Dear Joanna (5.29.15)

Dear Joanna:

It’s been a little while since I have written to you. But I figured you don’t mind, since I talk to you all of the time. I know your daddy does too, especially while he works in his garden.

I was thinking back to Mother’s Day, when I went into the nursery and sat down in the half-painted room, tracing your hand and footprints. I told you that even if the result of my pregnancy with you were the same, I would go back and do it all over again. Joanna, you meant so very much to us, you still do. We miss you every moment of every day, but most days have less tears, usually, than the day before. Every day also has more love for you than the day before.

Today marks 5 months since your birthday. You quietly slipped away a day or two before, in a moment I didn’t even notice. That breaks my heart, that as your mom I didn’t know. I try so hard to remember the last time I knew all was well, that last moment I felt you moving. But I don’t know when it was and for that I am sorry.

I am also so sorry you won’t be joining us for Emily and Cameron’s wedding this weekend. It was supposed to be your big debut with so many sweet friends. They love you, even now. Emily even told me that your dad and I can have your cupcake because she knows you will be there with us. These first milestones without you are so hard. But Emily is right – you are always with us, in our hearts forever.

And so, sweet girl, I wanted to share this quote with you, because I am in a place where I know it to be true:

“Sometimes I think of you and feel giddy. Memory makes me lightheaded… All the things we did. And if anyone had said this was the price, I would have agreed to pay it. That surprises me; that with all the hurt and the mess comes a shift of recognition. It was worth it. Love is worth it.”

Joanna, some of the happiest memories of my life are of you. I think back on my pregnancy and can smile. Not every day, but some days. Like I told you on Mother’s Day, I would do it again.

You are worth it, my love.

I love you.

Mom

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Defining Moments

Have you seen that Prudential commercial? Here’s a link to watch.

The narration on the commercial says that the past is mostly a mix of half good and half bad items. The blue and the yellow were just about equal. But the future – it was bright. Mostly, people named something good that could happen in their future and placed a yellow magnet on the wall.

I think those colored magnets represent defining moments in our lives. Blue, the bad moments, come to mind very quickly. When I first watched this commercial, the first thought I had about something that happened in my recent past was “Joanna died.” Clearly, her death was a sad, horrible event that forever changed us. It defined us as “bereaved parents.” I live daily with this “blue magnet moment” and wish so much that things were different.

I also think of my recent “yellow magnet moments” – I graduated with two bachelor’s degrees and then got my master’s, I got married, found a job I find meaningful and fulfilling, became a puppy mom and an aunt, went on fun vacations, bought my first new car and my first house. Yet none of those came to mind initially.

I think this is because, of all the defining moments of my life to date, Joanna’s life has had the biggest impact on me. Her life, not her death. Her death serves as a reminder that she is gone, but ultimately it does not take away from her life with me, with us. Those perfect fingers and toes, so tiny and precious, her pretty face, so perfectly formed. The morning sickness and the flutters that turned to kicks. The 6.5 months we shared with her were the best of my life.

So, I want to change my magnet. I will put up a yellow magnet, to honor her life. A yellow magnet to define me, simply, as “mother”. And for the future, another yellow magnet, for the possibility of her longed-for baby sibling(s).

The Pep Talk[s]

Friday will mark five months since we lost Joanna. Five months is a long time. But daily I am surprised by my constant anxiety levels. I am anxious about running into someone who knew I was pregnant but does not know that Joanna died.

If I look back to a few months ago, I can see that the issue used to be worse than it is now. I will admit. I would sit in the car at Wegmans and cry. I would will myself to go inside. My heart would pound. My palms were sweaty. Once I could collect myself, I would run into the store and back out without saying a word to anyone. Mostly, though, I would just have Bill get anything I needed so I didn’t have to put myself through that torture.

Now, I sit in the car and give myself a pep talk – the “you can do this, Carol; you’re brave and you’re strong and you’re capable of telling people what happened if you do run into someone who doesn’t know.” So I go inside, even though I feel like most of what I said to myself is a lie.

If you’re brave, why are you panicking? If you’re strong, why are you shaking?

