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

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Fly

To say today was good is certainly an overstatement. To say today was bad, is an understatement. To say either and try to express what I actually feel today is impossible. There is literally nothing I can write, say or do that will help me put a finger on the feelings. But today is the day. Today, six months ago, on a Monday, too… Joanna was born. The proudest, hardest, most bittersweet moment in my life.

This weekend brought back such impossibly difficult moments, and unspeakably beautiful ones. From the moment we were told our baby had died, to the minute she was born and we looked at her beautiful face. From seeing the heartbreak and pain in Bill’s eyes, to singing to J and cuddling our sweet daughter.

I reflect on that day and on the moments leading up to it daily. I am good at distracting myself with work, paying bills, cleaning the house, or travel. But at the end of the day I come back to December 28-29. Some days I cry sad tears. Some days I don’t cry. Some days, like yesterday, I cry hot, angry tears and ache for my baby.

Today also marks a new point in time…it has been exactly 26 weeks since Joanna was born. I delivered her at 25w6d. This means that today is the first day that we have been without her longer than she was with us.

Her short life while she grew inside of me has brought immeasurable joy to our lives. How could this sweet, little baby who we never heard laugh or cry bring so much love to us? She brought us closer as a couple, as a family. She brought us hope for our futures. She brought us a miracle. She encouraged us to be better people. She taught us how to be parents. And even though she is gone, her love, her life and her lessons have stayed with us.

Even though she is gone, we go on loving her. I might have stayed in bed for a few hours yesterday and cried. But I loved J today by getting out of bed and going to work and doing my best. I love her by trying so hard to keep on living, keep on enjoying life, even though I am without her. I love her by keeping her memory alive by using her name, by talking to her, by tracing those tiny, tiny footprints.

There’s a song that I have been listening to a lot lately called “Fly” by Maddie and Tae. I’ve always liked the song but I’ve been feeling like it reflects how I have been feeling lately. I’m trying so hard to be happy and to keep going, but a lot of times I feel like I’m falling back down. As one friend puts it, it’s a two-steps forward, one-step back journey.

You can listen to the song here!

The chorus sticks out the most.

Keep on climbing though the ground might shake.
Keep on reaching though the limb might break.
We’ve come this far, don’t you be scared now.
‘Cause you can learn to fly on the way down.

You keep going, even when the ground shakes or the limb might break. You keep going, even when you have a bad day, or you cry all day, or you just don’t want to do anything but lay in bed. You keep going, even when you’re scared to face the grocery store or can’t look at one more newborn baby, and eventually, you’ll be happy more than you’re sad. You’ll learn to fly again.

I’m trying so hard to fly again.

That Which Will Never Be

When your baby dies, your dreams for her die also. All of the things you spent months imagining while she was flipping and flopping inside you will never happen.

You will never see her first smile. Her first steps. Her first tooth.

You miss bath time and story time. Cuddle time. Nap time. Bedtime.

You will never take her fishing, teach her to ride a bike, go to a baseball game or take her to the beach.

You don’t get to see her off to preschool, kindergarten, middle and high school. School dances. Field trips. No graduation. No college degrees. No weddings. You don’t get to see her become a mother.

There is so much more. You miss out on all sorts of moments you can’t even name because they are experiences only parents of living children can have. The bereaved parent also mourns the unknown.

Would she have a sweet, quiet voice when she said her first word? Would her dad’s silly noises have made her giggle? Would she have been tomboy? Would she be shy or outgoing?

What little things would she have said that would have surprised me or filled my heart with joy? Would we have bonded over certain TV shows or musicians? Would she have liked sports? What experiences would we have, whether happy or sad?

One thing we do know is how much we love her. And we know she is still with us.

But it is really hard to accept that Joanna will never grow up.

To honor and remember J, we purchased my cousin’s veil for her wedding, which we were able to attend over weekend. Back when Emily was visiting us in January, my mom and I took her shopping for her gown. When she had found the dress, we added a veil to see how it looked. Emily loved it and I knew I would need to buy it for her. For Joanna, who would never wear one.

At the wedding, I was so happy to see that veil. Emily was beautiful and the veil completed the look. But I was also so sad. Why isn’t our baby here? Why won’t she get to meet her wonderful family? Why does she have to miss out? All the things we hoped for her…they just will not be.

We feel that every single day.

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