Calendar Moments

Today after work I let the dog out, as usual. I stood in the fading sun at the sliding glass door and watched him run around. I think, someday, he would have loved running around with Joanna.

When he ran around the corner out of sight, I moved over and looked at the calendar. I picked up my Sharpie pen and started adding. “Bill to Rochester” for a week. “Carol to SoCal” for a week. “Mom and Dad Overnight” one weekend in April. “Emily’s Bridal Shower,” “Amber in Town”.

As I added these things to the calendar I realized that the big trips I was writing down would not be happening if Joanna had been born [alive] when she was due, April 7. Bill couldn’t have left for Rochester a week after her birth. I would not be going to California for work, since I wouldn’t even be working.

The smaller visits would still have happened. My parents would still have come visit, and even Amber would still be coming! But they would have been coming to meet and visit with Joanna. I am happy they are still coming to see me, I’m sad that Joanna is not here to snuggle and shower with love and kisses.

While I am going to look forward to California for the next few weeks, and I am sure I will have a good time with my co-workers and hopefully see the Pacific again, I will be wishing for a different scenario. While Bill is in Rochester I will be wishing he were with me, with us – our little family of three (ok, four, counting Heinz).

The calendar reminds us that our lives do continue on, they must. We cannot stop time; change; things out of our control. We can only remember what has been, and try to look at the future with hope.

It’s still easier to just not look.

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A Breath of Fresh Air

Jane Austen once wrote, “Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”

While she was writing of romantic love, I have found a lot of meaning to this quote in the disappointment that is pregnancy loss, that is a mother losing her child.

When we miscarried our first baby, I cried for days. How could we have waited so long for a child and struggled with fertility nearly two years only to be disappointed days later? I was devastated. I was hurting. I felt alone.

But in my time of pain and sorrow, friends who had experienced the same kind of loss were there for me. From my mom, to my sister-in-law, to friends far and wide who had lost one, two, or more pregnancies. Their kind words and encouragement and shared experiences helped to ease the heartache and bring some hope back into my life.

When we miraculously conceived Joanna only 3 months later it seemed like she was going to be our rainbow baby. Flash forward nearly 26 weeks. When a doctor tells you, “There’s no heartbeat,” it literally breaks your heart. I say literally because you feel it inside your chest ripping in two and then it crashes to the pit of your stomach into smaller pieces. Heartbreak really does physically manifest as chest pain, among other things.

I cried every day for months. I still cry most days. But the outpouring of love and support and prayers from our friends and family has been what helps us get by. One day at a time. Or more accurately, one moment at a time.

Over the weekend I had the chance to visit a friend. A dear, sweet friend. It had been a long time since I had seen her; we hadn’t seen each other the whole time I was pregnant. She has not experienced the same kind of loss, but this deep, precious connection that we have had for so many years – it was the balm I needed. Her sweet cards and consistent phone calls and texts have been coming to me on the days I have needed them most. Yet there is no comparison to seeing a dear friend in person when your heart is aching. There is nothing like a familiar hug from one whose heart is as broken as yours, for you. Friendship is, itself, a healer. A ray of light and breath of fresh air in a dark and saddened place. A glimmer of hope when all feels lost.

I praise God in all things, even the most devastating times. And I thank Him daily for the blessing of friendship, the balm of the brokenhearted.

Dear Joanna (3.23.15)

Dear Joanna,

I went home to PA to visit family and friends this weekend. You would have liked it there. The weather was pretty mild, though of course it snowed on the first day of spring. It would have been fun to take you there in the winter to go sled riding. And in the spring to celebrate Easter and your cousin Shay’s birthday. Summer would have been fun, going to Waterford Days and stopping for a nice visit at your Pap’s camp so your daddy could show you off to his family. The fall is great too – cool temperatures and beautiful leaves. You would have grown up looking forward to those visits up north, just as your dad and I look forward to them.

This trip was pretty special. I got to meet little baby Annabelle. She is only a few weeks old and her mama, Erin, and I liked to share baby bump photos while we were both pregnant. I took her some breakfast and we got to share labor and delivery stories, though there was but one baby to hold. I wish there were two; I wish one was you. For most of the visit I just looked – I watched as AB lounged quietly while her mom and I talked. I looked on as Erin breastfed her, changed her diaper, redressed her. Toward the end of my visit I decided to hold her. She was much heavier than you, but still felt so tiny. She was warm and smelled like babies smell, so sweet and clean. And as I cuddled her on my chest, I wished for you.

