Slow Down

Time is flying by. Leo, my rainbow, is turning ONE in a week. How has this happened? This miracle-of-a-boy who took so long to arrive, whose pregnancy was full of anxiety and fear that made it seem to drag out, even longer than a low-risk pregnancy could feel — he has been here a year! I can hardly believe it. I am so proud of this little guy we have made, so proud of the big, strong one-year-old he is about to become.

The closer we get to his birthday, the more I am hearing this phrase:

Slow down.

And this one:

Tell him to stop growing so fast!

While I know those phrases are spoken by friends who mean well, this loss-mama heart falls apart to ever think of him slowing down.

Why?

Joanna was born 1 pound, 1 ounce. Too small for her gestational age. Joanna slowed down.

Joanna’s movements slowed down. Then, she stopped altogether.

How could I ever ask for Leo to slow down? How could any mama wish for her baby to slow down? To stop growing. You just can’t wish that, because to continue to grow at the steady rate of standard time is, wouldn’t you say, far better than the alternative?

I don’t know any loss moms who like these phrases or use them at all. They remind us of our little ones, gone too soon, and they remind us that we figured out they were gone because they had slowed down.

I will say it’s true that I wish time could slow down. I try hard to soak in all the little things, and the big things too. I feel as though I already can’t remember what he was like when he was born…how will it feel when he is 18?

I wish no baby had to slow down. I wish no baby had to stop growing. I wish no mama had to experience the consequences of it happening to their child.

Sweet Leo, please continue to grow big and strong. Brave and kind.

And Time, be gentle on me.

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Dear Joanna (4.4.17)

Dear Joanna,

It’s me. Your mom. It’s been a while since I have written. I’m sitting here in our Virginia house, snuggling your little brother on the kitchen floor while we have our carpets cleaned. 

I’m not really sure what to say right now, but I know there is something in here to tell you. First off, we are moving. We are moving home to PA, close to family. We miss them and want Leo to know them, like we know our grandparents. I wonder, if your arrival had been different, would we have moved back to PA sooner? Would we still be here, listening to the whir of the carpet cleaner, you playing next to me while Leo sleeps?  

I needed to tell you we are moving because somehow I feel like leaving this home is like leaving you. Somehow leaving here, though you are not here, feels like leaving you behind. All of my memories of you are here. Finding out you were on your way just as we bought this house. Immediately planning the nursery once we moved in, but having it come to an abrupt and heartbreaking stop. A birthday with you in this house. A Thanksgiving with you in this house. An annual tree decorating party with you in this house. You were here.

And after you died, this was still your home. We planted your winterberry out back and we celebrated what should have been your due date. I slept on the floor in the nursery because it made me feel closer to you. We celebrated two of your birthdays here and created Joanna’s Gifts boxes in your memory for other loss families. We ate cupcakes and released sky lanterns. We sent you a balloon on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day last October. 

Then, we found out Leo was coming. This baby promised to us, our rainbow, was on his way. And we began working on the nursery again. The one that was gender neutral, the one that was for you. And now for him. Together. A place you share, a place you both physically exist. And now we are leaving–you will never physically share a space with your brother again. We will move into a new home and he will get a new room, maybe dinosaurs or superheroes. And you will not share it, or get your own new room. 

We will take all the pieces of the nursery and create a similar space, continuing the elephant theme. We will still hang your footprint and handprint with Leo’s and any other baby who comes along. And though pieces of you will be in the room, you won’t have had a physical presence. 

We will take your winterberry. Your memory boxes and ashes are already awaiting us in PA at Gramma and Grampa’s house. That’s where to find us. 

I guess just as you are physically gone, so we will be gone from this place as well. But we do know you are in our hearts. You are ours forever. You are our firstborn and we will see you again someday. 

Last night I rocked your brother for the last time in the nursery. It was hard, but also I was thankful knowing I would rock him and put him to bed for many, many more nights. I so miss that I couldn’t do that with you. Today I looked into the empty nursery and all I saw were walls painted with so much love, but I also saw the dreams that were dashed when you left. I feel blessed to have your brother to dream with. Tomorrow we will leave. Our first house. Your first house. But your new home is the best of homes…the home where Jesus holds you until we can wrap our arms around you again. We just wish you could be with us now. 

Sweet girl. Until we see you again, sending so much love heavenward. 

xoxo,

Mom

When She Leaves First

Debbie Reynolds died today.

I enjoy my fair share of celebrity news, but don’t normally comment much, especially on celebrity deaths. My thought process is that they are people, and people live and die. Some people live a lot shorter lives, and die.

