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!

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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.

Cuts Like A Knife

If you’ve been following my grief journey here on [Still]Gracious, you probably came across my post Someone Said Her Name. This was the first time that I heard someone say “Joanna” referring to a child who was not mine.

It’s not often I hear her name, and since that first time, I can’t even remember hearing it out and about, other than when Bill and I oh-so-happily binge on Fixer Upper.

But last night, at our support group of all places, my heart broke, over and over again. A grand total of six times. Yes, I was counting.

A new loss family came to our meeting, their son recently passed at six months old. This family also has three living children. One of their daughters, Johanna.

I realize the name is not quite the same. But oh, how is rolls of the tongue just as beautifully, sounding so similar, cutting my soul like a knife.

Every time she said her name, my heart dropped. Every time she said her name, my stomach churned.

The fifth time, I got up and left. I had this unrealistic idea that if I stepped out, by the time I came back she wouldn’t mention her living daughter again. Of course, I was wrong, but I knew my limit at that moment and I did what I had to do.

This was a very new experience, because the group is a safe place where you expect to go and heal. To talk to people who fully understand you. To grieve with other loss families and to support each other.

I’m still struggling today, wishing I could talk about my Joanna as that mom spoke of her Johanna: happy, healthy, alive.

A Year Ago Yesterday

A year ago yesterday, we saw a baby – swimming around. Heart beating. Perfectly healthy. Measuring right on track.

A year ago yesterday, we saw Joanna – the first time we could tell she had a cute, little nose. The first time I suspected she was indeed, a she.

A year ago yesterday, we told the world. Our Facebook announcement went live and the “likes” and comments started rolling in.

We were on top of the world.

I see a lot of people on social media posting pictures of their children, who are 1 or 2 or 3 or more. They compare a picture taken today, to a picture taken a year ago yesterday. And they say, “what a difference a year can make.”

True. This year made us parents. Made us loss parents. Gave us a daughter. Took her away. This year was the best we’d ever had, and the worst.

What a difference a year can make.

Dear Joanna (9.17.15)

Dear Joanna:

I feel like I haven’t told you enough lately how much I miss you.

I miss you when I wake up in the mornings and only have myself and the dog to take care of. I miss you while I’m at work because I should be at home with you. I miss you when I drink Diet Coke because I wouldn’t dare to drink it while you were with me. I miss you when I get dressed and all of my old clothes fit and my maternity clothes sit in the back of the closet. I miss you while I’m driving, the back row missing an occupied car seat. I miss you when I walk down the hallway and stand in an empty nursery. I miss you when I go to the store and see the foods I used to buy that you liked. I miss you when I’m sleeping, but sometimes I see you in my dreams.

I miss you when I’m breathing.

Every. Second.

Your dad and I are going to Disney World on Sunday. I know your absence will be intensified. Last year you were with us. Not too many people knew yet. We bought you your own pair of Mickey ear and had them embroidered with “Baby J” on the back. We used them to create an announcement to tell THE WORLD you were on your way.

I know when we go to Beast’s castle for dinner your dad is going to be very sad. He was so happy to have the Beast wear your Mickey ears and point to my belly and take a picture with us. But, even in the sad, there will be sweetness. The sweet memory that you were here. We will be back in a place where you were with us. Even in your short life, we made memories and you got to go to Disney.

I’m not sure what the most bittersweet part of our trip will be for me. Riding the rides I couldn’t last year because I was keeping you safe? In all honesty, I feel guilty about how excited I am to ride those rides this year. I would rather have you all over again. I hope you know that.

We love you and miss you so much.

And, hey. J, you will always be our dream come true.

All my love.

Hugs and kisses, little one.

Mom

Dear Joanna (8.21.15)

Dear Joanna:

Wow. The last few days have been so rough. Nothing has changed or suddenly become worse. Yet something has shifted. I feel like my heart and mind are elsewhere. They are not with me, not on my work, not with the person I am talking to, not with the TV show I am watching, the meal I am eating.

I just think lately I’ve been with you.

I think of you. I dream of you. Not that I hadn’t been doing these things before. But recently my mind is filled with you, overtaken by our physical absence and overwhelmed with your spiritual presence.