Joanna, no one can replace you or fill this hole. Holding AB was priceless, so special, even healing. It helped me remember that all babies are precious and all babies are miracles, even if they aren’t mine. But there is just one you. So someday when your dad and I decide that we’ll have another baby, we know that your brother or sister will be a precious gift, but not a replacement. Even in that upcoming joy – you will always be missing from our lives on Earth.

I also got the chance to visit with another friend named Erin. She and I have been friends 18 years this year. That’s a very long time, especially considering I only had you for 6.5 months. While visiting, I was entertained for the evening by Annakay. AK is almost two and is very sweet. I wish you could have been her friend, just like her mom and I are friends. AK and I danced, put hats on and marched around the house, shared a snack and watched the end of Tarzan together.

I find that being around baby girls and little girls is much harder on me than being around boys. Mostly, I suppose, because they are a constant reminder of what I am missing – you. However, I realized the sharp edges of my broken heart are ever so slowly being smoothed: playing games and dancing with AK warmed my heart and made it feel full for a little while. Though the hole where you belong will never go away, there are small, fleeting moments of pure delight that take my breath away. Even though I cried for you the whole drive home from Erin and AK’s.

Who you would have been, how you would have looked as you grew, what we would have played…I still dream of those things. But I know you are doing all those things in Heaven.

I am grateful for the strength to get out of bed each day and live here without you.

I love you.

xoxo,

Mom

P.S. Sweet girl, you’ve been in Heaven for 12 weeks today. How we miss you, Joanna.

Dear Joanna (3.17.15)

Dear Joanna:

It’s me. Your mom.

37. That’s how far along I would be if you were still here. 37 weeks today. Full term! You could have safely come at any time and likely been perfectly healthy. Wouldn’t it be neat to be a St. Patty’s day baby?

Instead, you’re celebrating 11 weeks and one day in Heaven.

Heaven. Of course it’s a good place to be. No pain. No heartache. No tears (unless they are happy). Praising God in person. Hanging out with your Great Grandpa Rosey. You know, you’re named after him. That’s why your name is so special. Joanna after your maternal grandma, who is one of the most amazing and strong women I know, and my grandpa, with whom I shared a birthday, plus the Rosenthal eyes and chin! You had the same chin, and I bet your eyes would have been blue too.

Though I know you’re in Heaven, I still wish you were with me. We would snuggle before bedtime and I would sing to you a special lullaby. Your special lullaby. We would take your big “brother” Heinz for walks around the neighborhood now that the weather is nice. Yes, there were so many things we were going to do with you just in those first few months. Weddings. Parties. Picnics. You would have loved everyone. They already loved you.

Yesterday I sat in my car soaking in the sun, for both of us. It feels warm and revitalizing after a long winter, a sad winter. Soon it will bring the grass and flowers and trees back to life! But you will not be here to experience it with me. I listen to the birds for both of us, too. They sing so sweetly in the afternoons and I think you would have liked hearing them chirp and chatter.

I know, deep down, that there are better things to feel and hear in Heaven. I know you’re happy there. But I just hope you know how much you are missed. I hope you know that at every wedding, party and picnic I will think of you, and how we are not together. Just as I think of you every day, all day.

Sweet girl, I love you.

Love,
Mom

Losing Everything

Typical Tuesday evening. Watch NCIS with Bill. Walk on the treadmill for 45 minutes. Clean up and a quick change into pajamas. Lay down. Set the alarm on your iPhone. Turn on Pandora for some bedtime music.

And that’s where “typical” ends.

Pandora won’t load. Ugh. How can you sleep with no background noise to drown out the constant conversation in your head? The analyzing. The questioning. The wishing it had all been a dream.

Your iPhone wants to update. Sure, no problem. You do this over Wi-Fi all the time. You bet once you complete the update, Pandora will work seamlessly. But something is not right. Your phone will not finish downloading the software. The screen goes black. When it comes back on, it’s telling you to plug into iTunes. Ok….

Plug into iTunes. Warning screen: If iPhone cannot be updated you will need to reset it to factory settings. So you click “Update.” Nothing. Initiate freak out. When was the last time you backed up your iPhone? A year ago. Do you auto-backup to iCloud? No.

Freak out some more and go to bed so that you don’t make it any worse. Lay awake for three hours worrying you’ve lost everything.

In the morning: you’ve lost everything.

