Little Townhouse on Helmsdale

Five years ago today we closed on our first house.

We knew Joanna was on her way, though we didn’t know it was her specifically. After an early loss a few months before, we were still holding our breaths in hope and anticipation when we signed the papers and took possession of the keys.

Walking into OUR home that night, we had such big dreams, but not just for us, but for this baby. I was already planning the nursery before we moved one thing into the space.

Back in June of this year, as we drove over the Virginia state line, into familiar but distant territory, I cried. For all the things that I miss. For all of the people. For all of the convenience. For all of the memories made in our first seven years of marriage.

But mostly I cried for her; for how I felt closer to her again. For how her home and the hospital she was born were so close to me again. For how that place had brought healing, and friends who’ve walked the same road. For how she was there, how she physically existed there. For how she held my heart there through pregnancy after loss and through bringing home her baby brother into a space that was still hers, too.

That home will forever hold a piece of my heart. I loved it so. I love her so. I miss it. I miss her, painfully, still. How can it be five years already?

I am glad that she is here too, in our hearts. In our memories.

Little Townhouse on Helmsdale, thank you. xo

Even Though

Time moves so quickly, passing by like a raging river, though most days it feels like the trickle of a small brook. Somehow we have already made it four years — four years today since we found out Joanna had passed at 25w5d and tomorrow is her birthday. Four years. It feels as if the days have gone so slowly and yet I can still remember the physical pain like yesterday. I can remember what it felt like to hold her. To touch her skin. To look at her face. To sing her special lullaby to her.

But even with all the passage of time, I don’t have to remember the emotional pain. The heartbreak. The ache for her, so much that it physically hurts. These are the things we still feel now. The effects of great loss, the toll of great love.

But even four years later, I can still say I would do it all again. I would suffer every type of pain to carry her for nearly 26 weeks. To hold her in my arms again, even for just those few short moments of time. To sing to her. I would let my heart break a million times over to be with her.

We are so blessed with our beautiful rainbow babies, both who are here because she was here. Because she showed us what love is, made us parents, and made us brave.

But we will never not miss her. We will never not wish we could hold her in our arms and not just our hearts.

It’s a break up song, but I have recently come to love the song Break Up in the End by Cole Swindell. I cry every time I hear it because I feel the same about Joanna. I would do it all over, even though I know how it ends.

If you read this post and you think of it, please do something kind in honor of our girl tomorrow. A simple random act of kindness. A donation to a charity you love, or to our Facebook birthday fundraiser for Emma’s Footprints.

We love you, Joanna! Happy birthday!

Even if I knew you’d be the one that got away
I’d still go back and get you
Even if I knew you’d be my best and worst mistake
Oh, I’d still make it with you
Over and over, again and again
Even though we break up in the end

Joanna’s Gifts – The Third Birthday

Tomorrow is Joanna’s third birthday… It’s incredible how fast the time moves, and how much our love for her grows, even though we aren’t holding her in our arms anymore.

It’s hard to imagine what Christmas could have been like with an almost three-year-old and an almost 18-month-old. Leo loved pulling paper off of his gifts, but didn’t quite connect that the unwrapping meant he was getting a new toy to play with. I know Joanna at nearly three would have had the most magical Christmas. I don’t know what she would be into at three, but maybe unicorns and a Doc McStuffins play set. It’s not hard to see those aspects of the holiday, it’s hard to imagine because it still hurts.

It still hurts that she is not here. It still hurts so much. When I go to get my nails done and there’s a little girl getting her first manicure about Joanna’s age. When we go to weddings and dads give toasts and dance with their daughters and moms help brides into their dresses. When I listen to the radio and hear songs written to daughters, or children in general.

When I think of all the moments I will miss of her life, when I think of the small moment in time when she was here with me, in my belly, in my arms. It all hurts.

Even three years out. I have a feeling the hurt won’t ever go away, even old wounds still ache. And so this will too. Every reminder will bring on a little pain, a little longing for that little girl, my firstborn. Every time I hear her name belonging to another, the hole in my heart will open, raw, all over again.

The truth is that time can heal you in some ways. I wouldn’t say time heals all wounds, no. But, it can make you see how strong you are. It can make you see how much love you are capable of. It can show you how love can even be multiplied and how loss is not the end. Time can’t heal your heart after a child is taken from your life, because that wound will always burn; but time can help you move forward, find purpose, use your pain to help others.

I wish I could say that I see the reasons why Joanna died – you know the “everything happens for a reason” reason. But in three years I have not found one and I don’t think there is one. I don’t think there’s a purpose for babies to die and I don’t see it as “God’s plan.” I don’t think everything happens for a reason. I don’t. But I think through the struggle and through the pain, Joanna’s life and death have helped me to be a better person.

