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

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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

Dear Joanna (8.6.18)

Dear Joanna:

It’s been a long time since I have written to you. I think it’s because I spend a lot of time thinking of you, talking to your little brother about you, and looking – peacefully – at your tree in our backyard while I wash dishes each night. I love you more than ever, and I miss you just as much.

Today is an interesting day for us. Today I am 25 weeks and 6 days pregnant with your baby sister. I think you know her, I think you and God probably told her about her family before her little soul made her way to earth with us. I think she’s been picked to stay with us forever, but I’m still on edge as to what the results will be.

But today, at 25 weeks and 6 days, today is the day in your pregnancy that you were born, still. That means that tomorrow, we’ve made it farther with your sister than we did with you. I think this is supposed to bring me relief, especially since she is our second rainbow, but considering all of the factors, I am still afraid. I heard you can’t be brave unless you’re afraid. But I wish I didn’t have to be either. I still wish I had you here with me.

I find myself thinking less about what this baby girl will look like, and more about if you’d have looked like her, like the little girl she will hopefully grow into. Because she is hopefully going to have the chance to grow up, and maybe in some fleeting moments we will see you. But she is not you. You cannot be replaced. We are excited for her arrival, for her place in our family. She’s already stolen our hearts (and took us by surprise). We are not a family of four, but of five. We are not a family with “one of each” but a family with two girls and one boy.

This pregnancy has revealed more clearly what might have happened to you. The weight of that still gets to me, that maybe you could have actually been saved. That maybe there were measures we could have taken to keep my body from hurting you. I have learned to let go of guilt in the last 3.5 years, guilt that I did that to you, that I couldn’t keep you safe. This pregnancy has brought it back in waves, the grief and the guilt mix. I feel that so much of your sister’s safety is on my shoulders. Yes, any one of several random problems could still happen, but the biggest issues can be solved by me, now that we know. It’s a lot of weight to carry. But I am trying to remember, different pregnancy (even though it feels so similar), different baby (even though she’s a girl, too), different outcome (even though it can be hard to imagine her in my arms, alive).

Little one, I love you so. I miss you and wish so much I could hold you again. I know I will some day. And tonight, I am just cherishing the little kicks and punches your sister is giving me…and her first hiccups that I felt earlier today. I’m glad on this night specifically I can know that she is OK in there.

I love you with all my heart, J.

xoxo,

Mom

 

 

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.

Slow Down

Time is flying by. Leo, my rainbow, is turning ONE in a week. How has this happened? This miracle-of-a-boy who took so long to arrive, whose pregnancy was full of anxiety and fear that made it seem to drag out, even longer than a low-risk pregnancy could feel — he has been here a year! I can hardly believe it. I am so proud of this little guy we have made, so proud of the big, strong one-year-old he is about to become.

The closer we get to his birthday, the more I am hearing this phrase:

Slow down.

And this one:

Tell him to stop growing so fast!

While I know those phrases are spoken by friends who mean well, this loss-mama heart falls apart to ever think of him slowing down.

Why?

Joanna was born 1 pound, 1 ounce. Too small for her gestational age. Joanna slowed down.

Joanna’s movements slowed down. Then, she stopped altogether.

How could I ever ask for Leo to slow down? How could any mama wish for her baby to slow down? To stop growing. You just can’t wish that, because to continue to grow at the steady rate of standard time is, wouldn’t you say, far better than the alternative?

I don’t know any loss moms who like these phrases or use them at all. They remind us of our little ones, gone too soon, and they remind us that we figured out they were gone because they had slowed down.

I will say it’s true that I wish time could slow down. I try hard to soak in all the little things, and the big things too. I feel as though I already can’t remember what he was like when he was born…how will it feel when he is 18?

I wish no baby had to slow down. I wish no baby had to stop growing. I wish no mama had to experience the consequences of it happening to their child.

Sweet Leo, please continue to grow big and strong. Brave and kind.

And Time, be gentle on me.

Dear Joanna (4.4.17)

Dear Joanna,

It’s me. Your mom. It’s been a while since I have written. I’m sitting here in our Virginia house, snuggling your little brother on the kitchen floor while we have our carpets cleaned. 

I’m not really sure what to say right now, but I know there is something in here to tell you. First off, we are moving. We are moving home to PA, close to family. We miss them and want Leo to know them, like we know our grandparents. I wonder, if your arrival had been different, would we have moved back to PA sooner? Would we still be here, listening to the whir of the carpet cleaner, you playing next to me while Leo sleeps?  

I needed to tell you we are moving because somehow I feel like leaving this home is like leaving you. Somehow leaving here, though you are not here, feels like leaving you behind. All of my memories of you are here. Finding out you were on your way just as we bought this house. Immediately planning the nursery once we moved in, but having it come to an abrupt and heartbreaking stop. A birthday with you in this house. A Thanksgiving with you in this house. An annual tree decorating party with you in this house. You were here.

And after you died, this was still your home. We planted your winterberry out back and we celebrated what should have been your due date. I slept on the floor in the nursery because it made me feel closer to you. We celebrated two of your birthdays here and created Joanna’s Gifts boxes in your memory for other loss families. We ate cupcakes and released sky lanterns. We sent you a balloon on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day last October. 

