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.

 

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.

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 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

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 (5.15.15)

Dear Joanna:

Last night we went to support group. At first, I thought I wouldn’t like going. But in February we attended our first meeting and we listened to everyone’s stories. Each story hurt our hearts, just as our own story hurt. But being in that room with people who truly understand how we feel was good for us. I cried as I shared the story of you. Your daddy cried too.

Even so, we went back.

Last night we went for our 4th time. Now, there are familiar faces each week, friends even. People know our names and they know your name, Joanna. They know our joys and our sorrows and they know how special you are to us. They get it.

A few new people came last night. We heard new perspectives and new insights. New stories with fresh wounds. Older stories, still raw a year, 2 years, or more, later.

Joanna, I want to tell you about something that really resonated with me. I have been thinking about the future, about how it will feel to be pregnant again, how I will feel. I don’t mean the will-I-have-morning-sickness feeling…I mean the “me” feeling. Will I be scared? Anxious? All of the above? Yes, that’s likely.

Your daddy and I have considered what we will do – announce the pregnancy with just as much enthusiasm at 13 weeks as with you? Or wait a little longer, 20 weeks or more, to share the news with the hopes that the farther along we are the more likely your little brother or sister will arrive safely.

Lately, I have been leaning toward earlier, feeling like EVERY baby deserves to be celebrated and loved from the moment the two pink (or blue) lines appear. Every one. Joanna, we may have lost you, but we had so much joy with you. I want that for your siblings. Yet, it’s hard for me to imagine being excited and happy when all I can see in the future is fear and anxiety.

This is what stuck out last night. One of the ladies at support group is pregnant with twins after losing her son to placental abruption at full term. She said that you can live in fear, or you can soak in the moments and take all the joy. If something happens during your subsequent pregnancy, what will you have left? Only the fear? Or will you have the joyful moments your child brought to you throughout pregnancy?

It meant a lot to hear that, Joanna, because she is living it! She can, during her subsequent pregnancy after loss, find joy. Celebrate. Love. Connect. Be her best. All for those double rainbow babies. It’s one thing to say it and think you can do it – move beyond the fear and into hope and happiness. It’s another story for me to see it happening. To see that truth come to life. I’m so glad to witness, in the flesh, that it’s possible.

Possible to cherish and celebrate after loss. Someday, I’m going to get to do that.

Joy comes in the morning!

Love you, Joanna.

XOXO,

Mom

P.S. Thanks for the double rainbow at the house the other day. We really enjoyed it!

For Mother’s Day

In all honesty, I didn’t want to blog about Mother’s Day. I thought about putting something on Facebook, but that didn’t seem quite the right thing for me. I’m not having a bad Mother’s Day, but certainly not the Mother’s Day I was expecting. I was going to blog tomorrow, a reflection on the day, but felt that I couldn’t let the day slip away without doing for myself what I have wanted others to do for me today: acknowledge myself as a mom.

I am a mom. And though I may not get to parent Joanna, I get to love her, forever. She is mine and I will always be her mom. She gave that gift to me and I am so thankful. Though I can’t walk down the hall and scoop her out of her crib and cuddle her, though I will never see her take her first steps, go off to kindergarten, graduate high school, dance at her wedding, I will always have some precious moments with her.

The first time I got morning sickness.

The first time I craved avocado.

The first time I felt her move, and the second and the third, and even the last, because that was special too.

The times we heard her heartbeat and saw her little face.

Those 12 hours of labor, and though she arrived silently, she was mine. She was ours.

She made me a mom. I am proud of that. I am proud of me.

And I am proud of all the other mamas out there.

I am proud of the mamas who have their babies to hold tight. Don’t let go.

I am proud of the mamas-to-be. Be vigilant and cherish your pregnancy.

I am proud of the mamas in waiting. The ones who know deep in their hearts they will have children some day. The ones who have just started trying to have a family, and those who have been waiting, hoping, aching and praying for years. Don’t give up.

I am proud of the mamas of babies who’ve grown and moved away. Especially proud of mine – without her, I could not have been the mom I needed to be for Joanna.

And I am proud of the baby-loss mamas. Whether you’ve lost your baby to miscarriage, stillbirth, or sometime after they were born, you’ll always be a mom. Your arms may be empty, but your heart can still be full in remembering your baby(ies). It may take a while. I’m not there myself. But I know it can happen and I know it will happen.

So, mamas of all types, I hope you were good to yourselves today. I hope your families were good to you, too. No matter where you are in your motherhood journey, you are a mom, you deserve to know it and you deserve to celebrate it.