Yesterday I caught a glimpse of you. It’s been a while, but there you were .In the middle the storm. Yes, the middle – a rainbow. You surprised me as I peeked out the window to look for funnel clouds. Instead, black clouds to my right and my left, and you, brightly shining down on my front porch. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a rainbow shine so bright. Often they are light, and hard to decipher against the sky. But last night, you were aglow. And not long after I spotted you, the rain began to fall again and you quietly slipped away. Again.

And so here I am. In a fog. Missing you. Distracted by that which won’t ever be. But loving all that you are, even still. Because though you are not in my arms, you are all around. In my heart.

You were here. So you’ll never truly be gone.

“Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always”
-The Velveteen Rabbit

For always, dear one.

All my love,

Mom

What Sleep Won’t Solve

I’m tired a lot.

For a long time after Joanna died I didn’t sleep well. Some nights I would lay in bed, awake for hours. I would not be able to calm my thoughts and I would stare at the ceiling asking the what-ifs and play the blame game. Other nights I would sleep, but I would toss and turn and feel like I hadn’t slept at all when I got out of bed the next morning.

Of course those nights would lead to tired days. Days where I would wish for my bed. But when I would get to bed that night, sleep wouldn’t come.

Thankfully, most nights I sleep better now. I don’t miss Joanna any less; I tuck her carefully into the bed that is my heart, and we sleep in peace. There are still nights, like last night, that I don’t sleep well, or when the nightmares come, but generally, I am well rested.

However, I have been surprised to find that I am still tired. I am tired in other ways.

I’m tired from worrying. I worry over other pregnancies. I’m tired of doubt and of begging in my prayers that no one else would lose a baby. I’m tired from reading Facebook posts that talk about being in the “safe zone” or “past the scary point” and thinking to myself, “if only you knew.”

I’m tired of my heart racing and my stomach dropping when pregnant friends text me and I fear I will open the text and get bad news. I’m tired of phone calls from friends and asking them, “what’s up?” and then holding my breath when they reply “well…,” hoping they aren’t about to tell me they are pregnant, yet hoping so hard they will know the joy of motherhood.

My soul is tired. My heart is tired. Worn. Wrecked. The weight of grief is still making me weary, though I am not crying every day. Though I am not angry as often. Though I smile most of day again. I am simply tired.

I am tired of feeling this way…where I can’t just be “me” because “me” is someone new now.

When Days Are Harder

I think as a loss mom, I expect every day to be hard. Getting out of bed without a baby to take care of is hard. Coming home to a quiet house where your baby should be a happy, giggling 4.5-month-old is hard. Seeing your friends go through pregnancy and have healthy babies when your baby died is hard.

But what I don’t expect are days when things really should be only routinely difficult, yet they turn out to be extremely, surprisingly hard. Miserably, in fact.

On Friday I went to the ob-gyn for my annual check-up. I figured I should go, since the appointment would be fully covered by my insurance as preventive care and I would need the testing completed if we decide to re-visit the reproductive endocrinologist (where the exam would not be covered).

I knew it would be hard visiting the office, it always is. But of course on this particular day, there was a waiting room full of moms-to-be. All of those pregnant bellies, probably most unsuspecting of what could happen, happy to be there and getting to hear their babies’ heartbeats. Not only was the room full, but my doctor was running 20 minutes late. So there I was…sitting for a half hour wishing I were there to hear my baby’s heartbeat too.

When the nurse finally called me back, she recognized me from all of my prenatal appointments.

“Oh, hi! How are you? How’s the baby?” she asked me.

Ummm. The baby? Isn’t that the purpose of a chart? So that you can see before you meet with a patient what is going on with them? This was my third visit to the office since Joanna passed and certainly my file had that note in it.

I wanted to respond kindly to the nurse, but I was so immediately angered by her question that I said, “I guess you didn’t look at my chart – she was stillborn in December.”

She apologized and then I said, “To answer your question, I suppose she is doing much better than either of us.” I mean, Heaven is a better place to be, even if I wish she were here with me instead.

That was maybe a bit snarky, and I might have felt a little bad. But seriously. We shouldn’t have to go through things like this… Haven’t we been through enough?

To top off the harder-than-usual day, one of the lullabies I sang for J was playing as I waited for the doctor in the exam room. I don’t know how I had the strength to get through the experience and the rest of the day without crying, but I did.

When days are harder than I expect them to be, I usually want to close myself up in my room and cry or sleep or at least just be alone. When days are harder than usual, I often find myself wishing I could go back in time – that I could figure out the moment things started to go wrong and change them. When days are harder than I’ve planned for, I try to round up the strength to push through, to tell my story, to live for Joanna, to go on even when it feels impossible.

