Fly

To say today was good is certainly an overstatement. To say today was bad, is an understatement. To say either and try to express what I actually feel today is impossible. There is literally nothing I can write, say or do that will help me put a finger on the feelings. But today is the day. Today, six months ago, on a Monday, too… Joanna was born. The proudest, hardest, most bittersweet moment in my life.

This weekend brought back such impossibly difficult moments, and unspeakably beautiful ones. From the moment we were told our baby had died, to the minute she was born and we looked at her beautiful face. From seeing the heartbreak and pain in Bill’s eyes, to singing to J and cuddling our sweet daughter.

I reflect on that day and on the moments leading up to it daily. I am good at distracting myself with work, paying bills, cleaning the house, or travel. But at the end of the day I come back to December 28-29. Some days I cry sad tears. Some days I don’t cry. Some days, like yesterday, I cry hot, angry tears and ache for my baby.

Today also marks a new point in time…it has been exactly 26 weeks since Joanna was born. I delivered her at 25w6d. This means that today is the first day that we have been without her longer than she was with us.

Her short life while she grew inside of me has brought immeasurable joy to our lives. How could this sweet, little baby who we never heard laugh or cry bring so much love to us? She brought us closer as a couple, as a family. She brought us hope for our futures. She brought us a miracle. She encouraged us to be better people. She taught us how to be parents. And even though she is gone, her love, her life and her lessons have stayed with us.

Even though she is gone, we go on loving her. I might have stayed in bed for a few hours yesterday and cried. But I loved J today by getting out of bed and going to work and doing my best. I love her by trying so hard to keep on living, keep on enjoying life, even though I am without her. I love her by keeping her memory alive by using her name, by talking to her, by tracing those tiny, tiny footprints.

There’s a song that I have been listening to a lot lately called “Fly” by Maddie and Tae. I’ve always liked the song but I’ve been feeling like it reflects how I have been feeling lately. I’m trying so hard to be happy and to keep going, but a lot of times I feel like I’m falling back down. As one friend puts it, it’s a two-steps forward, one-step back journey.

You can listen to the song here!

The chorus sticks out the most.

Keep on climbing though the ground might shake.
Keep on reaching though the limb might break.
We’ve come this far, don’t you be scared now.
‘Cause you can learn to fly on the way down.

You keep going, even when the ground shakes or the limb might break. You keep going, even when you have a bad day, or you cry all day, or you just don’t want to do anything but lay in bed. You keep going, even when you’re scared to face the grocery store or can’t look at one more newborn baby, and eventually, you’ll be happy more than you’re sad. You’ll learn to fly again.

I’m trying so hard to fly again.

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Hiding

I’ve made a decision. 10 days is too long to be away from home. Nine days even, since today is nine days and I am tired of being away. I’ve been tired for a few days, but I think I hit my breaking point last night. You know what else? It’s too long for Joanna to be away from home too, but somehow she has been gone almost six months.

Now, I am not saying that I’ve had a bad time in California on my business trip. I learned a lot about our new marketing automation platform (yay, Marketo!), which was the goal of the trip, of course. I had a great time being on the same side of the country as the rest of my team. It’s always a little lonely being the only one on the marketing team who is on the East Coast.

I went to Disneyland with my work bestie, took myself to the zoo, hung out with my friend/self-declared career mentor, saw the Golden Gate Bridge (!), had ice cream in Ghirardelli Square, ate at my favorite Mexican restaurant for ladies night… So much fun and so many experiences I am glad to have.

It’s not too long to be away from home because it’s not fun or not educational or not worth it. It’s too long because I just didn’t realize how much interaction I don’t get while at home. What do I mean? I get up. I go to work. I go home. I watch TV. I go to bed. Once in a while we go out to dinner or to the movies or to a concert. But really, I don’t spend much time out and about around people.

Last week, this weekend and this week, I have been out, a lot. We go out for dinners, as I said I went to Disneyland and the zoo and other sightseeing. And never in my life have I felt so surrounded by babies, children and pregnant women. I am sure that they are out there, that if I did more while at home I would run into more, but I don’t. 