Ok, that’s extreme. You’ve lost all of your pictures. To you, it feels like everything. Ultrasound photos. “Bumpdate” photos. Videos from the Carrie Underwood concert you shared with Bill and Joanna while she was still growing, strong and healthy, inside your belly. The video of her heartbeat on your Doppler.

Everything.

Praise God for technology. Yes, technology is why you lost your photos and videos. But with technology, you posted many of the best and most special ones on Facebook. You texted videos and photos to your family and friends each week. You are able to get back some of what you have lost.

Do you ever feel you’ve lost everything only to get most of it back? There is nothing sweeter than receiving something you thought was gone forever. A lost dog is returned home by a kind soul. A lost favorite earring is recovered on the beach by a stranger’s metal detector. A lost ring down the bathroom sink is fished out by a friendly plumber. A stack of cash is dropped at the grocery store and an honest employee runs out behind you to hand it back.

But no one returns the baby you’ve “lost.” When “lost” means “died” – you can’t get anything back. Sure, you might cremate your baby and get her ashes “back” and you might even get the precious blanket and hat she wore in the hospital “back” but they are baby-less. You’d prefer the baby to the adorable hat that covered her precious little head.

You could even get “another baby,” but he would not replace the one you lost. He would simply be a sibling to your stillborn baby. He would bring joy to your life and he would be a miracle, but he wouldn’t bring his sister back.

And so, even when some of my pictures and videos were returned, there were still gaps. Still breaks in the story that was my pregnancy with Joanna. Still gaps in the hopes and dreams I had for her, for our family.

11 weeks since Joanna was born and my days and nights have a new trend: they are slowly getting better; slowly the pieces of my heart are coming back together. But for me, that which is lost will never be returned. My heart will never be completely whole again. I do believe it will get its shape “back.” It will start to feel like a solid piece again. Someday.

But this, this is not extreme: losing a baby feels like losing everything.

The Let Down

I had a million other things I wanted to write but none of them quite seemed like the right thing. So I’m just going to see what comes out today.

Four weeks from today I should have been starting maternity leave (if not earlier). Now I am not. I had prepared myself for three months off with my new baby and then to become part time at my job. Now, the let down: my baby is dead. Everything changes, and yet nothing changes.

In all honesty, I’m finding it very hard to enjoy my job because I wasn’t expecting to be there. I like what I do, I like the people I work with, I like getting out of bed and having some sort of purpose, especially now. But I don’t like that my baby is dead.

Just saying those words, “My baby is dead.” Each time I see them written on my screen my heart hurts. Each time I think about those words my heart breaks again. Adding to that I am now disappointed that I have to just work and not also be a mom: a let down.

Sometimes on social media I see people complaining about being a mom. Maybe not complaining so much as listing the woes of parenthood. And those woes are valid, of course. But at the same time, all I can think is what I wouldn’t give to trade places with them. I would love to be the mom who is super exhausted because her baby was up sick all night. I would love to be the mom with endless loads of laundry and a teething baby and rambunctious toddler. So many of the “woes” of parenthood are things that I would like to be doing and would love to have the chance to experience. A let down.

I am a mom — mind, body and soul. I carried Joanna her whole life. I held her body in my arms. We are connected forever by our bond. But the problem is I have no baby to hold now.

To raise.

To mother.

I would trade sick-baby sleepless nights for my restless-sleepless nights. The ones that come often because I can’t shut my mind down — the what-ifs and the how-could-you-have-fixed-this and the whys?!

But there is no trade. There is no do-over. There is no bargaining.

There is just life, continuing on, even through the let down: the heartbreak and ache of baby loss.

Joanna’s Playlist

First – sorry for the ultra-long post, but I hope you’ll read it all.

It’s not surprising that music is important to me. I think I get my love for it, and my skill for recognizing songs quickly and artists’ voices easily, from my dad. Not a bad gift to have given, thanks! I can’t do much without music – I have to have either iTunes going or the radio when I am in my car. I listen to various playlists at work on Spotify each day. Silence is hard for me (especially since Joanna died), so I also listen to music when I am falling asleep.

Music has also played a role in mourning the loss of Joanna. From her lullaby to the song playing in the car on the way to the hospital, songs have a way of meeting me where I am, and helping me feel the emotions I need to at the moment.

I recently created a playlist – “Joanna.” The songs are ones that remind me of my pregnancy, the help me express my pain, that help me mourn and that have started to help me heal. I wanted to share the songs with you. For some, I wrote out stories or a specific reason for the song’s inclusion, for others, I just quoted lyrics.

