Coexisting

Joy and grief. Coexisting. A lot of my writing touches on this interesting phenomenon. A very common topic at our support group and perhaps the most common theme of my every-day life since Joanna’s birth.

I’ve seen it many times in my life, the coexisting. I was so joyful to graduate high school, college. I was excited and happy to be done, to be leaving, to be moving forward in life! Then I thought about leaving all of my dear friends, my safety net, my familiar little world. And suddenly I was also grieving the past few years and I just wanted to hold on and never leave.

Another instance. Someone I love, my Grandpa, was sick. He was dying. I love him so much and was so grateful for each remaining moment with him. There was joy in hearing his voice in my ears. There was joy in the sound of saying his name. There was (and still is) joy in my fantastic memories of growing up with him. Sharing a birthday. His laugh. Love of George Jones. Slammin’ air guitar. There was even joy for him when he took his last breath and entered the gates of Heaven – for there is no more sickness or pain in his body. But the second I’d realized he was really gone, the grief washed in and over me and pulled me under. Happy and sad, all at once.

Of course, there’s also the situation where I’m having a baby, and she dies. What? There is joy in that? I’m going to tell you – yes. Some days it is hard to see the joy, but it’s there! You just have to look. I read this quote recently in a book I just finished making my way through (crying my way through). It captures the situation well.

It was the most anticipated moment of my life, and I knew in an instance, it would forever be the most painful. Having the best and worst moment of your life share the same space within your heart is indescribable… -Three Minus One

My mom asked me a few months after losing Joanna if I thought that 8:07 p.m. on Monday nights would become easier or be happier for me someday. But what I told her was that 8:07 is often less sad than other times. Maybe my baby came quietly into the world at 8:07 p.m. on a Monday night. Maybe I was in a lot of pain and tired and heartbroken at 8:07. But at 8:07 my firstborn child, my daughter, was born. She was perfect aside from the non-beating heart. Perfect and mine. I could not have been more proud and joyful in that moment. But of course, that coexisting grief was right there too, since Sunday morning when the doctor told us those four words no parent should ever have to hear, there is no heartbeat.

This week I was promoted at work – it was joyful! But at the same time, there was such sorrow because had Joanna been born alive, it probably wouldn’t have happened. I would choose her over the promotion.

Tomorrow is my cousin’s wedding – a joyful and happy celebration! But Joanna was supposed to meet her great grandma for the first time while we are there.

A week from Sunday is Father’s Day. We are so happy Bill is a dad, and such a good one. But we are so sad his baby girl is not here to cuddle and love on.

So and it will go for the rest of my life, joy and grief together.


With all my heart I will praise the Lord. I will never forget how kind He’s been.
Psalm 103:2 CEV

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Defining Moments

Have you seen that Prudential commercial? Here’s a link to watch.

The narration on the commercial says that the past is mostly a mix of half good and half bad items. The blue and the yellow were just about equal. But the future – it was bright. Mostly, people named something good that could happen in their future and placed a yellow magnet on the wall.

I think those colored magnets represent defining moments in our lives. Blue, the bad moments, come to mind very quickly. When I first watched this commercial, the first thought I had about something that happened in my recent past was “Joanna died.” Clearly, her death was a sad, horrible event that forever changed us. It defined us as “bereaved parents.” I live daily with this “blue magnet moment” and wish so much that things were different.

I also think of my recent “yellow magnet moments” – I graduated with two bachelor’s degrees and then got my master’s, I got married, found a job I find meaningful and fulfilling, became a puppy mom and an aunt, went on fun vacations, bought my first new car and my first house. Yet none of those came to mind initially.

I think this is because, of all the defining moments of my life to date, Joanna’s life has had the biggest impact on me. Her life, not her death. Her death serves as a reminder that she is gone, but ultimately it does not take away from her life with me, with us. Those perfect fingers and toes, so tiny and precious, her pretty face, so perfectly formed. The morning sickness and the flutters that turned to kicks. The 6.5 months we shared with her were the best of my life.

