with Leo’s cousins obsessed with each other, running around and enjoying time with all the family. No doubt a tradition of sorts will have been started!
Beach, Balloons, Bubbles and Birthday Cake
Today, on his actual birthday, we visited a beach on the coast of Dorset – Sandbanks, courtesy of Teddy’s mummy’s recommendations. Somewhere new to take Leo!
At the beach, we enjoyed a picnic, a decent walk (essential as it was friggin’ freezing!), released two more balloons, including a giant Lion, played with giant bubbles and ate a birthday cake that we made for him especially. It was really important to me that we made him a cake, and whilst the wind didn’t really allow the candles to be lit, Leo still got his cake!
Presents and Cards Galore
One of the reasons that we wanted to send a few people cards and some small gifts, was to make sure cards and presents were being opened on Leo’s birthday. I’m not sure what we expected Leo to receive, but he did pretty well himself on the birthday card and present front! He’s had a whole Lion pride adopted for him, some brilliant additions to his bookshelf, and some essential Lego, amongst other fantastic gifts!
We are so grateful for those who have remembered Leo on his first birthday, it means SO much, and has really helped us create our own version of birthday excitement and buzz in the house. Having balloons, cards, flowers and gifts to display makes Leo as alive as he was one year and four days ago, and that is the greatest gift anyone could give us.
The last celebration for Leo’s birthday will be a long weekend in Snowdonia, Wales. We had planned to 1) go up Snowdon on the train, as Leo went up as part of the 5 for 5 Challenge, but apparently the train is shut in the Winter! I am using being 15 weeks pregnant as an excuse not too walk up, but I really wouldn’t be walking up there pregnant or not! and 2) The Wife was going to do Zip World (look it up!) but seemingly they are fully booked until April. All this calls for a warm, puzzle filled few days of nothing-much-at-all, and another trip in the warmer months some other time!
Happy First Birthday, Leo Phoenix. You are loved beyond measure.