Dear Joanna (8.6.18)

Dear Joanna:

It’s been a long time since I have written to you. I think it’s because I spend a lot of time thinking of you, talking to your little brother about you, and looking – peacefully – at your tree in our backyard while I wash dishes each night. I love you more than ever, and I miss you just as much.

Today is an interesting day for us. Today I am 25 weeks and 6 days pregnant with your baby sister. I think you know her, I think you and God probably told her about her family before her little soul made her way to earth with us. I think she’s been picked to stay with us forever, but I’m still on edge as to what the results will be.

But today, at 25 weeks and 6 days, today is the day in your pregnancy that you were born, still. That means that tomorrow, we’ve made it farther with your sister than we did with you. I think this is supposed to bring me relief, especially since she is our second rainbow, but considering all of the factors, I am still afraid. I heard you can’t be brave unless you’re afraid. But I wish I didn’t have to be either. I still wish I had you here with me.

I find myself thinking less about what this baby girl will look like, and more about if you’d have looked like her, like the little girl she will hopefully grow into. Because she is hopefully going to have the chance to grow up, and maybe in some fleeting moments we will see you. But she is not you. You cannot be replaced. We are excited for her arrival, for her place in our family. She’s already stolen our hearts (and took us by surprise). We are not a family of four, but of five. We are not a family with “one of each” but a family with two girls and one boy.

This pregnancy has revealed more clearly what might have happened to you. The weight of that still gets to me, that maybe you could have actually been saved. That maybe there were measures we could have taken to keep my body from hurting you. I have learned to let go of guilt in the last 3.5 years, guilt that I did that to you, that I couldn’t keep you safe. This pregnancy has brought it back in waves, the grief and the guilt mix. I feel that so much of your sister’s safety is on my shoulders. Yes, any one of several random problems could still happen, but the biggest issues can be solved by me, now that we know. It’s a lot of weight to carry. But I am trying to remember, different pregnancy (even though it feels so similar), different baby (even though she’s a girl, too), different outcome (even though it can be hard to imagine her in my arms, alive).

Little one, I love you so. I miss you and wish so much I could hold you again. I know I will some day. And tonight, I am just cherishing the little kicks and punches your sister is giving me…and her first hiccups that I felt earlier today. I’m glad on this night specifically I can know that she is OK in there.

I love you with all my heart, J.

xoxo,

Mom

 

 

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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

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

Dear Joanna (12.28.15)

Oh, my heart. My dearest. My sweet Joanna. 

A year ago today was the last day–the last day I held you fully inside. The last day I would fall asleep, you still with me. 

Still. 

You were still. We went to the hospital that morning a year ago.

No heart beat. No life. 

Oh, Joanna. My heart aches over that last day. Over those last days, where I wondered if something was wrong but was utterly terrified to know what that “wrong” was. Though the doctors said it was nothing.  

And then it wasn’t. 

You left us, heaven bound. 

And I can only imagine what a birthday you’ll have tomorrow with Jesus and the angels and the streets of gold. 

It’s probably the most glorious birthday anyone could ask for. Yet I wish we were celebrating together. 

Together. I know we are together. Just not physically. I want to hold you again. My arms ache for that. I want to hear you laugh, to feel your warmth, to see you smile. All of me longs for this, which will not be. 

The days pass and we miss you, still. The nights are hard, some nights worse than others, still. Still, our hearts ache for you, for our Joanna. 

Even with all the other blessings in this life, the sweetest moments, the healing moments, the joyful days and the sunny days, we will never stop missing you. We will never forget our gracious gift from God. 

That’s you, J. Even in losing you, we have found grace and we have found new gifts and we have found some, though slow, healing. 

Because of you, our lives are better. Every day, we hope we make you proud, baby girl. 

The happiest of birthdays to my sweet blessing, my beautiful daughter. My Joanna. 

