On Birthdays and Grief

Today is my birthday.

I’ve spent the last two days focusing on my grandpa. We shared this day as our birthday and I celebrated my first 21 birthdays with him. He even went to the casino with me on my 21st (his 70th) for drinks and to play slots. So many special memories come to mind surrounding our birthday, from blowing out the candles together, to Labor Day picnics, to a motorcycle ride to Eat ‘n Park for a birthday breakfast.

My grandfather’s death was my first experience with grief. I remember crying on the floor in my grandparent’s bathroom after saying goodbye to my grandpa for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. I remember telling my cousin at the funeral that I didn’t want them to close the casket because as soon as they did, it would be real. There were tears over songs that made me think of him. There were tears when I looked at other grandpas with their grandchildren. Eventually the tears came less often. The heart healed, though it would never be the same.

Now, eight years later, my heart still hurts on days like today. It hurt on my wedding day when Grampa was not there. It hurts on Christmas morning when he doesn’t call first thing to wish us “Merry Christmas”! It hurts when a commercial comes on TV and the song in the background is George Jones.

It is true that we move through grief. It changes us. It makes us stronger. It enables us to be more compassionate. Over time, though the loss is always present, the pain lessens. Now, when we think of Gramps, we remember happy times. We enjoy some of the things he enjoyed as a way to remember him. We tell stories and laugh together. Share pictures and songs.

This birthday I’ve come to realize, between my lessening grief for my grandpa and my unbroken grief for my baby, that life really is precious. What a gift. It was such a gift to have Gramps for as long as we did. When a life is long and full, you can celebrate amid your grief.

And when life is taken from this earth far too soon, you grieve that which you knew, those kicks and punches and rolls and the sound of Joanna’s heartbeat, and you grieve the future you’d dreamed for your child.

I didn’t really want to celebrate my birthday this year, but I realize now that each year, each day, is a gift. Even if I’ve had to go through the hardest thing in my life during my last year, it was also my best year. I had a daughter and she was beautiful. I got to hold her. Then, I was forced to change, to grow, to become stronger, to break down, to rise again. Joanna’s life, however short, was the greatest gift. She made me a mom and she taught me that life is fragile, unpredictable and beautiful.

Somewhere between my griefs today, I celebrated the gift of my life, and I celebrated life, for those who cannot.

Here’s to my life and yours, may we always remember how blessed we are to be here [still].

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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

What Sleep Won’t Solve

I’m tired a lot.

For a long time after Joanna died I didn’t sleep well. Some nights I would lay in bed, awake for hours. I would not be able to calm my thoughts and I would stare at the ceiling asking the what-ifs and play the blame game. Other nights I would sleep, but I would toss and turn and feel like I hadn’t slept at all when I got out of bed the next morning.

Of course those nights would lead to tired days. Days where I would wish for my bed. But when I would get to bed that night, sleep wouldn’t come.

Thankfully, most nights I sleep better now. I don’t miss Joanna any less; I tuck her carefully into the bed that is my heart, and we sleep in peace. There are still nights, like last night, that I don’t sleep well, or when the nightmares come, but generally, I am well rested.

However, I have been surprised to find that I am still tired. I am tired in other ways.

I’m tired from worrying. I worry over other pregnancies. I’m tired of doubt and of begging in my prayers that no one else would lose a baby. I’m tired from reading Facebook posts that talk about being in the “safe zone” or “past the scary point” and thinking to myself, “if only you knew.”

I’m tired of my heart racing and my stomach dropping when pregnant friends text me and I fear I will open the text and get bad news. I’m tired of phone calls from friends and asking them, “what’s up?” and then holding my breath when they reply “well…,” hoping they aren’t about to tell me they are pregnant, yet hoping so hard they will know the joy of motherhood.

My soul is tired. My heart is tired. Worn. Wrecked. The weight of grief is still making me weary, though I am not crying every day. Though I am not angry as often. Though I smile most of day again. I am simply tired.

I am tired of feeling this way…where I can’t just be “me” because “me” is someone new now.

When Days Are Harder

I think as a loss mom, I expect every day to be hard. Getting out of bed without a baby to take care of is hard. Coming home to a quiet house where your baby should be a happy, giggling 4.5-month-old is hard. Seeing your friends go through pregnancy and have healthy babies when your baby died is hard.

But what I don’t expect are days when things really should be only routinely difficult, yet they turn out to be extremely, surprisingly hard. Miserably, in fact.

On Friday I went to the ob-gyn for my annual check-up. I figured I should go, since the appointment would be fully covered by my insurance as preventive care and I would need the testing completed if we decide to re-visit the reproductive endocrinologist (where the exam would not be covered).

I knew it would be hard visiting the office, it always is. But of course on this particular day, there was a waiting room full of moms-to-be. All of those pregnant bellies, probably most unsuspecting of what could happen, happy to be there and getting to hear their babies’ heartbeats. Not only was the room full, but my doctor was running 20 minutes late. So there I was…sitting for a half hour wishing I were there to hear my baby’s heartbeat too.