Once I arrive inside, I beeline it to the items I need. I avoid eye contact with anyone I know who I am worried may not know Joanna’s story, so as to not start a conversation. Once I grab what I need, I stealthily make my way through the aisles, attempting to run into exactly zero familiar faces, just in case. Once I finally arrive back to the front of the store, I find a line with a cashier I do not know. I smile and politely say “hello” all the while wishing the cashier could move faster so that I can leave before someone sees me.

I thought by now this would no longer be an issue. But every day I wake up and have to give myself the same pep talk: OK, Carol. You can do today.

Then, once I’ve talked myself into leaving the house, there’s the car pep talk. Moment-to-moment I have to tell myself that I can; tell myself not to turn around and go home.

The third pep talk is for once I have arrived at my destination: You won’t run into anyone at this point who doesn’t know. It’s fine. You need to make it through. Carol, you can do this. It’s just [the grocery store, church, so-and-so’s house]. Even if you have to be brave and tell someone Joanna has died, you’ll be OK. Everyone has to find out eventually. OK. Here we go.

But sometimes the pep talk isn’t enough, and I do run into someone who doesn’t know. Yesterday, this happened. My first reaction was to run away. My brain got jumbled and all the things I thought I wanted to say in the situation were gone. I was embarrassed. I was awkward. I didn’t know what to do. I quickly said something that I didn’t want to say, that was not my rehearsed, eloquent answer, turned around and left. Back in the car, I fought the tears. My heart was pounding. My palms were sweaty. I just wanted to go home and go to bed. But instead, another pep talk.

You survived. It wasn’t what you planned. You were embarrassed but you got out and didn’t have to linger. You’re OK and you’re going to complete your plans for this day. You will not go home and hide.

And so I didn’t. Good talk. [Repeat tomorrow.]

I’ve been trying to pinpoint why I am so anxious. Today I was talking to Bill about it and I think it comes down to the “embarrassed” part. It always comes back to this — it was not my fault. I did nothing wrong. I know, I know. But here’s the truth: even so, somehow, I am ashamed. I am embarrassed, sad, brokenhearted to have to tell people that my body failed my baby.

That I could not save her.

No pep talk can make me feel better about that.

Someone Said Her Name

Bill and I talk about Joanna and we use her name often. She is the most spectacular thing that has happened to us in our lives so far and we daily acknowledge her as our first born, as our baby girl.

We also love it when others talk about her or ask us questions and call her by her name. To know that others recognize her as our baby, not just “the child who died” is so special and appreciated.

Such a sweet name, Joanna Rose.

Yesterday I went to see a movie with a friend. As we walked up to the concessions counter, a woman and her young daughter came in who were meeting up with a small group of their friends. The group was to our left and from behind us I heard the mom say, “I see Joanna!”

Instant trigger. I felt the tears immediately jump to my eyes. My stomach dropped. I looked at my friend and said, “That has never happened before.” I begged the tears not to spill over and did not look to my left to try to determine who this “other” Joanna was…

I have never met or bumped into anyone named Joanna before. This was the first time since our Joanna died that I have heard the name used for anyone else. It caught me off guard.

I’m not sure what was worse. To hear someone say her name but not to or about her, or to know there was a little girl next to me named Joanna who is going to get to do all the things our Joanna won’t.

It’s truly amazing how grief can just open wide in an instant. The night before Mother’s Day was the first time I had cried myself to sleep in a while. This is because I’m slowly getting to the point where I know for a fact that this is not just a nightmare. I will not wake up and have my baby back. I’ve begun to accept it, to live with the knowledge and try to live a life my daughter would be proud of. I’ve been trying my best to sleep without the help of a sleep aid. I no longer take Elephant with me everywhere I go. I am finally feeling some healing. Then boom — right back into the thick of it.

Just a stranger who said her name.

Oh, how my heart is hurting today.

Dear Joanna (5.15.15)

Dear Joanna:

Last night we went to support group. At first, I thought I wouldn’t like going. But in February we attended our first meeting and we listened to everyone’s stories. Each story hurt our hearts, just as our own story hurt. But being in that room with people who truly understand how we feel was good for us. I cried as I shared the story of you. Your daddy cried too.

Even so, we went back.

Last night we went for our 4th time. Now, there are familiar faces each week, friends even. People know our names and they know your name, Joanna. They know our joys and our sorrows and they know how special you are to us. They get it.

A few new people came last night. We heard new perspectives and new insights. New stories with fresh wounds. Older stories, still raw a year, 2 years, or more, later.