I’m thankful that those harder days come less often.


Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have strength. -Napoleon Bonaparte

On Growing Up

As most of you know, I love country music. A current favorite of mine is Maddie & Tae (see: Fly). They have another song, that generally the lyrics don’t mean as much to me as some songs, but one line says “that’s the downside of growing up.”

That’s alright, that’s okay
It’s just the way you find your way
It’s the road you gotta take to get where you’re going
You’re gonna twist, you’re gonna turn
But it’s how you’re gonna learn
A lot about life, a lot about love
On the downside of growing up

Gosh, isn’t it true? Life is hard. Some people have it worse than others, but everyone has their own struggles. Our biggest struggle, our deepest loss, losing Joanna and learning to live without her, is rough.

As we grow up we have these hopes and dreams and a vision of what our lives will be. We don’t realize what we are in for…working so hard and never feeling like we are getting ahead. Health issues. Losing grandparents. Financial struggles. Job changes. Friendships fade. Moving away from home. Losing children… So many things for which we’d hoped that didn’t come true or don’t turn out the way we planned.

We spend so much of our childhood wanting to grow up only to realize there are some pretty awful downsides to adult life.

But as I think of that: the downside of being an adult, I am quickly brought back to the reality that I get to be an adult. Joanna will never grow up. She will never be an adult.

Even with all the rough and tough stuff that happens to us as adults, oh, how I wish Joanna were here to grow up and discover so much good in the journey.

Working hard and being proud of what you do. Falling in love and marrying your one and only. Becoming best friends with your mom and always holding the title of daddy’s little girl, though you’re almost 30. Friendships that last 10 years, or 21 and that only grow stronger even when heartache happens. Adopting a pet who steals your heart forever. Becoming a parent and loving someone more than you ever thought possible.

The downside of growing up is that not everyone gets to do it — but they should.

If only they could.


One of the oddest things about being grown-up was looking back at something you thought you knew and finding out the truth of it was completely different from what you had once believed. –Patricia Briggs

Dear Joanna (7.27.15)

Dear Joanna,

I miss you. Always.

It’s been a while since I have written to you, but I know you’ve been busy playing on the clouds and singing old country tunes with your great grandpa. I often find myself looking up at those clouds, trying to see past them, to see you.

A year ago yesterday we learned you were on your way. Though we didn’t know pregnancy would happen so quickly the second time around, we knew you’d be coming someday and had just purchased a house with the perfect room for a nursery. I remember a week of negative pregnancy tests so I figured I wasn’t…but something said, “take one more test.” Those two pink lines popped up and I was pretty surprised and scared too, hoping you’d be the baby we would keep. The baby we would bring home.

Well, little one, we keep you in our hearts while Jesus holds you close. Some day we will hold you again, but you know what? We feel Jesus holding us too, and in that we are confident that we are together.

Yesterday I went to a concert and saw Kari Jobe perform “I Am Not Alone.” You probably know it well. We listened to it on the radio while you were here, and it played on the way to the hospital to have you, and on the way home. Maybe you had something to do with that. It made your playlist and it’s been very near and dear to me ever since your birthday. It felt right that I was there last night, that I could be in a place of worship and healing and come full circle – finding a few pieces of my heart are glued back together with the love I have for you. Finding God’s healing in the midst of these trials. All on the anniversary of the day you told us you were coming!

Joanna, most days are still hard, even when we don’t show it. Most days have triggers and some things set us off. Today, at 30 weeks postpartum, I think that you really should be only coming up on four months old. I think about what you would have looked like. I think about how it would feel to hold you, all warm and soft. And I wish you were here.

But I heard a little voice yesterday at the concert…a little voice that said, “You’re going to be a mom again. There will be another little one. Joanna is not an only child.” And I wonder, have you already met your little brother or sister? Surely God knows who he is sending next. I hope you are together. I hope you’re telling your sibling[s] to grow strong and to be brave. And to, pretty please, kick and punch and roll and hiccup as often and as much as he or she likes.

We love you, J. We are homesick to be with you and hold you again. But we’ll see you in a little while.

In the meantime, I’ll keep peeking past the clouds to catch a glimpse of you.

Love you, sweet girl.

xo,

Mom