So, I want to change my magnet. I will put up a yellow magnet, to honor her life. A yellow magnet to define me, simply, as “mother”. And for the future, another yellow magnet, for the possibility of her longed-for baby sibling(s).

For Mother’s Day

In all honesty, I didn’t want to blog about Mother’s Day. I thought about putting something on Facebook, but that didn’t seem quite the right thing for me. I’m not having a bad Mother’s Day, but certainly not the Mother’s Day I was expecting. I was going to blog tomorrow, a reflection on the day, but felt that I couldn’t let the day slip away without doing for myself what I have wanted others to do for me today: acknowledge myself as a mom.

I am a mom. And though I may not get to parent Joanna, I get to love her, forever. She is mine and I will always be her mom. She gave that gift to me and I am so thankful. Though I can’t walk down the hall and scoop her out of her crib and cuddle her, though I will never see her take her first steps, go off to kindergarten, graduate high school, dance at her wedding, I will always have some precious moments with her.

The first time I got morning sickness.

The first time I craved avocado.

The first time I felt her move, and the second and the third, and even the last, because that was special too.

The times we heard her heartbeat and saw her little face.

Those 12 hours of labor, and though she arrived silently, she was mine. She was ours.

She made me a mom. I am proud of that. I am proud of me.

And I am proud of all the other mamas out there.

I am proud of the mamas who have their babies to hold tight. Don’t let go.

I am proud of the mamas-to-be. Be vigilant and cherish your pregnancy.

I am proud of the mamas in waiting. The ones who know deep in their hearts they will have children some day. The ones who have just started trying to have a family, and those who have been waiting, hoping, aching and praying for years. Don’t give up.

I am proud of the mamas of babies who’ve grown and moved away. Especially proud of mine – without her, I could not have been the mom I needed to be for Joanna.

And I am proud of the baby-loss mamas. Whether you’ve lost your baby to miscarriage, stillbirth, or sometime after they were born, you’ll always be a mom. Your arms may be empty, but your heart can still be full in remembering your baby(ies). It may take a while. I’m not there myself. But I know it can happen and I know it will happen.

So, mamas of all types, I hope you were good to yourselves today. I hope your families were good to you, too. No matter where you are in your motherhood journey, you are a mom, you deserve to know it and you deserve to celebrate it.

Happy Mother’s Day!
XOXO,
Carol

P.S. I wasn’t sure I would ever share this picture publicly. It’s a moment of both great joy and great sorrow (and messy hair, but who cares, right?). Because it’s Mother’s Day, and one of the few pictures of my little family, today is the day. Joanna, I am so proud to be your mama, today and every day.

joanna

Dear Joanna (4.27.15)

Dear Joanna,

I am flying to California as I write this. Actually, I’m probably already over California right now.

The last time I came here I had you! You were a tiny little bean, just six weeks along. During the trip all I wanted to eat was guacamole. Plus, I started to get morning sickness, but only in the evenings.

Maybe the best part of my trip was that by the end of it, I was the “most pregnant” I had ever been. Coming home from California and being almost seven weeks was a relief. It was a milestone for us, since before you, we lost a baby right around the six-week mark. You were still with us. You were still growing.

Sometimes I wonder, when there is another baby…will we feel relief when we make it to 26 weeks? 25 weeks and 5 days was when we found out you had gone to heaven already. I think there won’t be any relief until your brother or sister is in our arms, crying, full of life!

If you had not left us, I would not be going to California today. But somehow this trip feels like the start of a new journey. One that will be scary but one that your dad and I are willing to make.  I’m glad you’ll be with us every step, in our hearts and minds.

Love you, baby girl!

Mom

Dear Joanna (4.21.15)

Dear Joanna,

I wanted to pop in and say that I miss you.

I was driving to work from the dentist today and burst into tears. I know…it’s still happening. And I’m not ashamed. My tears for you will always come, and they will always feel right, even though not having you feels so wrong.

