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

 

 

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.