When the nurse finally called me back, she recognized me from all of my prenatal appointments.

“Oh, hi! How are you? How’s the baby?” she asked me.

Ummm. The baby? Isn’t that the purpose of a chart? So that you can see before you meet with a patient what is going on with them? This was my third visit to the office since Joanna passed and certainly my file had that note in it.

I wanted to respond kindly to the nurse, but I was so immediately angered by her question that I said, “I guess you didn’t look at my chart – she was stillborn in December.”

She apologized and then I said, “To answer your question, I suppose she is doing much better than either of us.” I mean, Heaven is a better place to be, even if I wish she were here with me instead.

That was maybe a bit snarky, and I might have felt a little bad. But seriously. We shouldn’t have to go through things like this… Haven’t we been through enough?

To top off the harder-than-usual day, one of the lullabies I sang for J was playing as I waited for the doctor in the exam room. I don’t know how I had the strength to get through the experience and the rest of the day without crying, but I did.

When days are harder than I expect them to be, I usually want to close myself up in my room and cry or sleep or at least just be alone. When days are harder than usual, I often find myself wishing I could go back in time – that I could figure out the moment things started to go wrong and change them. When days are harder than I’ve planned for, I try to round up the strength to push through, to tell my story, to live for Joanna, to go on even when it feels impossible.

I’m thankful that those harder days come less often.


Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have strength. -Napoleon Bonaparte

Holding on to Hope

I said to my friend today that, “Hope is like a double edged sword. You know? It carries you through a lot of tough stuff, but at the same time, when you hold it that closely it really hurts later on.”

I think this is applicable to many areas in life.

Let’s talk relationships. You want to get married or want your marriage to work. You’re holding on to hope that you can make it work, that things will get better, that you’ve finally found the one…or whatever your situation may be. That hope can pull you through the tough times, through waiting for the right person to come along. But when the relationship doesn’t work out, and you’ve held hope so closely, your heart is broken.

Babies. I was holding on to hope that I would get pregnant someday. Then I did. Then only a few days later I wasn’t anymore. But I held on…I hoped that it would happen again. With hope we went to the fertility specialist to see if there was an issue. PCOS, they said. And in the midst of testing and hoping, we found out we were pregnant again. So I pulled hope in a little closer and I said this would be it – this would be our take-home baby. And that little one grew and grew, until she didn’t.

My tight grasp cut me like a knife. Broke me in a million pieces. Pieces I am still cleaning up.

I feel like Joanna was our hope, and I had to let go of her. I had to give her back. I had to leave her alone in that hospital. Pretty much the hardest thing I ever did, maybe the hardest thing I’ll ever do. I left the hospital feeling hopeless, and helpless. And empty.

As we grieved, we knew we wanted to have more children. Somehow, little by little hope came back. I reeled it in when I discovered it was there. And here I am, holding so tightly it burns. And with each passing month, my heart is getting tired of holding. With each new pregnancy announcement, my heart is losing its grip. With each nightmare, hope fades a little. The tighter I try to grasp it, the more it hurts.

It carries me through, but it cuts deep. Today, I want to let go. Let hope go. I don’t want the pain.

But I will grasp it tighter. I will pull it closer. If hope is Joanna, if hope is her sisters and brothers, maybe some pain is worth the holding on.

Dear Lentil

Hi, everyone. Just a little change for the week. I invited my friend Polina to write a letter, and so today’s post is written by her. She and her husband Joel lost their son Lev Ryan, affectionately known as Lentil. Like Joanna, Lentil entered the world silently in December 2014 at 33w3d. Bill and I met Polina and Joel at our MIS support group. Without further ado, here is Polina’s letter to Lentil.


Dear Lentil,

Two months ago your Daddy and I went to see Scott Bradley and Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) in concert. Back in September, your Dad introduced me to this band on YouTube. They take modern pop-music and turn it into more classic music styles (jazz, blues, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s styles, and many more). I remember that was the week when we read that you could hear us, hear music and different beats and we should play music for you. When your Dad started playing their songs, you liked it so much that we could feel you kicking and enjoying it. We played them for you several times, and you definitely were very fond of PMJ since you always let us know by kicking with the music. Last November, a few weeks before we lost you, I went to see “Fiddler on the Roof” and I felt you inside bopping along with the music. I came home and told your Dad that you are going to love live theater and have a good musical ear just like I do.

It was very good to see your Dad having a great time and enjoying the concert so much. I loved hearing him laugh when he would recognize the song that the PMJ was about to play. I haven’t seen your Daddy so happy in a long while. I felt happy in that moment as well, there was truly phenomenal singing and dancing. However, after we left the concert, we felt really sad and missed you even more. The last time we heard this band, there were 3 of us, and you enjoyed the music as much as we did.

Our little boy, today is exactly one year since we found out that you were a boy. I asked the nurse to place the paper with your gender into an envelope and seal it, as I wanted to find out at the same time as your Dad. We opened the envelope at the same restaurant where we had our first date. Then we called our parents to share the news with them. It was a very special moment – one I will never forget. We were so looking forward to meeting you, and all we wanted was for you to be healthy and happy.