Why did I cry, you ask? Because as I was listening to the radio, a song came on called What Hurts the Most. I am sure you heard it before, from inside my belly. It’s about a break up, a great heart ache. About a man who so wishes he had said what he was feeling and acted upon his love for his girlfriend. But he didn’t and she left. He lost her forever. Though you didn’t leave by choice and though I never neglected to tell you how much I love you, I can relate.

I can take a few tears now and then and just let ’em out.
I’m not afraid to cry every once in a while
even though going on with you gone still upsets me.
There are days every now and again I pretend I’m ok,
but that’s not what gets me.
What hurts the most was being so close,
and having so much to say…
And never knowing what could have been.

I also cried because the last time I was at the dentist there was so much joy! I was finally telling everyone that I was expecting you. I scheduled my 6-month cleaning and was already celebrating that you would be here, that I would have a little baby to bring along with me to the dentist, all cute and adorable in your little car seat.

But it was not to be, Joanna.

My arms felt so empty on Saturday morning that I held Elephant close and swayed in the sunlight for a while. I wish you were here, cuddling Elephant, and that I could cuddle you in the sunlight. Sweet girl, you’re one of my greatest loves, and losing you is my greatest hurt – what hurts the most.

Hugs and kisses, beautiful!

xoxo,

Mom

A Breath of Fresh Air

Jane Austen once wrote, “Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”

While she was writing of romantic love, I have found a lot of meaning to this quote in the disappointment that is pregnancy loss, that is a mother losing her child.

When we miscarried our first baby, I cried for days. How could we have waited so long for a child and struggled with fertility nearly two years only to be disappointed days later? I was devastated. I was hurting. I felt alone.

But in my time of pain and sorrow, friends who had experienced the same kind of loss were there for me. From my mom, to my sister-in-law, to friends far and wide who had lost one, two, or more pregnancies. Their kind words and encouragement and shared experiences helped to ease the heartache and bring some hope back into my life.

When we miraculously conceived Joanna only 3 months later it seemed like she was going to be our rainbow baby. Flash forward nearly 26 weeks. When a doctor tells you, “There’s no heartbeat,” it literally breaks your heart. I say literally because you feel it inside your chest ripping in two and then it crashes to the pit of your stomach into smaller pieces. Heartbreak really does physically manifest as chest pain, among other things.

I cried every day for months. I still cry most days. But the outpouring of love and support and prayers from our friends and family has been what helps us get by. One day at a time. Or more accurately, one moment at a time.

Over the weekend I had the chance to visit a friend. A dear, sweet friend. It had been a long time since I had seen her; we hadn’t seen each other the whole time I was pregnant. She has not experienced the same kind of loss, but this deep, precious connection that we have had for so many years – it was the balm I needed. Her sweet cards and consistent phone calls and texts have been coming to me on the days I have needed them most. Yet there is no comparison to seeing a dear friend in person when your heart is aching. There is nothing like a familiar hug from one whose heart is as broken as yours, for you. Friendship is, itself, a healer. A ray of light and breath of fresh air in a dark and saddened place. A glimmer of hope when all feels lost.

I praise God in all things, even the most devastating times. And I thank Him daily for the blessing of friendship, the balm of the brokenhearted.

Dear Joanna (3.23.15)

Dear Joanna,

I went home to PA to visit family and friends this weekend. You would have liked it there. The weather was pretty mild, though of course it snowed on the first day of spring. It would have been fun to take you there in the winter to go sled riding. And in the spring to celebrate Easter and your cousin Shay’s birthday. Summer would have been fun, going to Waterford Days and stopping for a nice visit at your Pap’s camp so your daddy could show you off to his family. The fall is great too – cool temperatures and beautiful leaves. You would have grown up looking forward to those visits up north, just as your dad and I look forward to them.

This trip was pretty special. I got to meet little baby Annabelle. She is only a few weeks old and her mama, Erin, and I liked to share baby bump photos while we were both pregnant. I took her some breakfast and we got to share labor and delivery stories, though there was but one baby to hold. I wish there were two; I wish one was you. For most of the visit I just looked – I watched as AB lounged quietly while her mom and I talked. I looked on as Erin breastfed her, changed her diaper, redressed her. Toward the end of my visit I decided to hold her. She was much heavier than you, but still felt so tiny. She was warm and smelled like babies smell, so sweet and clean. And as I cuddled her on my chest, I wished for you.