So being here and daily dealing with this has been hard for me. I was just about ready to leave, but was glad I was surviving such a long time away from Bill. And then, last night I surprisingly hit my breaking point. We went out to dinner and our waitress walked up with her perfectly round baby bump directly at eye level on my side of the table. Then, the whole restaurant filled up with families with small children.

It was beyond over-stimulation, seeing that bump moving around the floor, hearing those kids laughing, screaming, babbling. Even though I was with my girls, I was just ready to leave. I wanted to hide under the covers and never get out of bed again.

I never knew. Somehow I was misguided, I think. I was under the impression that I was doing really well. That I was handling life without Joanna like a champ. But I’ve been hiding. I’ve been avoiding situations where I might run into someone who would ask me a hard question, or who might not know Joanna died, or where I would see a lot of kids. I just go home and hide in the basement with Heinz and the Hallmark Channel.

People say I am strong and brave. But this realization has made me feel like a coward.

I want to consciously make the decision to expose myself to more. To practice how to survive days like these.  To live bravely, in spite of pain, and in honor of J. 

My friend said this to me this week, and I think it’s really true of the last few days especially. I’m really grateful for friends who know what to say, when to say it, and sense what I need to hear. 

Sometimes things are hard but good at the same time. Stay strong and when it’s hard it’s okay to acknowledge it’s hard. Just remember to keep smelling the flowers too. Which you clearly are! Xo

But Really, What Do You Say?

Deciding what you’ll say when someone asks that (horrible) question of “Do you have children?” really isn’t that hard. After multiple discussions at our support group, and reading quite a few articles, I had decided my response was going to be simple, but honest.

I have a daughter, but she passed away.

Simple enough. Easy to write. Easy to say. Only eight words.

But no one tells you how hard it will be to make those words come out of your mouth.

Thankfully I have only been asked three times. The first was only about 3 weeks after J died and my immediate response (and well-rehearsed in my childless years) was a simple, “not yet.” When I left the store with my mom, I snuggled Elephant in the car (I was not able to leave the house without her yet). I cried. I still can’t tell you if I was crying because I said no when I wanted to say yes? Or if it was just sadness that my baby was gone and I couldn’t do anything about it. Probably both.

Three months after Joanna went to Heaven I was asked the same question by a very sweet employee at the eye doctor. She was just making casual conversation. Her name was Jessica, and she had just finished asking how long Bill and I have been married. “It will be five years in September,” I told her. She seemed impressed and told me she wished her man would propose to her. They’d been together seven years and had a five year old. I knew what was about to happen but I didn’t try to change the subject.

“Do you have kids?”

I told her, an answer I had thought of over and over since the first time I was asked, yes. “Yes, we just had a daughter in December but she was stillborn.”

Jessica looked at me with sad eyes, maybe she was even tearing up. She said she was so sorry for our loss and then proceeded to tell me about her own loss at 16 weeks and her subsequent infertility. We talked a bit about our losses, intermixed with trying on glasses and details about potential laser surgery for Bill.

Two things strike me about this conversation, looking back. One, how brave I was to share my story. It’s not an easy thing to decide to tell a complete stranger what has happened to you. It’s hard to know how they will react, what they will say, if they will ignore your comment, accept your comment, or end the conversation altogether. People don’t like to talk about babies who die, and they don’t like to think that their children are not immortal. The second thing that strikes me is that this girl thought it was a good idea to ask me such a question.

We discussed this recently in support group. Now that such a sad and painful loss has happened, it causes you to pause before asking questions related to this topic when talking to strangers (or even to acquaintances or old friends you may not have spoken with in a while). As a fellow loss-mom, didn’t she know what sort of question she was asking? Didn’t she remember what happened to her baby and that maybe it was not a good idea? I have stopped asking people about children–about when they plan to have babies, if they have babies. I know how it feels to be on the other side and to be dealing with infertility or baby loss. People will tell me what they want to, when they want to.

And the third time I was asked about my family situation was this weekend. I was invited by my friend to visit with her and her family on Saturday while I am in California. I was finally able to make a work trip that included a weekend so I could do some sight-seeing and exploring. The invitation was to go visit at her house for a while, meet the kiddos and then head to Stone Farms for fun, food and beverages with a bunch of her friends, their husbands and children. I, of course, said yes! How much fun was this going to be?!