We miss you every moment of every day, and when there is a time when we don’t think about you, the thoughts of you come to us with even more intensity. We talk about you all the time; what we would be doing with you being 6 months old right now, what your milestones would be now, where would we travel with you…

I often get so angry that we won’t get to experience all the things with you. We’ll never see your first smile, never see your first step, never see you run in our new house which seems very empty and sad right now, and we’ll miss so many other firsts that we were robbed of. Most of all, I get so sad thinking that YOU won’t get to experience those things.

Lentil, of course, is your nickname. Your Dad was the one who came up with it. When we just found out that I was pregnant with you, I found an app that tells you about what size the baby is at any given time of the pregnancy. At that time, it said that the baby is the size of lentil, so Daddy started calling you Lentil. Our friends said that nobody will call you by your actual name after you are born and everyone would still call you Lentil. I wish it was the biggest of our problems right now. Lev Ryan is the name you were going to have, after my Grandfather Lev and your Dad’s Grandmother Ruth. I always knew if I was going to have a boy, he would be named after my beloved Grandfather. It makes me sadder knowing that you are not here to honor their names and share all the love that was waiting for you from us and all of our families and friends. Who am I kidding, if someone told me to call you the weirdest name imaginable, but that you would be born healthy and happy, I would have done it… and, of course, later faced the consequences from you. ☺

We love you and miss you so much,

Your Mom and Dad

Lentil

Learned in a Week

In a week or less you can learn to knit or crochet or use a sewing machine.

You can learn to throw a baseball, catch a fish, paddle a kayak, pitch a tent.

There are many things that don’t take long to learn at all.

This week, I learned that you will never get tired of eating those hot dogs you can only get in Erie, PA. I learned that just because it costs more, does not mean you’ll get a better mani-pedi than the last place you went. I learned that it’s easy to assume you know about people by their emails, their Facebook pages — but that most people have hidden stories that are begging to be uncovered.

I learned that the pursuit of happiness can wear you out. And that happiness can slip away in a week. Although, let’s be honest, I learned 6.5 months ago that happiness can slip away in the blink of an eye, the last beat of a heart.

Last night was one of the worst in a while. I was laying in bed crying “over nothing” which is what I say when I don’t know exactly what has made me break down. Every time I thought I was reigning it in, the floodgates would open right back up. I made Bill late for work because, bless his heart, he hates to leave me alone, especially when he knows I’m so upset. If I were to try to put my finger on it, I might say it’s our upcoming trip to Pennsylvania that has put a damper on my happiness. Perhaps, I am scared about being with all the people who haven’t seen us since we lost J. Will they ask questions (I would prefer this), or will they just look at us with sad, pitiful eyes (to this). Or were the tears shed for that which is missing, seeing my nephew and knowing that he and Joanna would have had so much fun together…or seeing how happy he makes my parents and not getting to see that joy in their eyes holding J.
If you think about that for a second, it would probably make your heart break too.
But I’m also (re)learning that even in my weakest moments, my saddest moments, I’m not alone.

This is my comfort in my affliction,

that Your promise gives me life.
Psalm 119:50

Have You Noticed?

Sometimes, I wonder how observant people are. Do you?

Do you wonder if people notice things as small as: you trimmed your hair a half inch; you lost 3 pounds; you changed your nail color; you wore mascara today?

I wonder if people notice seemingly small things that are actually big: working late at your job not just because it’s the right thing to do (small thing) but because you don’t really want to go home and be alone in your quiet house with your loud thoughts (big thing); you’re clearly angry today (small thing) but this is a 180 from the last six months when you have been so sad (big thing); you’re texting with friends about babies, fertility and their TTC journeys (small thing) but your responses get shorter and have much less enthusiasm every day (big thing).

(I also wonder if Bill will notice the mess I made all over the stove because I didn’t notice dinner was boiling over as I am writing this…)

Somedays, I want to yell at people and say, “Can’t you see this is insensitive? Let’s not talk about it.” But at the same time, I don’t want people to walk on eggshells around me, so I tend to bite my tongue. I’m sure this hurts me more than it would hurt the others if I told them how I was feeling. But again, eggshells. We don’t want that!

Along this journey over the last 26 weeks and three days I have tried not to be angry. I have fought so hard not to be bitter. I think I was succeeding. But three days ago it changed. I don’t really understand why. I’m just being honest here – I’m angry. Maybe even a little bitter.

I’m angry a lot. I’ve noticed it. I wonder if others have… It’s not that I don’t want to talk about babies or to look at them or to see my friends’ kids or pregnancy announcements on Facebook or whatever the conversation may be, it’s just that it’s hard. And just because it’s been six months does not mean that it’s easier than it was before.

It will never be easy.

You know what else I wonder? If the cleaning crew at my office notices that I have ultrasound pictures and that they will never change.

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.

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