Part One: The Joys and Memories of Pregnancy

Safe & Sound – Taylor Swift and the Civil Wars

Before Bill and I got pregnant, I had a small list of songs picked out for our future children. My plan was (and still is) to pick one special song each time I get pregnant to be that child’s lullaby. For Joanna, I chose Safe & Sound. I would play this song in the car and sing it to her in bed as I fell asleep each night. The hope was that she would recognize it when she arrived. I sang this song to her when she was born as I cuddled her little body close to mine. I know she couldn’t hear me on this earth, but I believe she heard me from Heaven. While it was meant to tell her that I would keep her safe, it still applies – she is safe in Heaven and will never know the pain and heartache that this world can bring.

Just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I’ll be safe and sound.

Leave the Night On – Sam Hunt

This song made the playlist simply because it was my favorite new song on the radio while I was pregnant. It’s a happy song and I loved to sing it on my commute to work, which was often a time I felt Joanna moving around in the mornings. I guess she liked it too! (Or maybe my singing was awful…)

Layin’ down would be in vain. I can’t sleep with you on my brain.

Perfect Storm – Brad Paisley

Have you ever come across a song that makes you cry every time you hear it? Well, that’s what Perfect Storm does to me. It reminds me of Bill and how he loves me. While I was pregnant, my hormones tended to make me cry over every song ever recorded. Now, this song still makes me cry as I think about what it means and remember hearing it often while I was pregnant. Plus, Joanna’s second concert was Brad Paisley and he performed this song.

She destroys me in that t-shirt. And I love her so much it hurts.

Something in the Water and See You Again – Carrie Underwood

As anyone who knows me knows, Carrie Underwood is my absolute favorite artist ever. My friends joke that she is my best friend, but that she just doesn’t know it. These songs makes the playlist for a number of reasons, but the first is that, even in my loss, I know that Joanna and I shared one of the best moments as mom and daughter – I took her to a Carrie Underwood concert (The Concert for Valor). She got to hear Carrie sing these songs live from inside the bump! It was one of the best days of my life. Even though we were far away from the stage and I could only see Carrie via the big screens nearby, we were there and Joanna and I were together. When Joanna died, I couldn’t listen to Something in the Water for a while. But as I am healing, I am cherishing this special memory. See You Again is special in its own right because, for me, it is about seeing Joanna again someday in Heaven.

(Not to mention being pregnant at the same time as Carrie was a dream come true… and she just had her baby last week!)

You are my tomorrow. Sometimes I feel my heart is breaking. But I stay strong and I hold on, ‘cause I know… I will see you again. This is not where it ends. I will carry you with me till I see you again.

Part Two: The Pain of Loss

Cry – Kelly Clarkson

Whenever I feel your memory is breaking my heart, I’ll pretend I’m ok with it all. Act like there’s nothing wrong. Is it over yet? Can I open my eyes? Is this as hard as it gets? Is this what it feels like to really cry? I’m talking in circles. I’m lying, they know it. Why won’t this just all go away?

Over You – Miranda Lambert

This song was chosen because the lyrics of the chorus sum up perfectly how I felt more than once in the last few months. Besides the deepest sorrows a mom can feel when her baby is stillborn, I have been angry. The lyrics here say, “You went away. How dare you? I miss you.” I still feel those words coming up to the surface sometimes. How dare you? How dare you? (This song also reminds me of my grandfather, and we left the hospital after Joanna was born on the 7th anniversary of my grandfather’s death.) Also, Miranda Lambert was Joanna’s first concert.

But you went away. How dare you? I miss you. They say I’ll be ok but I’m not going to ever get over you.

Glory Baby – Watermark

A song that has meant so much to me… Seeing Watermark in concert as a young teen was a fantastic experience. And to hear their story of loss, and now they have three beautiful children, it’s an inspiration. Glory Baby has been a song that has helped me cry the tears I’ve needed to, but also to remember that Heaven is the only home both my miscarried baby and Joanna will ever know.

Sweet little babies, it’s hard to understand it ‘cause we’re hurting, we are hurting. But I will rest in knowing Heaven is your home and it’s all you’ll ever know.

If I Die Young – The Band Perry

I think the song title speaks for itself. However, when we were trying to get pregnant over the past 2+ years, I loved to see rainbows. They were there reminding me of God’s promise to take care of us. I saw many rainbows in the summer when we got pregnant with Joanna and I hope, as the song says, when I see rainbows from here on out, I’ll be reminded of Joanna and that she is safe in Heaven. Plus, babies born after loss are called “rainbow babies” – and we do hope to have one someday.