Joanna, no one can replace you or fill this hole. Holding AB was priceless, so special, even healing. It helped me remember that all babies are precious and all babies are miracles, even if they aren’t mine. But there is just one you. So someday when your dad and I decide that we’ll have another baby, we know that your brother or sister will be a precious gift, but not a replacement. Even in that upcoming joy – you will always be missing from our lives on Earth.

I also got the chance to visit with another friend named Erin. She and I have been friends 18 years this year. That’s a very long time, especially considering I only had you for 6.5 months. While visiting, I was entertained for the evening by Annakay. AK is almost two and is very sweet. I wish you could have been her friend, just like her mom and I are friends. AK and I danced, put hats on and marched around the house, shared a snack and watched the end of Tarzan together.

I find that being around baby girls and little girls is much harder on me than being around boys. Mostly, I suppose, because they are a constant reminder of what I am missing – you. However, I realized the sharp edges of my broken heart are ever so slowly being smoothed: playing games and dancing with AK warmed my heart and made it feel full for a little while. Though the hole where you belong will never go away, there are small, fleeting moments of pure delight that take my breath away. Even though I cried for you the whole drive home from Erin and AK’s.

Who you would have been, how you would have looked as you grew, what we would have played…I still dream of those things. But I know you are doing all those things in Heaven.

I am grateful for the strength to get out of bed each day and live here without you.

I love you.

xoxo,

Mom

P.S. Sweet girl, you’ve been in Heaven for 12 weeks today. How we miss you, Joanna.

Dear Joanna (3.17.15)

Dear Joanna:

It’s me. Your mom.

37. That’s how far along I would be if you were still here. 37 weeks today. Full term! You could have safely come at any time and likely been perfectly healthy. Wouldn’t it be neat to be a St. Patty’s day baby?

Instead, you’re celebrating 11 weeks and one day in Heaven.

Heaven. Of course it’s a good place to be. No pain. No heartache. No tears (unless they are happy). Praising God in person. Hanging out with your Great Grandpa Rosey. You know, you’re named after him. That’s why your name is so special. Joanna after your maternal grandma, who is one of the most amazing and strong women I know, and my grandpa, with whom I shared a birthday, plus the Rosenthal eyes and chin! You had the same chin, and I bet your eyes would have been blue too.

Though I know you’re in Heaven, I still wish you were with me. We would snuggle before bedtime and I would sing to you a special lullaby. Your special lullaby. We would take your big “brother” Heinz for walks around the neighborhood now that the weather is nice. Yes, there were so many things we were going to do with you just in those first few months. Weddings. Parties. Picnics. You would have loved everyone. They already loved you.

Yesterday I sat in my car soaking in the sun, for both of us. It feels warm and revitalizing after a long winter, a sad winter. Soon it will bring the grass and flowers and trees back to life! But you will not be here to experience it with me. I listen to the birds for both of us, too. They sing so sweetly in the afternoons and I think you would have liked hearing them chirp and chatter.

I know, deep down, that there are better things to feel and hear in Heaven. I know you’re happy there. But I just hope you know how much you are missed. I hope you know that at every wedding, party and picnic I will think of you, and how we are not together. Just as I think of you every day, all day.

Sweet girl, I love you.

Love,
Mom

Losing Everything

Typical Tuesday evening. Watch NCIS with Bill. Walk on the treadmill for 45 minutes. Clean up and a quick change into pajamas. Lay down. Set the alarm on your iPhone. Turn on Pandora for some bedtime music.

And that’s where “typical” ends.

Pandora won’t load. Ugh. How can you sleep with no background noise to drown out the constant conversation in your head? The analyzing. The questioning. The wishing it had all been a dream.