Like Joanna. She lived 25 weeks and a few days and then she was gone – 2 years ago tomorrow.

But the reason I am commenting on Debbie Reynolds’ passing is because she died one day after her daughter. You are not supposed to die after your children. They say you can die of a broken heart – and yes, I am hearing Reynolds might have had a stroke – but what if, even though supposedly Carrie Fisher’s relationship with Reynolds was difficult – what if she died because that’s just how stressful and painful and awful it is to know you’re going to bury your baby (even if she was 60)?

Tomorrow we plan to celebrate Joanna’s life, mark another year since she left us. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve survived, a heart broken, deeply wounded, but still beating. The effect of losing your child is so great, most people don’t realize how hard it really is. How you planned a life together, planned a life where you never had to be apart, a life where your time was only severed by your death, not your baby’s. And then it’s all gone in an instant. And even though you might survive it, and you might even go on to have more children, your life is always marked by “before she died” and “after” – and you aren’t the same.

You see, it doesn’t matter how long of a life was lived, 60 years, or 6 months inside of you – that life had meaning and an impact on yours. You’re forever changed, forever missing a piece of you.

 

Heart Beat

I thought about saying nothing today. I thought about letting this day be. But I’m having a hard time today and want to write it out. Maybe it’s Christmas Eve and no one will read this, but it’s not about who reads it. It’s about helping me to process how I feel. 

And I feel very sad. 

Today my son woke up from his nap rather loudly. When I arrived in his room I placed my hand on his chest to calm him and let him know I was there. 

I felt his little heart beating so hard and so strong. How thankful I am for that heart beat. So thankful that it continues to pitter patter away. This Christmas I’m feeling especially grateful for my rainbow, for the baby fulfilling God’s promise to me that I would have another baby. 

But even in my thankfulness, feeling that heart beat made me sad. Two years ago tonight was the last time we would hear Joanna’s heart beat. The galloping rhythm of the heart beat of a baby not yet born. The most precious sound. 

How I wish hers still beat too. I wish I had two babies in my arms this Christmas. The wonder of Christmas through a two-year-old’s eyes. Magic in her heart, joy overflowing with each beat. 

Beat. 

Heart. Beat. 

I think Christmas will always be hard for me. But I am blessed beyond words and even though my heart is [still] broken, it’s still beating. 

Holding Us Now

Wow, y’all. December is here again. How did this happen?

In just 28 days we will mark the birth/death of Joanna Rose – her second birthday.

Our second year without Joanna was filled with anticipation of bringing home her little brother, and he came, full of life and health and sweetness. But having a “rainbow baby” does not make things “better.” He is not a replacement and not a fix for the broken. He doesn’t fill the hole left by Joanna. But he does fill my arms with love and happiness and so much joy, and he is a missing piece of our family now put in place. But she will always be missing. She will always be elsewhere.

But that elsewhere is Heaven. Though I miss her still, every day, I know I will see her again. I rejoice in the fact that I can live my life here, without her, with the confidence that we will meet again. That I will hold her again.

I was listening to a newly purchased Christmas album today and there is a song that combines Silent Night with another called Holding Us Now. As I was listening, it really spoke to me.

On a starlit wonder of a night
You came so all would be made right
And the baby that all beheld
The same baby Mary held, is the same God
Who is holding us now

As I was listening I began to cry, thinking of these lyrics. Jesus came to make things right, to make a way for us to go to Heaven. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the way for me and Joanna to be together again. But I also cried knowing what it’s like to hold a child who is dead, wondering if Mary realized in that moment that she would feel as I do, the broken, painful agony of burying a child, YOUR child.

The rest of the lyrics are just as powerful. The baby that everyone came to see, the one Mary held in her arms, is THE SAME God who is holding me now, holding me together through the hard days, the sad moments, the times when I miss J so much it hurts (which is still most days). He is ALSO the same God holding Joanna now. The same.

The same God He was in the joy of learning Joanna was coming. The same God He was in the devastation of finding out Joanna had died. The same God who was with us as we held Joanna and said our hellos and goodbyes all on one day. The same God–walking in pregnant, walking out parents empty arms. From a manger in Bethlehem, to a Savior on the cross, to the God in Heaven who holds our hearts through all things. He holds both me and Joanna, and someday He will hold us both, reunited.

 

Dear Joanna (7.26.16)

Dear Joanna:

I’m sorry that it has been so long since I have written to you. It’s not because I don’t miss you, because I do, every minute of every day. But lately I have been spending a lot of time cuddling your sweet baby brother and not a lot of time on my computer.