XOXO

Love,

Mom

Dear Joanna (12.14.15)

Dear Joanna:

Today is a hard day for me. Not only because I miss you, not only because I wish you were here for Christmas, not only because it’s not fair that you’re gone, but because a year ago today is the last time we saw you moving and wiggling around on the sonogram.

A year. Already.

The next thing I know it’s going to be your birthday and I don’t have you to hug and cuddle and take pictures.

I was thinking back to the sonogram and I still wonder why your measurements being farther behind than ever (you lost almost a week of growth in three week’s time) didn’t raise some sort of red flag? I wonder if someone had thought to give that a second look, if you would still be here? Would it have made a difference? Was the damage already done?

I suppose you know the answer to that. I’m sorry that I don’t and I’m sorry that we missed it and I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.

I’m so glad we had the opportunity to have a secondary anatomy scan a year ago today. Thank you for being uncooperative at your first scan. Thank you for the gift of seeing you on screen more often than most parents get to see their babies on screen. I think you knew we needed that time with you.

Miss you as much as ever, baby girl.

xoxo,

Mom

Dear Joanna (10.19.15)

Dear Joanna,

I know you’ve heard this so many times, but only because it’s so, so true: I miss you.

These last few weeks have been feeling much harder, yet for some reason I thought maybe time would eventually make it easier.

Instead, as the weather gets colder, I’m reminded of how you were growing so steadily in my belly a year ago at this time. I had started to pop, was impatiently waiting for your 20 week ultrasound and still hoping the morning sickness (nighttime sickness) would go away soon.

Actually, a year ago this past weekend your Uncle Greg and Aunt Trish came to visit with cousin Shay. He was so little. I carried him around the zoo most of the day. I was so tired, being sick still, but we had a good time. Today I looked at the pictures of Shay from that weekend and realized…had you come along in April, around your due date, a year after Shay was born, you would be the same age right now as Shay was last year. Was that confusing? I hope it made sense.

Every time I see a picture of Shay from last year, it’s the same thing. I think of you and how old you should be right now. For the rest of my life I will look at pictures of him from “last year” and see you. In 2019 he will be off to kindergarten. I will look at that picture in 2020 and think how you should be headed to kindergarten. And so it will go. 

I don’t think time heals wounds. I think we grow used to the pain. Sometimes it aches as a fresh wound and causes great agony, and at other moments we feel it there, but we can focus on living and getting through the day. 

I wish you were here. I wish I didn’t have to know this pain. I wish I didn’t have to learn to live with it. I wish I could see you grow up. I wish I could hold your hand. I wish we were preparing for your first big holiday season with you in our arms instead of only in our hearts.

Joanna. Gracious gift from God. Can’t wait for the day we will hold you again.

xo,

Mom

Dear Joanna (9.17.15)

Dear Joanna:

I feel like I haven’t told you enough lately how much I miss you.

I miss you when I wake up in the mornings and only have myself and the dog to take care of. I miss you while I’m at work because I should be at home with you. I miss you when I drink Diet Coke because I wouldn’t dare to drink it while you were with me. I miss you when I get dressed and all of my old clothes fit and my maternity clothes sit in the back of the closet. I miss you while I’m driving, the back row missing an occupied car seat. I miss you when I walk down the hallway and stand in an empty nursery. I miss you when I go to the store and see the foods I used to buy that you liked. I miss you when I’m sleeping, but sometimes I see you in my dreams.

I miss you when I’m breathing.

Every. Second.

Your dad and I are going to Disney World on Sunday. I know your absence will be intensified. Last year you were with us. Not too many people knew yet. We bought you your own pair of Mickey ear and had them embroidered with “Baby J” on the back. We used them to create an announcement to tell THE WORLD you were on your way.

I know when we go to Beast’s castle for dinner your dad is going to be very sad. He was so happy to have the Beast wear your Mickey ears and point to my belly and take a picture with us. But, even in the sad, there will be sweetness. The sweet memory that you were here. We will be back in a place where you were with us. Even in your short life, we made memories and you got to go to Disney.

