When  I think about the firsts I have experienced in my life, there are none as victorious as Madeline’s first birthday, because it was never supposed to happen.

As you all know, Maddie’s first year was hard-fought, and there are dozens of people who contributed to her health and well-being. Doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, support groups, friends, and family, everyone played a vital role in helping our girl make it through her first twelve months. There were so many scary moments when we didn’t even think we’d get to take our girl home, let alone celebrate her birthday. When it was time to plan her first birthday party, we knew we wanted to not only celebrate Maddie but also all the people who’d helped her make it to that special day.

We invited everyone to come to our Halloween-themed extravaganza for Maddie, and we were thrilled when so many important people, including two of her NICU nurses, came to the party. Everyone threw themselves into the costume party, especially the birthday girl.

The Flintstones

Sheridan & Monica / Pirates!

Grandpa/ Baseball Player

Maddie was tiny but thriving. It had taken countless doctors’ visits, x-rays, hospital stays, Synagis vaccines, and breathing treatments, but we’d made it through the first year. I cried happy tears a dozen times throughout the party, especially when I saw Maddie in the arms of all the different people who loved her.

Auntie Jackie! and sleepy Maddie/Pebbles

When the time came to sing Happy Birthday, I was bursting with happiness. Maddie, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure at first.

Not so sure about this

She warmed up to it once she had her first taste of frosting.

birthday cake dive

At the end of the party I remember my cheeks literally aching from smiling so much. It was one of the greatest days we had with Maddie, the only birthday we got to celebrate with her.

I think a lot about what a privilege it is to have been born in this country. There are many countries in this world where Maddie and I both likely would have died during pregnancy or delivery. Maddie definitely would not have survived being born so soon, with so many complications, if she’d been born in a developing country. In the United States, we were lucky enough to have so many different options for her care. We had choices! So many parents have no choices for their children’s medical care. It’s not fair.

Every twenty seconds, a child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease. Every twenty seconds, more parents join Mike and me on this painful path of living when our children do not. I don’t want any parent to lose a child to a preventable disease because they didn’t have access to the medications and advances we take for granted here. Because of this, I have partnered with Shot@Life, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, to help provide life-saving vaccines where they are most needed. For every comment or social share this post receives during the month of August, Walgreens will donate a vaccine to a child in need around the world. I have some of the most amazing readers in the land, and I’m confident we’ll be able to donate thousands of vaccines to children who want and need them. Leave lots and lots of comments! Leave more than one! We have the entire month of August to make a HUGE difference!

Every child deserves the opportunity to have happy and healthy firsts.

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During Shot@Life’s Blogust 2014—a month-long blog relay—some of North America’s most beloved online writers, photo and video bloggers and Shot@Life Champions will come together and share stories about Happy and Healthy Firsts. Every time you comment on this post and other Blogust contributions, or share them via social media (by hitting the share buttons at the top or bottom of this post), Shot@Life and the United Nations Foundation pages, Walgreens will donate one vaccine (up to 60,000).  Blogust is one part an overall commitment of Walgreens donating up to $1 million through its “Get a Shot. Give a Shot.” campaign. The campaign will help provide millions of vaccines for children in need around the world. 

Sign up here for a daily email so you can quickly and easily comment and share every day during Blogust! For more information, visit shotatlife.org or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.