Two years ago today I found out you were on your way. One year ago tomorrow, I went to a concert and I heard that still small voice in my heart assuring me that there would be more children, that you were not meant to be an only child.

Today, you are a big sister. Tonight, your brother is sleeping soundly on your daddy’s chest, and right now, I wish you were here more than ever. With each snuggle, snore, dirty diaper, cry and feeding of your baby brother, I wish I’d had that time with you when you were born. Leo is the sweetest, and he fills my heart with so much joy, but even as full as my heart is now, it is still broken.

Broken that you have been gone almost 19 months. Broken that I never got to wake in the middle of the night and listen so closely to hear you breathing. Broken that I never got to feed you, dress you, look into your eyes, take you to the pediatrician, see you grow and change.

How can my heart be so complete and so broken at once?

Yet, I should tell you, sweet girl, that even though my heart is broken, even though our rainbow baby is here, my heart wouldn’t be complete without you. I would never trade you. I would never wish to have not gone through what we did together – your life and death and your presence in my heart. I cherish it all and I love you more each day, as I miss you more each day.

I love you so much, Joanna.

xoxo

Mom

On Milestones

One of my loss mom friends and I talk often about all of these milestones that we pass, that were supposed to be happy and are now often sad.

The 29th of each month marks another month passing without Joanna.

Each holiday that passes that should have been Joanna’s first (Christmas, New Years, Easter, etc.).

Her due date – today. This is the second April 7th we have landed on that Joanna is not here. It’s hard to imagine that, had she been growing strong and healthy, she would have been a Spring baby and we’d be celebrating “1” today (ish).

There are a few other milestones passed this week, in addition to Joanna’s due date.

On Tuesday, I officially hit 26 weeks pregnant. I’ve never made it that far before. It’s a big deal – the anxiety and fear and worry over making it past the point at which our loss of Joanna happened has been overwhelming. Now that I am two days past, I still feel anxious. I’m in new territory. I know so many things could still happen. I also know I see at least one doctor a week at this point and they have all said that baby is doing great, along with my weight gain, swelling, blood pressure, etc.

It’s reassuring to hear that. Scary still, yes, because we have heard so many stories of so many ways babies can pass, at so many different times during a pregnancy. We are just hoping and praying this baby is our “rainbow” baby – for all the rainbows I have seen in the last year.

Pregnancy after loss (PAL) is really hard. Every little thing makes me nervous that something could be wrong. I count down the days until my next appointment so I can be reassured by seeing baby dancing on the sonogram screen – as if the kicks to the ribs and bladder aren’t enough.

Being pregnant with this baby has made me miss Joanna even more, with each day that passes. How I wish she were here too, to feel these kicks and to see her baby sibling growing inside and to meet the baby this summer. If only they could both be here.

And finally, the last milestone for this month – the 2nd anniversary of our miscarriage is coming up on April 25. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years already! I’m sure little baby Bean and Joanna are playing together in Heaven right now.

But there are other milestones – the ones that remind me of God’s grace and His mercy in these circumstances. Every day is a milestone. Every day I get out of bed and I put myself together and I survive. That’s a milestone. We made it another 24 hours. How we miss Joanna. How we wish we could hold her again. How I wish I knew what she would look like as a little one year old. But in all things, God is still good.

The Quietest Easter

Last Easter we were 3.5 months out from having said “see you later” to Joanna. We went to Pennsylvania to be with family, rather than be alone in the house. It was a nice weekend away, with good food and wonderful family to visit. There was noise to drown out the sad, empty cries of our hearts.

This year, we were home. Our first Easter, just to two of us, without Joanna. I couldn’t help thinking of how different it should be as I hashtagged a photo with “dinner for two” – when it should have been three. We should have a nearly one year old. Maybe she would be walking. Maybe she would be enjoying all sorts of new foods, or maybe she would be a picky eater. Maybe we’d be out “searching” for Easter eggs in the backyard instead of looking at Joanna’s winterberry tree and wishing she were here. We’d be surrounded by little girl screams and giggles and hugs and kisses. The delightful sounds of childhood filling our home and our yard. Filling our hearts.

Instead we were home. Quiet. I made a little Easter dinner, Bill took a long nap in the afternoon since he has worked the night before.

I found myself reflecting more deeply this year on Easter itself. Thinking of Jesus’ sacrifice and how He made a way for us all to go to Heaven. In the quiet of Sunday, I realized how much more grateful I am for this sacrifice now. To know that Joanna has only known Heaven, that she will not know what heartbreak is, that Jesus made a way for her little soul to go straight to Him. That because of His sacrifice, I know I’ll be seeing J again someday.