Joanna, I want to tell you about something that really resonated with me. I have been thinking about the future, about how it will feel to be pregnant again, how I will feel. I don’t mean the will-I-have-morning-sickness feeling…I mean the “me” feeling. Will I be scared? Anxious? All of the above? Yes, that’s likely.

Your daddy and I have considered what we will do – announce the pregnancy with just as much enthusiasm at 13 weeks as with you? Or wait a little longer, 20 weeks or more, to share the news with the hopes that the farther along we are the more likely your little brother or sister will arrive safely.

Lately, I have been leaning toward earlier, feeling like EVERY baby deserves to be celebrated and loved from the moment the two pink (or blue) lines appear. Every one. Joanna, we may have lost you, but we had so much joy with you. I want that for your siblings. Yet, it’s hard for me to imagine being excited and happy when all I can see in the future is fear and anxiety.

This is what stuck out last night. One of the ladies at support group is pregnant with twins after losing her son to placental abruption at full term. She said that you can live in fear, or you can soak in the moments and take all the joy. If something happens during your subsequent pregnancy, what will you have left? Only the fear? Or will you have the joyful moments your child brought to you throughout pregnancy?

It meant a lot to hear that, Joanna, because she is living it! She can, during her subsequent pregnancy after loss, find joy. Celebrate. Love. Connect. Be her best. All for those double rainbow babies. It’s one thing to say it and think you can do it – move beyond the fear and into hope and happiness. It’s another story for me to see it happening. To see that truth come to life. I’m so glad to witness, in the flesh, that it’s possible.

Possible to cherish and celebrate after loss. Someday, I’m going to get to do that.

Joy comes in the morning!

Love you, Joanna.

XOXO,

Mom

P.S. Thanks for the double rainbow at the house the other day. We really enjoyed it!

For Mother’s Day

In all honesty, I didn’t want to blog about Mother’s Day. I thought about putting something on Facebook, but that didn’t seem quite the right thing for me. I’m not having a bad Mother’s Day, but certainly not the Mother’s Day I was expecting. I was going to blog tomorrow, a reflection on the day, but felt that I couldn’t let the day slip away without doing for myself what I have wanted others to do for me today: acknowledge myself as a mom.

I am a mom. And though I may not get to parent Joanna, I get to love her, forever. She is mine and I will always be her mom. She gave that gift to me and I am so thankful. Though I can’t walk down the hall and scoop her out of her crib and cuddle her, though I will never see her take her first steps, go off to kindergarten, graduate high school, dance at her wedding, I will always have some precious moments with her.

The first time I got morning sickness.

The first time I craved avocado.

The first time I felt her move, and the second and the third, and even the last, because that was special too.

The times we heard her heartbeat and saw her little face.

Those 12 hours of labor, and though she arrived silently, she was mine. She was ours.

She made me a mom. I am proud of that. I am proud of me.

And I am proud of all the other mamas out there.

I am proud of the mamas who have their babies to hold tight. Don’t let go.

I am proud of the mamas-to-be. Be vigilant and cherish your pregnancy.

I am proud of the mamas in waiting. The ones who know deep in their hearts they will have children some day. The ones who have just started trying to have a family, and those who have been waiting, hoping, aching and praying for years. Don’t give up.

I am proud of the mamas of babies who’ve grown and moved away. Especially proud of mine – without her, I could not have been the mom I needed to be for Joanna.

And I am proud of the baby-loss mamas. Whether you’ve lost your baby to miscarriage, stillbirth, or sometime after they were born, you’ll always be a mom. Your arms may be empty, but your heart can still be full in remembering your baby(ies). It may take a while. I’m not there myself. But I know it can happen and I know it will happen.

So, mamas of all types, I hope you were good to yourselves today. I hope your families were good to you, too. No matter where you are in your motherhood journey, you are a mom, you deserve to know it and you deserve to celebrate it.

Happy Mother’s Day!
XOXO,
Carol

P.S. I wasn’t sure I would ever share this picture publicly. It’s a moment of both great joy and great sorrow (and messy hair, but who cares, right?). Because it’s Mother’s Day, and one of the few pictures of my little family, today is the day. Joanna, I am so proud to be your mama, today and every day.

joanna

Even When It’s Not True

Some words came out of my mouth the other night that I never thought I would say. But they were there, in my mind, weighing down on me. I had to try them out for size.

