On Milestones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Quietest Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Go Back to December

It’s been a while since I have posted. So much is going on lately I just haven’t found the time or energy to sit and write.

So I am making time now.

Now, it’s December. It’s Joanna’s month. The month we saw her alive on sonogram for the last time. The month we heard her heartbeat for the last time. The month we held her in our arms, and left the hospital empty-armed.

There’s a song by Taylor Swift (about a breakup, of course), but it always reminds me of Joanna and December and her birthday.

I’d go back in time and change it but I can’t…
I’d go back to December, turn around and make it all right
I go back to December all the time

Back to December

This is not to say that I wouldn’t do it all over again. No matter the outcome, I would still want Joanna. But simply that I wish I could go back and know that something wasn’t right. I wish I could fix it and that Joanna were here. Most nights when I can’t sleep I am reliving those last few days…I go back to December.

I wasn’t sure how December would make me feel this year. It’s amazing that it’s been almost a year already but somehow, I don’t know how we got here. I have been planning the usual December activities without much thought — just pushing through, trying not to get hung up on things.

But last night we had our annual Christmas tree decorating party and to me, Joanna’s absence was so obvious. Friends came with their children. One friend whose son celebrated his first birthday the day after Joanna was born. It reminded me that I missed his birthday party a few days later because I was not leaving my house, nor was I attending a party with a bunch of small children. Another baby boy was at our party too, who was born the day before Joanna. This is the baby boy I held only a few days after losing J. The first baby I held after Joanna. It was the first time I was seeing him in person since last December, and it was bittersweet — so good to see this sweet little boy, healthy and strong, but so sad to know that J should be the same age.

I spent the day Saturday prepping for our party and putting the lights on our tree. That night when I was coming up from the TV room to head to bed, I crept ever so quietly up the stairs and sat for a few minutes on the top step watching the lights twinkle in the dark living room. I remembered how I sat in front of the tree last year, with my parents, crying and watching the lights twinkle, the night before J’s induction.

I think December will continue to bring these memories to me, and I welcome them. I welcome the love, the happy moments, the teary ones, the laughter and even the painful moments. I welcome them all because I love Joanna and I wouldn’t want to hide from any emotion that her memory brings. I just want to feel them all, recognize that J is physically missing from our lives, but hold her close in our hearts for always.

Happy birthday month, baby girl!

Ten Months Without

Ten months is approaching this week, and with it, the days are getting shorter and the memories of Joanna are getting stronger. As each day passes and I remember how she was growing, so full of life, at this time. I remember how, as I was approaching the halfway mark, I was feeling her move and seeing distinct changes in the roundness of my belly from week to week.

Looking back a year, I was having strange pregnancy dreams, most vividly dreaming that the life growing inside was a boy. The old wives’ tales said you dream of the opposite gender than what you’re actually going to have, and so we continued to think Joanna was a girl, though of course we didn’t find out until she arrived.

Ten months has brought us a long way. From being in different seasons of grief individually, to feeling the pain, anger and sadness so deeply at the same time. From not being able to watch commercials about babies to feeling some semblance of happiness again. From having a hard time being around the daughters of our friends, to finding moments joy in their laughter again.

Over the weekend we attended a beautiful wedding and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. However, two things stuck out to me that show healing takes so much time and self-care. First, my eagle eye for pregnant women. When we walked into the country club, the first thing I noticed was a pregnant guest. And immediately a little cloud of grief hung over my head as I thought about how I was pregnant last year when our friends got engaged, and thought about how much I loved, loved, my baby bump.

The second thing that came up was the father-daughter dance. I know J would have been a beautiful bride. She was such a beautiful baby. And as my friend danced around the floor with her dad, as he spun her and smiled admiringly at his “baby girl” I fought to hold back tears. I grieve for Joanna every day, but often, like this moment, I grieve specific events that will now never be. With Bill sitting next to me, squeezing my hand, my heart broke in a million little pieces again. We will never watch Joanna grow up, we won’t get to give her away, we won’t dance with her in this life.

I don’t frequently talk about fairness in life because I know it’s not fair. No one ever said it would be.

But it’s not fair that she is not here.

It’s not fair that Bill will never dance with her; that we will never drop her off at college; that we will never have tea parties and dress up for Halloween and pick out Christmas ornaments each year.

And so, 10 months has snuck up on us, but also pounced on us, reminding us of both Joanna’s presence last year, and her absence this year.

But we also feel her around us, we carry her in our hearts and we know we’ll see her again. Though, always, we just wish we were holding her now.

Cuts Like A Knife

If you’ve been following my grief journey here on [Still]Gracious, you probably came across my post Someone Said Her Name. This was the first time that I heard someone say “Joanna” referring to a child who was not mine.

It’s not often I hear her name, and since that first time, I can’t even remember hearing it out and about, other than when Bill and I oh-so-happily binge on Fixer Upper.

But last night, at our support group of all places, my heart broke, over and over again. A grand total of six times. Yes, I was counting.

A new loss family came to our meeting, their son recently passed at six months old. This family also has three living children. One of their daughters, Johanna.

I realize the name is not quite the same. But oh, how is rolls of the tongue just as beautifully, sounding so similar, cutting my soul like a knife.

Every time she said her name, my heart dropped. Every time she said her name, my stomach churned.

The fifth time, I got up and left. I had this unrealistic idea that if I stepped out, by the time I came back she wouldn’t mention her living daughter again. Of course, I was wrong, but I knew my limit at that moment and I did what I had to do.

This was a very new experience, because the group is a safe place where you expect to go and heal. To talk to people who fully understand you. To grieve with other loss families and to support each other.

I’m still struggling today, wishing I could talk about my Joanna as that mom spoke of her Johanna: happy, healthy, alive.

40 Weeks

Today marks 40 weeks since Joanna’s birthday. 40 weeks since we said, “see you in a little while.”

It’s almost impossible to believe that she has been gone a full 40 weeks–for as long as it takes to grow a little human. In the time she has been gone, people have gotten pregnant and already had those little ones. Those pregnancy announcements on Facebook in the first few weeks after our loss, the ones that cut like a knife, those babies are here.

Waiting for Joanna to come seemed like such a long, drawn out period. But somehow these 40 weeks since she left have gone by so fast, I almost lost count. And even so, J’s birthday still feels like yesterday, the memories raw.

I just wanted to share that…how time marches on whether or not we want it to. How it pulls us forward when we don’t have the drive to push ourselves.

Thanks for following our story for these 40 weeks, and for loving and supporting us through it all.

I wanted to share with you that I have written a new article for Still Mothers, one that has not been posted on my blog before. Please check it out – it’s about the silence of these last 40 weeks.

Read my article here: Silence

A Year Ago Yesterday

A year ago yesterday, we saw a baby – swimming around. Heart beating. Perfectly healthy. Measuring right on track.

A year ago yesterday, we saw Joanna – the first time we could tell she had a cute, little nose. The first time I suspected she was indeed, a she.

A year ago yesterday, we told the world. Our Facebook announcement went live and the “likes” and comments started rolling in.

We were on top of the world.

I see a lot of people on social media posting pictures of their children, who are 1 or 2 or 3 or more. They compare a picture taken today, to a picture taken a year ago yesterday. And they say, “what a difference a year can make.”

True. This year made us parents. Made us loss parents. Gave us a daughter. Took her away. This year was the best we’d ever had, and the worst.

What a difference a year can make.

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