Though quiet represents a lot of pain and sadness for me, for Joanna, quiet means peace and joy and praise and walks down golden streets and being held by her Creator, while we are not there to hold her.

Maybe this will be our last quiet Easter, but I’m grateful for the time I spent thinking of Joanna and for the peace that covers my heart when I think of seeing her again someday.

Triggers

It’s been quite some time since I have written. I would like to say it’s because we aren’t sad anymore, but that’s not true. Not a day goes by that we don’t think of and miss Joanna. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 14 months since we held J, and just a few weeks ago was the first anniversary of my blogging about our baby girl and our journey through pregnancy loss, stillbirth, grief and healing.

And a lot of healing has happened. Late in the summer of 2015 my blog posts started to taper off. I think this is because, though I always have a lot to say, especially to Joanna, I was getting to a place where words weren’t what I needed to continue healing. Just living was the thing – training for my first 5K, celebrating my birthday, going on vacation with my husband and best friends. Getting out and doing things I’ve wanted or needed to, and not feeling scared to make them happen. Not being afraid of triggers and not being afraid to tell my story.

That is not to say life is not without triggers. In living more fully and celebrating my own life, as a way to honor J, I have found many things that bring me to a stop. That immediately draw tears. That make my heart drop. I don’t think there will ever come a day when certain things won’t make me sad and miss Joanna.

Recently Bill and I went to a pet adoption event just for fun, after doing some furniture shopping. We were having fun petting the little puppies, holding them, playing with them. Then we walked to another area in the store where the older dogs were hanging out, hoping for someone to adopt them. We ran into a pretty lab/retriever mix. She was golden and so sweet, but seemed pretty antsy. That’s when the handler told me that she was feeling a little sad because her puppies were taken away that day.

I looked down and walked away so fast. The tears were immediately in my eyes. Of course that dog was sad, and not just a little. Her babies were gone and she wasn’t going to see them again. I know things are different in the animal world, but I have a dog and I know he understands a lot more than I think. I know he has feelings that have been hurt and he expresses joy and happiness. So I know that mama dog was heartbroken over her pups being taken. It hurt my heart and took me back to the day I left the hospital without my baby.

It’s so crazy how quickly something can trigger me. But at the same time, it’s not. It’s going to be a lifetime of grieving – of parenting a child who is not here. There is no “getting over” it. Healing comes slowly, but even when we are feeling better, there will be weeks, days and moments of deep, deep grief that will take over. No matter what happens in our lives from here on out, we won’t forget, we won’t stop loving, we will always miss our Joanna. No one can replace her. No one can take away the special place she holds in our hearts, and in our family.

God, in His mercy and grace, has started to heal my heart, and in His power and compassion, He holds me when I feel broken all over again.

Reflections

A year ago today marked four weeks since I gave birth to Joanna, still, at just shy of 26 weeks.

That first month was so hard, as are the months that continue to come, season by season, without Joanna.

But if you had told me at the four-week mark that eventually I would not feel physical pain every day from the emptiness, I would never have believed you.

Around the two-month mark, you might have said that I would not cry every day from the sadness, but it seemed such an unlikely scenario.

At three months, I heard that I would not be angry forever from the injustice, that I would truly laugh again and feel pure joy. But it seemed like the feelings would be my daily routine.

If you had told me at the four-month mark that a time would come when happy memories of my pregnancy and Joanna’s birth would come more often than the sad days, I would have certainly rolled my eyes and pulled the covers back over my head.

Five months in you might have said, it will get easier, and I would have cried oceans of tears, telling you it hurt too badly to believe that could ever be true.

At six months, when people asked if I had any children, I didn’t know how to respond. Practice makes perfect, you might have said. I would have said there is no way to tell my story to people who don’t understand.

At seven, eight, nine months, as babies were born who weren’t even conceived before Joanna’s birthday, bitterness tried to make its way into the cracks of my heart. I fought to keep those cracks filled with my love for Joanna.

And you know? If you had told me I would laugh and celebrate and smile and love, and so sweetly ache for my baby on Joanna’s first birthday, and not hide under a blanket and cry, I absolutely would have laughed in your face.

But this year has gone by, and these changes have come. Tears do come less often, not because we miss her less, but because we have found our “new normal” – we have figured out how to live without Joanna in our arms, though always in our hearts.

I have found the right way to share with strangers the story of my daughter, a way that brings peace to my heart and a smile to my lips – a story where my happy memories of her outweigh the sad memories of her death.

There are days I still ache, days where my chest hurts, that physical manifestation of my broken heart. But I know that love and hope and healing are filling the cracks, and I know Joanna is happy we are healing.