Candles, but No Cake: Celebrating My Birthday Without Food

Candles, but No Cake: Celebrating My Birthday Without Food

Have your cake and eat it, too. But not me.

For several years, I’ve been fruitlessly reassuring myself that when my next anniversary of living rolls around, I will be able to eat birthday cake. Along with an array of other grievances that I ruminate on around the time of my birthday, my continued digestive distress takes a big bite out of me.

The symbolism of birthday cake — a confection dappled with pastel frosting topped with a flaming emblem of possibility — is rooted deep within our culture. Perhaps my traumatic tales of eating troubles have made me particularly perceptive of the role of food in all types of celebrations. Throughout my decades of restricted diets, I’ve experienced indescribable pain associated with eating. At times, my inability to eat has whittled my weight down to dangerous double digits.

On past birthdays, my inability to eat has presented me with no other option than to have artificial nutrition pumped into my body. Abandoning my digestive tract for the sake of survival via a milky concoction through my veins has been the opposite of celebratory. Interwoven into this formulated nourishment delivered via a peripherally inserted central catheter has simultaneously flowed guilt and shame. Accompanied by the beep, beep, beep of the IV pump administering this formula has been a sickening sense of failure. I can’t eat. How am I even alive?

The subject of food culture is omnipresent. I cannot escape it. Everybody wants to feed me, although no one will ever know the depths of my desire for the ability to feed myself. I understand that the urge to nourish is associated with social interaction. Despite my haunted past with food, I feel an instinctual pull to prepare sustenance for those I cherish. Perhaps my efforts to rekindle a positive relationship with food are a subconscious attempt to transform it from enemy to friend. If I can’t consume it, at least I can share it lovingly with others.

Coping with feelings of humiliation when explaining to others my vacillating, yet always limited ability, to eat is challenging. Though the once searing pain associated with any oral intake has lessened, food remains a tortured memory and a hopeful delicacy. Talk about a complicated relationship.

I can’t imagine a more satisfying way to commemorate my upcoming birthday than with a chocolaty confection. The freedom to gift my tastebuds with this now unfamiliar sweetness would be a wish come true. My childhood culinary preferences were for pastries of any kind, but my adult heart longs merely for the ability to eat freely without fear or pain. I wish time and time again, year after year, to have my cake and eat it, too.


Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disorder. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.


  1. Natalie Corrigan says:

    Hey Briana,

    I love reading your articles, you’ve got incredible prose and perspective. As a woman with CP, it’s so refreshing to get an unflinching perspective on life with a disability.

    • Briana Beaver says:

      Hi Natalie,

      Thank you dearly for your wonderful feedback! It makes my day to know my columns connect with you! Cheers!

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