But the more I thought about it though, the more anxious I became. I was going to be surrounded by moms with kids. I was going to be surrounded by kids, all ages older than Joanna would ever be. It dawned on me that I might not enjoy myself. I spent most of Friday evening and Saturday morning worrying that I had put myself in a bad situation. So, I began rehearsing.

Someone is bound to ask you if you have children, Carol. What will you say? And so, the answer came, the same answer I always decide upon: I have a daughter, but she passed away.

Truth be told, I had a fantastic time that afternoon. I enjoyed the company of new acquaintances. I loved hanging out with my friend outside of work for a few hours. I enjoyed meeting her children and husband. I had a delicious root beer, saw some pretty flowers, listened to children laughing for hours and thoroughly enjoyed the perfect weather.

But, someone did ask me about my family.

The thing is…what DO you say? I could have just told her. I could have said Joanna was perfection and we miss her every day. I could have said anything, but I didn’t. It’s because there’s always an ongoing battle. Even when prepared for it, I still fight. Do I want to mention my sad story, and therefore bring down the mood of anyone who overhears? Or do I just skip over it to save all of these mothers of wonderful children the heartbreak of my story?

I guess I chose to skip this time.

And even though I had a blast (and would do it again), I still went back to my hotel room and cried.

For Father’s Day

For Mother’s Day I wrote a post meant for all mothers in all stages of their motherhood journey. And so I thought, all fathers should be honored and recognized, no matter what part of their fatherhood journey they are on.

Happy Father’s Day to all men. Whether you have children, want children, have a child on the way, have lost a child, or have an empty nest, Sunday is your day. You have love in your heart for a child(ren) that will be, already is, or was.

Once you become a dad, you’re always a dad. It’s a really special thing to be a dad. You have the privilege of leading a household and raising children to do the right thing, to be caring, to show them and teach them compassion, to show them love and teach them how to love.

Love, to me, is the most important. I learned a lot about love from my dad. He loves my mom with all his heart. He is good to her, he puts her first, he is kind. In turn, he also loves his children and cares for them and supports them in all they do. Watching him love my mom has shown me how a man should love a woman. One of the greatest lessons I learned from him is love. Because I knew what to look for, I have the most amazing husband. I also have the most amazing father for my children.

Since losing J we have found that fathers often get the short end of the stick when it comes to mourning and grieving. People always ask the dads how the moms are doing but they forget that the dads also lost a child. Their hopes and dreams have been dashed. Their hearts broken. Their pain is just as real as the pain of the moms.

So this Father’s Day, remember the bereaved dad. For his burden is heavy: taking care of his wife, assuring her he loves her and will always be with her. Remember him, because he carries his child in his heart, but he loves her just the same as if he were holding her in his arms. Remember him, because though he seems strong, his heart breaks every day.

Be kind to him. He puts on a happy face but he is still sad. Love him, because he is one of the strongest dads as he carries the weight of grief on his shoulders.

I have often heard that because we love deeply, we hurt deeply. No one loves these little lost lives as much as their parents. No one knows, aches, with the hurt as much as them.

If your babies are still with you, hold them close for the dads who can’t cuddle their daughters. If your babies have grown and are away from home, call them and enjoy the sound of their voices for the fathers who can’t laugh with their sons. If your babies are on the way, sing to them and feel them tumbling around in the womb for the dads who will never hold their babies again.

Whatever kind of dad you are, you’re wonderful and you’re someone’s hero. I know Joanna’s dad is both of these things to me, and to J.

We love you! Happy Father’s Day!

That Which Will Never Be

When your baby dies, your dreams for her die also. All of the things you spent months imagining while she was flipping and flopping inside you will never happen.

You will never see her first smile. Her first steps. Her first tooth.

You miss bath time and story time. Cuddle time. Nap time. Bedtime.

You will never take her fishing, teach her to ride a bike, go to a baseball game or take her to the beach.

You don’t get to see her off to preschool, kindergarten, middle and high school. School dances. Field trips. No graduation. No college degrees. No weddings. You don’t get to see her become a mother.