Then, we found out Leo was coming. This baby promised to us, our rainbow, was on his way. And we began working on the nursery again. The one that was gender neutral, the one that was for you. And now for him. Together. A place you share, a place you both physically exist. And now we are leaving–you will never physically share a space with your brother again. We will move into a new home and he will get a new room, maybe dinosaurs or superheroes. And you will not share it, or get your own new room. 

We will take all the pieces of the nursery and create a similar space, continuing the elephant theme. We will still hang your footprint and handprint with Leo’s and any other baby who comes along. And though pieces of you will be in the room, you won’t have had a physical presence. 

We will take your winterberry. Your memory boxes and ashes are already awaiting us in PA at Gramma and Grampa’s house. That’s where to find us. 

I guess just as you are physically gone, so we will be gone from this place as well. But we do know you are in our hearts. You are ours forever. You are our firstborn and we will see you again someday. 

Last night I rocked your brother for the last time in the nursery. It was hard, but also I was thankful knowing I would rock him and put him to bed for many, many more nights. I so miss that I couldn’t do that with you. Today I looked into the empty nursery and all I saw were walls painted with so much love, but I also saw the dreams that were dashed when you left. I feel blessed to have your brother to dream with. Tomorrow we will leave. Our first house. Your first house. But your new home is the best of homes…the home where Jesus holds you until we can wrap our arms around you again. We just wish you could be with us now. 

Sweet girl. Until we see you again, sending so much love heavenward. 

xoxo,

Mom

When She Leaves First

Debbie Reynolds died today.

I enjoy my fair share of celebrity news, but don’t normally comment much, especially on celebrity deaths. My thought process is that they are people, and people live and die. Some people live a lot shorter lives, and die.

Like Joanna. She lived 25 weeks and a few days and then she was gone – 2 years ago tomorrow.

But the reason I am commenting on Debbie Reynolds’ passing is because she died one day after her daughter. You are not supposed to die after your children. They say you can die of a broken heart – and yes, I am hearing Reynolds might have had a stroke – but what if, even though supposedly Carrie Fisher’s relationship with Reynolds was difficult – what if she died because that’s just how stressful and painful and awful it is to know you’re going to bury your baby (even if she was 60)?

Tomorrow we plan to celebrate Joanna’s life, mark another year since she left us. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve survived, a heart broken, deeply wounded, but still beating. The effect of losing your child is so great, most people don’t realize how hard it really is. How you planned a life together, planned a life where you never had to be apart, a life where your time was only severed by your death, not your baby’s. And then it’s all gone in an instant. And even though you might survive it, and you might even go on to have more children, your life is always marked by “before she died” and “after” – and you aren’t the same.

You see, it doesn’t matter how long of a life was lived, 60 years, or 6 months inside of you – that life had meaning and an impact on yours. You’re forever changed, forever missing a piece of you.

 

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

On Milestones

One of my loss mom friends and I talk often about all of these milestones that we pass, that were supposed to be happy and are now often sad.

The 29th of each month marks another month passing without Joanna.

Each holiday that passes that should have been Joanna’s first (Christmas, New Years, Easter, etc.).

Her due date – today. This is the second April 7th we have landed on that Joanna is not here. It’s hard to imagine that, had she been growing strong and healthy, she would have been a Spring baby and we’d be celebrating “1” today (ish).

There are a few other milestones passed this week, in addition to Joanna’s due date.

On Tuesday, I officially hit 26 weeks pregnant. I’ve never made it that far before. It’s a big deal – the anxiety and fear and worry over making it past the point at which our loss of Joanna happened has been overwhelming. Now that I am two days past, I still feel anxious. I’m in new territory. I know so many things could still happen. I also know I see at least one doctor a week at this point and they have all said that baby is doing great, along with my weight gain, swelling, blood pressure, etc.

It’s reassuring to hear that. Scary still, yes, because we have heard so many stories of so many ways babies can pass, at so many different times during a pregnancy. We are just hoping and praying this baby is our “rainbow” baby – for all the rainbows I have seen in the last year.

Pregnancy after loss (PAL) is really hard. Every little thing makes me nervous that something could be wrong. I count down the days until my next appointment so I can be reassured by seeing baby dancing on the sonogram screen – as if the kicks to the ribs and bladder aren’t enough.

Being pregnant with this baby has made me miss Joanna even more, with each day that passes. How I wish she were here too, to feel these kicks and to see her baby sibling growing inside and to meet the baby this summer. If only they could both be here.

And finally, the last milestone for this month – the 2nd anniversary of our miscarriage is coming up on April 25. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years already! I’m sure little baby Bean and Joanna are playing together in Heaven right now.

But there are other milestones – the ones that remind me of God’s grace and His mercy in these circumstances. Every day is a milestone. Every day I get out of bed and I put myself together and I survive. That’s a milestone. We made it another 24 hours. How we miss Joanna. How we wish we could hold her again. How I wish I knew what she would look like as a little one year old. But in all things, God is still good.