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.

 

Dear Joanna (12.28.15)

Oh, my heart. My dearest. My sweet Joanna. 

A year ago today was the last day–the last day I held you fully inside. The last day I would fall asleep, you still with me. 

Still. 

You were still. We went to the hospital that morning a year ago.

No heart beat. No life. 

Oh, Joanna. My heart aches over that last day. Over those last days, where I wondered if something was wrong but was utterly terrified to know what that “wrong” was. Though the doctors said it was nothing.  

And then it wasn’t. 

You left us, heaven bound. 

And I can only imagine what a birthday you’ll have tomorrow with Jesus and the angels and the streets of gold. 

It’s probably the most glorious birthday anyone could ask for. Yet I wish we were celebrating together. 

Together. I know we are together. Just not physically. I want to hold you again. My arms ache for that. I want to hear you laugh, to feel your warmth, to see you smile. All of me longs for this, which will not be. 

The days pass and we miss you, still. The nights are hard, some nights worse than others, still. Still, our hearts ache for you, for our Joanna. 

Even with all the other blessings in this life, the sweetest moments, the healing moments, the joyful days and the sunny days, we will never stop missing you. We will never forget our gracious gift from God. 

That’s you, J. Even in losing you, we have found grace and we have found new gifts and we have found some, though slow, healing. 

Because of you, our lives are better. Every day, we hope we make you proud, baby girl. 

The happiest of birthdays to my sweet blessing, my beautiful daughter. My Joanna. 

XOXO

Love,

Mom

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.

Dear Joanna (12.14.15)

Dear Joanna:

Today is a hard day for me. Not only because I miss you, not only because I wish you were here for Christmas, not only because it’s not fair that you’re gone, but because a year ago today is the last time we saw you moving and wiggling around on the sonogram.

A year. Already.

The next thing I know it’s going to be your birthday and I don’t have you to hug and cuddle and take pictures.

I was thinking back to the sonogram and I still wonder why your measurements being farther behind than ever (you lost almost a week of growth in three week’s time) didn’t raise some sort of red flag? I wonder if someone had thought to give that a second look, if you would still be here? Would it have made a difference? Was the damage already done?

I suppose you know the answer to that. I’m sorry that I don’t and I’m sorry that we missed it and I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.

I’m so glad we had the opportunity to have a secondary anatomy scan a year ago today. Thank you for being uncooperative at your first scan. Thank you for the gift of seeing you on screen more often than most parents get to see their babies on screen. I think you knew we needed that time with you.

Miss you as much as ever, baby girl.

xoxo,

Mom

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!

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.

Ten Months Without

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Joanna (10.19.15)

Dear Joanna,

I know you’ve heard this so many times, but only because it’s so, so true: I miss you.

These last few weeks have been feeling much harder, yet for some reason I thought maybe time would eventually make it easier.

Instead, as the weather gets colder, I’m reminded of how you were growing so steadily in my belly a year ago at this time. I had started to pop, was impatiently waiting for your 20 week ultrasound and still hoping the morning sickness (nighttime sickness) would go away soon.

Actually, a year ago this past weekend your Uncle Greg and Aunt Trish came to visit with cousin Shay. He was so little. I carried him around the zoo most of the day. I was so tired, being sick still, but we had a good time. Today I looked at the pictures of Shay from that weekend and realized…had you come along in April, around your due date, a year after Shay was born, you would be the same age right now as Shay was last year. Was that confusing? I hope it made sense.

Every time I see a picture of Shay from last year, it’s the same thing. I think of you and how old you should be right now. For the rest of my life I will look at pictures of him from “last year” and see you. In 2019 he will be off to kindergarten. I will look at that picture in 2020 and think how you should be headed to kindergarten. And so it will go. 

I don’t think time heals wounds. I think we grow used to the pain. Sometimes it aches as a fresh wound and causes great agony, and at other moments we feel it there, but we can focus on living and getting through the day. 

I wish you were here. I wish I didn’t have to know this pain. I wish I didn’t have to learn to live with it. I wish I could see you grow up. I wish I could hold your hand. I wish we were preparing for your first big holiday season with you in our arms instead of only in our hearts.

Joanna. Gracious gift from God. Can’t wait for the day we will hold you again.

xo,

Mom