And the moment I uttered them, I burst into tears. I knew, as they rolled off my tongue, that the weren’t true, that they were just doubts and fears that I was allowing to take over. Yet the only way for me to fully realize this was to put them out there.

So, on Monday night as Bill and I discussed (more like debated) the possibility of a vacation in September, I struggled to admit what I really wanted to do. Hawaii? Eastern Caribbean? A beach trip close by?

Why was the decision so hard to make? Because we were discussing the best option, keeping in mind that I could be pregnant again by that time. Did we want to be away from a doctor? Was getting away from “everything” and being together more important than that “safety zone” that is my obstetrician, perinatologist and cardiologist just a few miles away?

And so in my frustration, I said to Bill…”I don’t know what I want. I don’t know if I even want to have another baby yet.”

There I said it. And in the same instance I knew it was a lie. I want another baby. As soon as possible.

On Tuesday I was still struggling with a decision on vacation, but I knew having another baby is in our future. In all honesty, I cried a lot on Tuesday. I cried because I had doubted. I cried because I am scared. I cried because my desire is so strong and I’m nervous pregnancy won’t happen again for us.

As I was driving home, I was praying for hope, for faith, for strength for the journey to baby. It was raining, but as I got closer to my exit, the sun popped out in front of me. I was certain there had to be a rainbow behind me. I was positive that I was missing it. As I exited and rolled around the off-ramp, the sun now behind me, I spotted it: the most glorious sign of God’s promises for my life (as well as what I hope was a “hello, Mama!” from Joanna). A rainbow. A double rainbow, in fact.

I know I’ve written about rainbows, but I just can’t tell you enough how rainbows bring such joy and hope to me. And this one, I needed it so desperately.

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When You Just Need A Hug

As many of you (oh, so sweet and wonderful) readers of mine know, Wednesday marked four months since losing Joanna. You also probably know that I have been in California for a work trip.

The down side of this is that I was not home with Bill on this four-month mark. No hugs from Joanna’s daddy to squeeze my heart with comfort and tell me it’s OK to cry and it’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to miss her. I also miss my puppy, who of course knows when I am feeling down.

On the plus side, I love the marketing team as it stands today, especially the fact that I call the girls on the team friends. We’ve had a fantastic time this week, margaritas and Mexican food in Laguna Woods, putting our (OK, just mine) toes in the sand and the Pacific Ocean, handmade Italian dishes in Carlsbad during our team dinner, and the most gorgeous California sunset I’ve seen to date while walking Manhattan Beach. Not to mention spending an evening with a great new friend having a pizza dinner in my hotel room watching Chopped.

It’s been a great week. But smack-dab in the middle was that day, April 29. Some people let the day come and go without thinking of Joanna, while others sent a little message or posted on my Facebook wall. It really can help a heart heal to know how much others love and care for you, and how much they loved your child, even if she arrived silently and they didn’t get to hold her or see her pretty, little face.

But there is one problem. As a human being, sometimes you just need a hug. No text, email, call – can replace a hug. Away from home all week, I was struggling through the day Wednesday. I was happy on the outside. But on the inside, I was hurting and missing my baby. It’s true! I just needed a hug – a physical acknowledgement of my pain, and a reminder that I’m surviving.

Instead, I went back to my hotel room and tried to sleep.

But today, this great thing happened. My wonderful, sweet friend took some time to get away for a few minutes, just the two of us. She bought me a coffee and we caught up with each other between meetings. As always, she listened to what I had to say, and I knew she really cared. Just like I knew she cared four months ago when Joanna died. Just like I knew she cared when I felt like I couldn’t be at work on my first few days back and she called to check in on me. And you know what? She hugged me today. Whether or not she knew how much I needed it, it happened. And I am so grateful.

So today, I am finding God’s grace in co-workers, co-workers I can call friends. Who care about what is going on in my life, who take the time to make sure I’m doing OK, who laugh with me, who make work enjoyable and fun (even on the stressful days). Gracious friends who take good care of me, with kind words and comforting hugs.

I am going to miss being in the same city as you (“amazing, wonderful, perfect”) ladies.

See you tomorrow, East Coast!

Manhattan Beach