There is so much more. You miss out on all sorts of moments you can’t even name because they are experiences only parents of living children can have. The bereaved parent also mourns the unknown.

Would she have a sweet, quiet voice when she said her first word? Would her dad’s silly noises have made her giggle? Would she have been tomboy? Would she be shy or outgoing?

What little things would she have said that would have surprised me or filled my heart with joy? Would we have bonded over certain TV shows or musicians? Would she have liked sports? What experiences would we have, whether happy or sad?

One thing we do know is how much we love her. And we know she is still with us.

But it is really hard to accept that Joanna will never grow up.

To honor and remember J, we purchased my cousin’s veil for her wedding, which we were able to attend over weekend. Back when Emily was visiting us in January, my mom and I took her shopping for her gown. When she had found the dress, we added a veil to see how it looked. Emily loved it and I knew I would need to buy it for her. For Joanna, who would never wear one.

At the wedding, I was so happy to see that veil. Emily was beautiful and the veil completed the look. But I was also so sad. Why isn’t our baby here? Why won’t she get to meet her wonderful family? Why does she have to miss out? All the things we hoped for her…they just will not be.

We feel that every single day.

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Coexisting

Joy and grief. Coexisting. A lot of my writing touches on this interesting phenomenon. A very common topic at our support group and perhaps the most common theme of my every-day life since Joanna’s birth.

I’ve seen it many times in my life, the coexisting. I was so joyful to graduate high school, college. I was excited and happy to be done, to be leaving, to be moving forward in life! Then I thought about leaving all of my dear friends, my safety net, my familiar little world. And suddenly I was also grieving the past few years and I just wanted to hold on and never leave.

Another instance. Someone I love, my Grandpa, was sick. He was dying. I love him so much and was so grateful for each remaining moment with him. There was joy in hearing his voice in my ears. There was joy in the sound of saying his name. There was (and still is) joy in my fantastic memories of growing up with him. Sharing a birthday. His laugh. Love of George Jones. Slammin’ air guitar. There was even joy for him when he took his last breath and entered the gates of Heaven – for there is no more sickness or pain in his body. But the second I’d realized he was really gone, the grief washed in and over me and pulled me under. Happy and sad, all at once.

Of course, there’s also the situation where I’m having a baby, and she dies. What? There is joy in that? I’m going to tell you – yes. Some days it is hard to see the joy, but it’s there! You just have to look. I read this quote recently in a book I just finished making my way through (crying my way through). It captures the situation well.

It was the most anticipated moment of my life, and I knew in an instance, it would forever be the most painful. Having the best and worst moment of your life share the same space within your heart is indescribable… -Three Minus One

My mom asked me a few months after losing Joanna if I thought that 8:07 p.m. on Monday nights would become easier or be happier for me someday. But what I told her was that 8:07 is often less sad than other times. Maybe my baby came quietly into the world at 8:07 p.m. on a Monday night. Maybe I was in a lot of pain and tired and heartbroken at 8:07. But at 8:07 my firstborn child, my daughter, was born. She was perfect aside from the non-beating heart. Perfect and mine. I could not have been more proud and joyful in that moment. But of course, that coexisting grief was right there too, since Sunday morning when the doctor told us those four words no parent should ever have to hear, there is no heartbeat.

This week I was promoted at work – it was joyful! But at the same time, there was such sorrow because had Joanna been born alive, it probably wouldn’t have happened. I would choose her over the promotion.

Tomorrow is my cousin’s wedding – a joyful and happy celebration! But Joanna was supposed to meet her great grandma for the first time while we are there.

A week from Sunday is Father’s Day. We are so happy Bill is a dad, and such a good one. But we are so sad his baby girl is not here to cuddle and love on.

So and it will go for the rest of my life, joy and grief together.


With all my heart I will praise the Lord. I will never forget how kind He’s been.
Psalm 103:2 CEV

Dear Joanna (6.8.15)

Dear Joanna,

I thought I would write a letter to you today.

I wish I had some great lesson or encouraging insight to share with you so that you know I am healing and I am growing through this experience. But, I don’t really have anything much to go on this week. Plus, I miss you just the same.