Happy Mother’s Day!
XOXO,
Carol

P.S. I wasn’t sure I would ever share this picture publicly. It’s a moment of both great joy and great sorrow (and messy hair, but who cares, right?). Because it’s Mother’s Day, and one of the few pictures of my little family, today is the day. Joanna, I am so proud to be your mama, today and every day.

joanna

Even When It’s Not True

Some words came out of my mouth the other night that I never thought I would say. But they were there, in my mind, weighing down on me. I had to try them out for size.

And the moment I uttered them, I burst into tears. I knew, as they rolled off my tongue, that the weren’t true, that they were just doubts and fears that I was allowing to take over. Yet the only way for me to fully realize this was to put them out there.

So, on Monday night as Bill and I discussed (more like debated) the possibility of a vacation in September, I struggled to admit what I really wanted to do. Hawaii? Eastern Caribbean? A beach trip close by?

Why was the decision so hard to make? Because we were discussing the best option, keeping in mind that I could be pregnant again by that time. Did we want to be away from a doctor? Was getting away from “everything” and being together more important than that “safety zone” that is my obstetrician, perinatologist and cardiologist just a few miles away?

And so in my frustration, I said to Bill…”I don’t know what I want. I don’t know if I even want to have another baby yet.”

There I said it. And in the same instance I knew it was a lie. I want another baby. As soon as possible.

On Tuesday I was still struggling with a decision on vacation, but I knew having another baby is in our future. In all honesty, I cried a lot on Tuesday. I cried because I had doubted. I cried because I am scared. I cried because my desire is so strong and I’m nervous pregnancy won’t happen again for us.

As I was driving home, I was praying for hope, for faith, for strength for the journey to baby. It was raining, but as I got closer to my exit, the sun popped out in front of me. I was certain there had to be a rainbow behind me. I was positive that I was missing it. As I exited and rolled around the off-ramp, the sun now behind me, I spotted it: the most glorious sign of God’s promises for my life (as well as what I hope was a “hello, Mama!” from Joanna). A rainbow. A double rainbow, in fact.

I know I’ve written about rainbows, but I just can’t tell you enough how rainbows bring such joy and hope to me. And this one, I needed it so desperately.

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Dear Joanna (4.27.15)

Dear Joanna,

I am flying to California as I write this. Actually, I’m probably already over California right now.

The last time I came here I had you! You were a tiny little bean, just six weeks along. During the trip all I wanted to eat was guacamole. Plus, I started to get morning sickness, but only in the evenings.

Maybe the best part of my trip was that by the end of it, I was the “most pregnant” I had ever been. Coming home from California and being almost seven weeks was a relief. It was a milestone for us, since before you, we lost a baby right around the six-week mark. You were still with us. You were still growing.

Sometimes I wonder, when there is another baby…will we feel relief when we make it to 26 weeks? 25 weeks and 5 days was when we found out you had gone to heaven already. I think there won’t be any relief until your brother or sister is in our arms, crying, full of life!

If you had not left us, I would not be going to California today. But somehow this trip feels like the start of a new journey. One that will be scary but one that your dad and I are willing to make.  I’m glad you’ll be with us every step, in our hearts and minds.

Love you, baby girl!

Mom

Canceled Appointments and Dashed Hopes

On Monday I was supposed to have an appointment with my high-risk specialist. This is a doctor that was recommended to me by my OB and is supposed to monitor patients who are high-risk (a stillbirth automatically makes you high risk for any subsequent pregnancy) and hopefully make sure these pregnancies have positive outcomes.

My appointment was canceled. The office called me the day of the appointment and told me that the doctor was unable to see me and asked if we could reschedule.

Of course we can reschedule. Bill and I know that eventually we do want to have another baby. Joanna needs a baby brother or baby sister. At least one.

However, having my appointment canceled made me feel like I was not supposed to be having another baby. I’ve been waiting for this appointment for more than a month and it’s very hard to get in with this doctor. When they said it was canceled I thought they were going to also tell me that I couldn’t get in for at least another month.

That meant postponing making a plan for a healthy pregnancy. Not having a plan for healthy pregnancy makes me already anxious that the next one won’t go well. This canceled appointment turned my day upside down and immediately made me fear for the future.

Of course I was overreacting. Within the next five minutes we had found a time that works for both of us to reschedule the new appointment that was within a week of the original appointment. One week. No big deal.

I so badly want to hope that we will have at least one child living here on earth with us in the future. It’s crazy how quickly that hope can be pulled away. Pulled right out from underneath you.

But praise God for his grace that sweeps in and saves the day. He comes in to remind us that He is good, always. His grace wraps us in an embrace and says, “It’s going to be okay.” It says, “I got you a new appointment in only six days.” It reminds us that God’s timing is perfect.

Grace says no matter what your circumstances, no matter what you’ve been through, no matter what is in your future, God’s got you.

Be reminded today: God is [still] gracious. Always.