I’m not sure what the most bittersweet part of our trip will be for me. Riding the rides I couldn’t last year because I was keeping you safe? In all honesty, I feel guilty about how excited I am to ride those rides this year. I would rather have you all over again. I hope you know that.

We love you and miss you so much.

And, hey. J, you will always be our dream come true.

All my love.

Hugs and kisses, little one.

Mom

Dear Joanna (8.21.15)

Dear Joanna:

Wow. The last few days have been so rough. Nothing has changed or suddenly become worse. Yet something has shifted. I feel like my heart and mind are elsewhere. They are not with me, not on my work, not with the person I am talking to, not with the TV show I am watching, the meal I am eating.

I just think lately I’ve been with you.

I think of you. I dream of you. Not that I hadn’t been doing these things before. But recently my mind is filled with you, overtaken by our physical absence and overwhelmed with your spiritual presence.

Yesterday I caught a glimpse of you. It’s been a while, but there you were .In the middle the storm. Yes, the middle – a rainbow. You surprised me as I peeked out the window to look for funnel clouds. Instead, black clouds to my right and my left, and you, brightly shining down on my front porch. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a rainbow shine so bright. Often they are light, and hard to decipher against the sky. But last night, you were aglow. And not long after I spotted you, the rain began to fall again and you quietly slipped away. Again.

And so here I am. In a fog. Missing you. Distracted by that which won’t ever be. But loving all that you are, even still. Because though you are not in my arms, you are all around. In my heart.

You were here. So you’ll never truly be gone.

“Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always”
-The Velveteen Rabbit

For always, dear one.

All my love,

Mom

Dear Joanna (7.27.15)

Dear Joanna,

I miss you. Always.

It’s been a while since I have written to you, but I know you’ve been busy playing on the clouds and singing old country tunes with your great grandpa. I often find myself looking up at those clouds, trying to see past them, to see you.

A year ago yesterday we learned you were on your way. Though we didn’t know pregnancy would happen so quickly the second time around, we knew you’d be coming someday and had just purchased a house with the perfect room for a nursery. I remember a week of negative pregnancy tests so I figured I wasn’t…but something said, “take one more test.” Those two pink lines popped up and I was pretty surprised and scared too, hoping you’d be the baby we would keep. The baby we would bring home.

Well, little one, we keep you in our hearts while Jesus holds you close. Some day we will hold you again, but you know what? We feel Jesus holding us too, and in that we are confident that we are together.

Yesterday I went to a concert and saw Kari Jobe perform “I Am Not Alone.” You probably know it well. We listened to it on the radio while you were here, and it played on the way to the hospital to have you, and on the way home. Maybe you had something to do with that. It made your playlist and it’s been very near and dear to me ever since your birthday. It felt right that I was there last night, that I could be in a place of worship and healing and come full circle – finding a few pieces of my heart are glued back together with the love I have for you. Finding God’s healing in the midst of these trials. All on the anniversary of the day you told us you were coming!

Joanna, most days are still hard, even when we don’t show it. Most days have triggers and some things set us off. Today, at 30 weeks postpartum, I think that you really should be only coming up on four months old. I think about what you would have looked like. I think about how it would feel to hold you, all warm and soft. And I wish you were here.

But I heard a little voice yesterday at the concert…a little voice that said, “You’re going to be a mom again. There will be another little one. Joanna is not an only child.” And I wonder, have you already met your little brother or sister? Surely God knows who he is sending next. I hope you are together. I hope you’re telling your sibling[s] to grow strong and to be brave. And to, pretty please, kick and punch and roll and hiccup as often and as much as he or she likes.

We love you, J. We are homesick to be with you and hold you again. But we’ll see you in a little while.

In the meantime, I’ll keep peeking past the clouds to catch a glimpse of you.

Love you, sweet girl.

xo,

Mom

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