From being able to share my story to help others to having more empathy in almost any situation. I have learned the value of time–how there is never enough to spend with the ones you love and to be more present in those moments. To laugh even in hard times but also to cry when I feel like it and let my feelings out so they can be processed and understood.

I’m still learning to love myself, to not feel guilty about Joanna’s death, to not be angry at myself. These are harder to accept but I am making an effort each day.

Bill gave me a necklace for Christmas that I have been wanting; it says “And if not, He is still good.” And in all things, I still believe He is good. In good times and bad times and in long lives and those cut too short. In my life — even if He doesn’t save me from the fire, He is still good. I know three years ago today when I found out Joanna had died, in that exact moment, God was still good. When I held my beautiful girl in my arms, He was so good! Even leaving the hospital empty-armed — still good. Nothing that can happen in this life can change who He is, which is good.

And when I was pregnant with Leo I had the words “But if not…” written on a post it, stuck to my computer at work where I saw it all day long. It was my motto, my mantra. To remember that God was in this with me and even if I didn’t get to bring Leo home, He would still be good.

Because Joanna was good. Short life. But good life. She will always be the one who made me a mama. That’s good. She will be my firstborn. That’s good. She was perfect. That’s good. She was mine. That’s good. She will always be with me. That’s good.

Happy birthday tomorrow to my girl. We love and miss you so much!

xo

If you’d like to help us celebrate, check out our Facebook event. We are having a random acts of kindness day and would love you to participate and share what you do in J’s honor.

Holding Us Now

Wow, y’all. December is here again. How did this happen?

In just 28 days we will mark the birth/death of Joanna Rose – her second birthday.

Our second year without Joanna was filled with anticipation of bringing home her little brother, and he came, full of life and health and sweetness. But having a “rainbow baby” does not make things “better.” He is not a replacement and not a fix for the broken. He doesn’t fill the hole left by Joanna. But he does fill my arms with love and happiness and so much joy, and he is a missing piece of our family now put in place. But she will always be missing. She will always be elsewhere.

But that elsewhere is Heaven. Though I miss her still, every day, I know I will see her again. I rejoice in the fact that I can live my life here, without her, with the confidence that we will meet again. That I will hold her again.

I was listening to a newly purchased Christmas album today and there is a song that combines Silent Night with another called Holding Us Now. As I was listening, it really spoke to me.

On a starlit wonder of a night
You came so all would be made right
And the baby that all beheld
The same baby Mary held, is the same God
Who is holding us now

As I was listening I began to cry, thinking of these lyrics. Jesus came to make things right, to make a way for us to go to Heaven. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the way for me and Joanna to be together again. But I also cried knowing what it’s like to hold a child who is dead, wondering if Mary realized in that moment that she would feel as I do, the broken, painful agony of burying a child, YOUR child.

The rest of the lyrics are just as powerful. The baby that everyone came to see, the one Mary held in her arms, is THE SAME God who is holding me now, holding me together through the hard days, the sad moments, the times when I miss J so much it hurts (which is still most days). He is ALSO the same God holding Joanna now. The same.

The same God He was in the joy of learning Joanna was coming. The same God He was in the devastation of finding out Joanna had died. The same God who was with us as we held Joanna and said our hellos and goodbyes all on one day. The same God–walking in pregnant, walking out parents empty arms. From a manger in Bethlehem, to a Savior on the cross, to the God in Heaven who holds our hearts through all things. He holds both me and Joanna, and someday He will hold us both, reunited.

 

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

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.

 

The Greatest Gift

It’s Christmas Eve.

A year ago today, unbeknownst to us at the time, we received a very special gift.

At my parents’ house, after the extended family left, we pulled out the fetal Doppler and found Joanna’s heart beat for my parents to hear. It took a minute, but there she was, galloping little heart beat, perfectly pounding away.

This would be the last time we heard Joanna’s heart beating.

Tonight as Bill and I celebrate Christmas Eve just the two of us in Virginia, I’m thinking back on last year, remembering how her heart sounded, remembering the happiness of family as they celebrated not just Christmas, but the joy of new life – a life we’d been waiting so long to hold.

Though only a few days later we would hold Joanna, the life gone from her body, we still held the greatest gift.

Our daughter, our first born, our dreams come true. Though this Christmas is hard to celebrate fully without Joanna, the gift of her life and the gift of her in our hearts makes it a little easier.

We are grateful for our forever Christmas gift, Joanna Rose.

Merry Christmas, dear ones. May you find peace and joy in your hearts this year.

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!