Would you like to hear about our weekend?

Your dad and I went to WMZQFest – the first concert in our country mega-ticket deal. There were a lot of artists there who you liked. I know you liked them because I could feel you moving around when some of their songs came on. You know the playlist I play in the car all of the time? The one I made for you? One of the songs is Leave the Night On by Sam Hunt. He was there this weekend, and he sang that song. It was a cool experience to hear a song I like so much live. But it also reminded me that if you were here, we wouldn’t have been at that concert.

And so it goes, J. We make it through each moment, day, week, month without you. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed, some days we can’t keep the tears from falling. But other days we just are. We go to the movies. We go to work. We go to concerts. We smile and we have fun, your dad and me. And then, in the midst of a good moment, we are pulled back into moments of sadness. The grief comes in like a wave, washing over me, and in an instant has receded back into the ocean.

That’s how it felt watching Sam Hunt perform. I was so happy, then, for a few minutes, all I wanted to do was cry. A moment later, I was squeezing your dad’s hand and felt stronger once again. However much we do miss you, those moments of joy are slowly beginning to overtake the moments of sorrow. Thank you for that – for being our daughter and for bringing joy into our lives.

Something else I accomplished this weekend, for which I’m sure you’d be proud, I finished painting the nursery, aside from the striped accent wall. (That seemed like too much work to do on my own.) I had been feeling ready, so I thought I would make an attempt. I taped off the ceiling, the trim and the window and finally completed the entire first coat of paint. While I was waiting for it to dry to put on the second coat, I began talking myself out of finishing. I’d already spent a few hours in the nursery and was ready to stay away, to give myself a break. But when the two hours were up, I marched myself upstairs determined to finish.

You were supposed to be the first to occupy the nursery, but we planned a gender neutral theme in order to keep the nursery the same for all of our children. Completing the job is a labor of love, for you, even though you’re only in the room in spirit. Also a labor of hope. Hope that another little one will someday fill the room, and our lives, with as much joy and love as you gave us. So much love.

For just as the swan’s last song is the sweetest of its life, so loss is made endurable by love. It is love that will echo through eternity. -Call the Midwife

Love you, sweet cheeks!

XO,

Mom

Trying Again

I’m not meaning to be rude, but I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to ask if Bill and I are “trying again” yet. It’s a deeply personal question that now comes with so many emotions tied so tightly to it. On the one hand, if we are not ready, then you’ve probably upset us by asking. On the other, if we are ready for another baby, the question “are you trying again?” doesn’t fit the situation. Of course this is just my take, but I think it’s an angle most people don’t see.

I was reading a few articles and blog posts recently about “trying again” after stillbirth.* When I read those words, it always hits me deep down – it’s not really “trying again.” Every month for 18 months, we tried again and again. And again. Again. And finally conceived last April. Then it all came to a very abrupt end only a week later in miscarriage. Given the all clear by the doctors to “try again” during my next cycle, we did. And then again the next. And the next. And there I was, pregnant, again. This was truly “trying again”, because our first glory baby didn’t “take” or “stick” or whatever you want to call it.

But Joanna did.

She “took” and she “stuck” and she grew.

Joanna, my miracle. Nearly two years of trying again, month after month. One miscarriage. And there, two pink lines. I was so excited. I wrapped up the Disney baby clothes we’d purchased a year before in NYC (an act of hope, that good things were coming our way). I stuffed the pregnancy test in the bottom. I set the bag on the table and waited for Bill to get home from work. As I sat, I doubted. This baby could be gone in a week as well. This baby could make it 8 or 9 weeks and then be gone. What if this baby is not mine to keep?

Back track. I took the items out of the bag I’d so carefully wrapped them in. Put it all away. Sat on the couch, positive test in hand, begging God for this baby to stay with me. Anxious. Scared. A wreck. Those words don’t quite cut it.

When Bill finally got home from work, there was no gift bag. There wasn’t even a cheer. A smile. Not until I could see his face react. I handed him the test. He looked at me, a little unsure. I said, “We are having a baby,” which came out more like a question than an exclamation. He smiled, calmly, laughed a little, and hugged me.