Lord, make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother. She’ll know I’m safe with You when she stands under my colors. Oh, life ain’t always what you think it ought to be; aint’ even grey but she buries her baby.

Held – Natalie Grant

This song says it all. God didn’t promise us an easy life or everything we ever wanted. He promised to never leave us, no matter what.

Who told us we’d be rescued? What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares? We’re asking why this happens to us who have died to live? It’s unfair. This is what it means to be held. How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held.

Part Three: Mourning and Healing

I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe

I’ll let my Facebook post from a month ago sum up why I chose this song for my playlist.

“This song, that I have loved for a while now, has become so much more meaningful to me in the last four weeks. It was four weeks ago today Joanna was born. Four weeks ago on the way to the hospital this song played. And it played the next day as we left the hospital. And it played on the way to the funeral home the day we brought Joanna home. And every word of the song is true and it has helped remind me day after day… I am not alone. God went before us in all of this and He hasn’t left.”

When I walk through deep waters, I know that you will be with me. Through the valley of the shadows, I will not fear. I am not alone. You will go before me. You will never leave me. In the midst of deep sorrow, I see Your light is breaking through. Through these trials, You’ve always been faithful. You bring healing to my soul.

Not for a Moment – Meredith Andrews

After all You are constant. After all You are only good. After all You are sovereign. Not for a moment will You forsake me. Not for a moment will You forsake me

You were singing in the dark, whispering Your promise, even when I could not hear. I was held in Your arms, carried for a thousand miles to show not for a moment did You forsake me.

You’re Not Alone – Meredith Andrews

You cry yourself to sleep ‘cause the hurt is real and the pain cuts deep. All hope seems lost with heartache your closest friend.

You’re not alone for I am here. Let me wipe away your every tear. My love, I’ve never left your side. I have seen you through the darkest night and I’m the One who’s loved you all your life.

What We Ain’t Got – Jake Owen

We all wish it didn’t hurt. When you try your best and it doesn’t work. Goodbye is such a painful word. We all wish it didn’t hurt.

Part Four: Hoping for the Future

Wonderful – Christy Nockels

A song of praise and worship to my God who has been with me through it all. Even on the days when I didn’t think could praise Him.

And my life will burn for You. ‘Cause Your light shined in the darkness. I was hopeless and You lifted up my head to sing for joy with a song that broke the silence of my worship. Now I’m singing all the day. And forevermore, You will be adored, ‘cause You are wonderful.

I Am – Nichole Nordeman

This song reminds me that God is here, no matter what stage of life I’m going through. He is holding my hand and holding my heart. He is healing me and keeping me afloat each day. He is I Am.

When I am weak, unable to speak, still I will call You by name. Oh Shepherd, Savior, Pasture Maker, hold on to my hand. You say, “I am.”

Creator, Maker, Life Sustainer. Comforter, Healer, my Redeemer. Lord and King, Beginning and the End. I AM.

In Your Sight – Kerrie Roberts

There is so much about this song that I love. I love that it talks about wishing to know the wisdom of a broken heart without the pain. Yes, please! If only I could know what this is like and have the experience without hurting so badly. But it also says that God saw EVERY MOMENT before I was even born. While I believe that He could have chosen to save Joanna, I do not think He chose for her to die. I believe that the sin in the world, the Devil, he chooses that. Our free will allowed sin to enter the world and God knows what those choices lead to – and He can prepare us and make a way for us to survive those trials that sin will cause. But think about that. EVERY MOMENT. He knows what will happen and He knows how to use us and lead us in these moments.

This song says that I can rest because God is holding me, holding these moments. It’s about closing our eyes and trusting that we are going the right way, wherever God is taking us. This is important for me because I’m completely terrified of having another baby. I fully believe that Joanna needs at least one sibling, that Bill and I need at least one baby on earth to raise and love on. But getting to a place mentally and emotionally where that is something I can do is hard. This song says that because we are in God’s sight in EVERY MOMENT we can be unafraid. I want to be unafraid. I want to trust. This is part of my healing process and I am grateful for this song.

I wish I never really had to fall this far, could have the wisdom of a broken heart without all the pain. But Lord you saw these moments before I began to breathe. And You see how to use them and where they’re going to lead. And I will rest knowing you are holding me. I believe You will never say goodbye. I close my eyes, unafraid of what I cannot see ‘cause I am always in Your sight.

Thanks for reading to the end. What are your songs for joy, grief and healing?