Worth It

Waiting 20 months to see those two pinks lines. To feel that joy and fear all at once. To know she was on her way. To hope that I would hold her one day.

“Morning” sickness for 17 weeks. Waking up and needing to eat immediately so I wouldn’t feel sick all day. Sucking on peppermint candy sticks to keep my stomach settled after lunch. Wrapping up all, warm and cozy, with a box of Goldfish crackers every night at 8 p.m. because it was the only thing I could keep down.

Exhaustion. Nearly falling asleep at my desk each day after lunch. In bed by 9 p.m. because I couldn’t keep my eyes open for a second longer.

Tailbone pain that lasted from around 16 weeks until…well, I still have it on bad days. At first it was so bad I could hardly sit and once I was sitting, I couldn’t get back up. A literal pain the in behind.

Carpal tunnel when I woke in the mornings. Fingers curled in tight, hard to open. Wrists that ached throughout the day, typing away at work, trying to find the right position to cause the least pain.

12 hours of induced labor knowing I wouldn’t hear her cry. Nurse her. Take her home.

And even so, it was worth it. To hold Joanna. To kiss her and count her toes. To sing to her. To rock her. To stroke her cheeks. To hold her hand.

Totally. Worth. It.

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

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].

Pursuit of Happiness

What a rough week last week. 6 months. 26 weeks. Aching heart.

Faced with a 3-day weekend, I was thinking I’d spend my time alone, in the basement, binge-watching Food Network or HGTV.

This is typically what happens. Bill might do some work around the house. I might do some laundry or vacuum. But mainly, we stay home, quiet. Then, Bill will go to bed, since he works overnights. It’s a lot of time to myself, to be alone with my thoughts. To ponder what life might be like if Joanna had not died. To wonder if I could have done anything differently. To read our “Dear Joanna” tags. To sit in my grief and feel all the feelings that come with it, especially anger last week.

But I had a thought. If I am striving to reach happy, to find that place where we honor Joanna but we are happy more than we are sad, how am I helping myself by sitting alone in the basement? I decided on Thursday that Bill and I would #dosomethingfun (per my Instagram account) every day of the long weekend. We would try to get out and to be happy and to celebrate life – because though Joanna’s life with us was cut very, very short, we can still live for her, for us. We can still pursue happy.

And what a perfect weekend to do so – Independence Day.

Thursday we had dinner together, at the kitchen table. We had real conversation and good food. Together. Then, we went bowling and I won 3 of 5 games. Bill had the highest score of the night on our final game though.

Friday I met up with a friend from our support group for breakfast. It was nice to have the chance to get out of the house and talk to a friend who knows how I feel, but to be able to be together and talk about other topics too. Friday also brought sad news of a friend’s 17-week loss. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, to have your heart break so hard and so fresh in one moment of devastating news, and then to have it soothed by a friend who relates. By Friday night , I was ready for our #dosomethingfun – we went to the movies and saw Jurassic World. Ironically (?), our trip to the movies was free, as I remembered to use an unused gift card from my co-workers that they had given me after J died – something to get Bill and I out of the house together.

Saturday morning I got up and ready to go and as soon as Bill got home we headed out to Occoquan for kayaking. This is an activity we have enjoyed in the past and on vacations and have been meaning to do for a while now. We spent two hours on Occoquan River, listening to birds chirp and waters flow, admiring boats at the marinas we passed, taking selfies and, unbeknownst to us, getting sunburn on a very cloudy day. Afterward, we went home, ate some Smith’s hot dogs from home and had ice cream sandwiches. After Bill went to bed I spent the evening watching Call the Midwife (still not sure how I watch this show after what has happened to us, but it’s almost therapeutic) and comforting the dog because he is terrified of fireworks.

Finally on Sunday our #dosomethingfun was fishing! We have been talking about fishing for so long but haven’t gone. Saturday after kayaking we stopped at Dick’s for our licenses (and a Calia by Carrie Underwood workout headband that I have been eying since March). So Sunday we drove up to Manassas Battlefield Park and hiked down a trail to one of the small lakes. I caught the first fish (after Bill put a worm on the hook for me…) and he caught the second, which was about three times the size of mine. We didn’t stay long because the bugs were bad, but we had a good time just being out in the woods together. Peace. Quiet. Worms. Bluegill. And lots of love.

To some, I suppose this just sounds like a nice holiday weekend. To me, it was a huge success, a big step forward. And regardless of whether I end up taking a step or two back, because I am sure I will…I feel like this weekend was a win. We got out of the house. I didn’t hide…I flew! Bill and I spent time together doing things we love, things we haven’t done in a long time, things that are a part of who we are. I don’t think Joanna would want us to forget that we are a happy couple – competitive, fun-loving, adventurous. We can still be J’s parents, we can still grieve, but we can still pursue happy and have fun. That doesn’t detract from how much we miss her, it adds to the ways we honor her.

By living.

#dosomethingfun

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.

Coexisting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dear Joanna (6.8.15)

Dear Joanna,

I thought I would write a letter to you today.

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

Would you like to hear about our weekend?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love you, sweet cheeks!

XO,

Mom

Trying Again

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

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

But Joanna did.

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

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

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

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

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

And she did. For a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Walking into the Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Joanna (5.29.15)

Dear Joanna:

It’s been a little while since I have written to you. But I figured you don’t mind, since I talk to you all of the time. I know your daddy does too, especially while he works in his garden.

I was thinking back to Mother’s Day, when I went into the nursery and sat down in the half-painted room, tracing your hand and footprints. I told you that even if the result of my pregnancy with you were the same, I would go back and do it all over again. Joanna, you meant so very much to us, you still do. We miss you every moment of every day, but most days have less tears, usually, than the day before. Every day also has more love for you than the day before.

Today marks 5 months since your birthday. You quietly slipped away a day or two before, in a moment I didn’t even notice. That breaks my heart, that as your mom I didn’t know. I try so hard to remember the last time I knew all was well, that last moment I felt you moving. But I don’t know when it was and for that I am sorry.

I am also so sorry you won’t be joining us for Emily and Cameron’s wedding this weekend. It was supposed to be your big debut with so many sweet friends. They love you, even now. Emily even told me that your dad and I can have your cupcake because she knows you will be there with us. These first milestones without you are so hard. But Emily is right – you are always with us, in our hearts forever.

And so, sweet girl, I wanted to share this quote with you, because I am in a place where I know it to be true:

“Sometimes I think of you and feel giddy. Memory makes me lightheaded… All the things we did. And if anyone had said this was the price, I would have agreed to pay it. That surprises me; that with all the hurt and the mess comes a shift of recognition. It was worth it. Love is worth it.”

Joanna, some of the happiest memories of my life are of you. I think back on my pregnancy and can smile. Not every day, but some days. Like I told you on Mother’s Day, I would do it again.

You are worth it, my love.

I love you.

Mom