His smile said, “It’s OK!” And it said, “Be brave, my love.” This baby is going to make it.

And she did. For a while.

About 26 weeks. The best 6.5 months of my life.

But here is the simple truth of stillbirth: when your baby dies, you don’t “try again.”

You knew this baby. You saw this baby’s face. Saw her heart beating. Saw her arms and legs flailing around inside you.

You felt her moving. Kicking. Punching. Rolling. She grew, and you grew with her.

You held her on her birthday. You counted fingers and toes. You stroked her little nose and you cuddled and kissed and rocked her. You sang her special lullaby.

“Trying again” is something you do when you haven’t met your child. When you haven’t held her in your arms. When you haven’t had to decide to cremate your daughter. To have or not have a service or memorial. When you haven’t made a memory box full of sympathy cards.

“Trying again” is for when you haven’t spent the last five months cuddling a stuffed elephant because you need something of hers to fill your aching, empty arms. Not for those who labor and deliver in the same physical pain as any other pregnancy, but in terrible emotional anguish as well. Not for those who enter the hospital full and leave empty. Who go home to empty nurseries. Empty cribs.

“Trying again” is not for those who have to prevent milk from coming in with compression, rather than praying there would be enough to fulfill tiny infant needs.

To me, “try again” is for those who don’t know – the innocent. You’re a mother from conception, but you don’t know what it feels like [what it is, how you’ll miss] holding your baby in your arms.

Joanna is our firstborn and not replaceable by “trying again.” Any other children are siblings; they won’t bring Joana back. They won’t fill the hole that is a permanent part of my heart.

Finally, to me, “trying again” feels like an implication of failure. It’s taken me a long time to work beyond the feelings that I was the failure, so I don’t need this type of language to take me back to where I don’t want to be.

I did not fail. Joanna was perfect. I love her. There is no failure in that.

So, when we do discuss more children, we ask “should we have another baby?” or “are we ready to have baby brother/sister?” – but never “are we ready to try again?”


*Please note: I am not meaning to offend or upset anyone. These are my personal feelings based on my motherhood journey through infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth. Every situation is different. Every pregnancy is different. Each person will feel differently.

Walking into the Room

Over the weekend I watched Cake, with Jennifer Aniston. I don’t want to give the story away, but Jennifer Aniston’s character is in chronic pain after a terrible accident that left her very injured and her son dead.

The film doesn’t focus a lot on her son’s death, but rather the life she is living post-accident (or not really living, rather), and the family (husband and son) of a woman she met in her chronic pain support group who committed suicide.

There’s a moment in the movie where Jennifer Aniston’s character goes into her son’s room, a room she clearly tries to avoid. It is mostly unchanged, aside from some boxes of clothing packed up. As she swung open the door to the room, I felt myself go back to the first time I looked in the nursery after Joanna died.

This half-painted room, a crib still boxed up, mattress still wrapped, dresser in the middle of the room. No blinds or curtains over the window. Unfinished.

At first going in the nursery always felt sad. My stomach would drop and the tears would well up. This incomplete space that was supposed to hold the greatest miracle, now, still, empty, not to be filled with our firstborn. I would hesitate to open the door. Once I did make it inside, I would open the closet and look at the items packed away, never to be used by Joanna. I would stand by the window and cry, wishing I could sit in a rocker and cuddle her.

One morning, though, as I had not closed the door all the way the last time I had visited the room, the sun was shining through the window and lit up the space around the door so if looked like it glowed. A little bit of light traveled across the hall floor to just about where I was standing. The light invited me to the room. As I walked in, the warm morning sun touched my face and the whole room felt bright and alive. It felt like the light was telling me to have hope – that this nursery would be finished someday. That another baby would come someday. That it is OK to miss Joanna as much as we do, but that she will always be remembered and cherished.

So many times since I have gone into the nursery and sat in the morning sun. Lately the nursery has been a sanctuary. I talk to Joanna. I pray for further healing. Sometimes I just cry. I talk to God about my brokenness, about my hope for another child.

Walking into the room today, I think I am ready to finish painting.