Your iPhone wants to update. Sure, no problem. You do this over Wi-Fi all the time. You bet once you complete the update, Pandora will work seamlessly. But something is not right. Your phone will not finish downloading the software. The screen goes black. When it comes back on, it’s telling you to plug into iTunes. Ok….

Plug into iTunes. Warning screen: If iPhone cannot be updated you will need to reset it to factory settings. So you click “Update.” Nothing. Initiate freak out. When was the last time you backed up your iPhone? A year ago. Do you auto-backup to iCloud? No.

Freak out some more and go to bed so that you don’t make it any worse. Lay awake for three hours worrying you’ve lost everything.

In the morning: you’ve lost everything.

Ok, that’s extreme. You’ve lost all of your pictures. To you, it feels like everything. Ultrasound photos. “Bumpdate” photos. Videos from the Carrie Underwood concert you shared with Bill and Joanna while she was still growing, strong and healthy, inside your belly. The video of her heartbeat on your Doppler.

Everything.

Praise God for technology. Yes, technology is why you lost your photos and videos. But with technology, you posted many of the best and most special ones on Facebook. You texted videos and photos to your family and friends each week. You are able to get back some of what you have lost.

Do you ever feel you’ve lost everything only to get most of it back? There is nothing sweeter than receiving something you thought was gone forever. A lost dog is returned home by a kind soul. A lost favorite earring is recovered on the beach by a stranger’s metal detector. A lost ring down the bathroom sink is fished out by a friendly plumber. A stack of cash is dropped at the grocery store and an honest employee runs out behind you to hand it back.

But no one returns the baby you’ve “lost.” When “lost” means “died” – you can’t get anything back. Sure, you might cremate your baby and get her ashes “back” and you might even get the precious blanket and hat she wore in the hospital “back” but they are baby-less. You’d prefer the baby to the adorable hat that covered her precious little head.

You could even get “another baby,” but he would not replace the one you lost. He would simply be a sibling to your stillborn baby. He would bring joy to your life and he would be a miracle, but he wouldn’t bring his sister back.

And so, even when some of my pictures and videos were returned, there were still gaps. Still breaks in the story that was my pregnancy with Joanna. Still gaps in the hopes and dreams I had for her, for our family.

11 weeks since Joanna was born and my days and nights have a new trend: they are slowly getting better; slowly the pieces of my heart are coming back together. But for me, that which is lost will never be returned. My heart will never be completely whole again. I do believe it will get its shape “back.” It will start to feel like a solid piece again. Someday.

But this, this is not extreme: losing a baby feels like losing everything.

The Let Down

I had a million other things I wanted to write but none of them quite seemed like the right thing. So I’m just going to see what comes out today.

Four weeks from today I should have been starting maternity leave (if not earlier). Now I am not. I had prepared myself for three months off with my new baby and then to become part time at my job. Now, the let down: my baby is dead. Everything changes, and yet nothing changes.

In all honesty, I’m finding it very hard to enjoy my job because I wasn’t expecting to be there. I like what I do, I like the people I work with, I like getting out of bed and having some sort of purpose, especially now. But I don’t like that my baby is dead.

Just saying those words, “My baby is dead.” Each time I see them written on my screen my heart hurts. Each time I think about those words my heart breaks again. Adding to that I am now disappointed that I have to just work and not also be a mom: a let down.

Sometimes on social media I see people complaining about being a mom. Maybe not complaining so much as listing the woes of parenthood. And those woes are valid, of course. But at the same time, all I can think is what I wouldn’t give to trade places with them. I would love to be the mom who is super exhausted because her baby was up sick all night. I would love to be the mom with endless loads of laundry and a teething baby and rambunctious toddler. So many of the “woes” of parenthood are things that I would like to be doing and would love to have the chance to experience. A let down.

I am a mom — mind, body and soul. I carried Joanna her whole life. I held her body in my arms. We are connected forever by our bond. But the problem is I have no baby to hold now.

To raise.

To mother.

I would trade sick-baby sleepless nights for my restless-sleepless nights. The ones that come often because I can’t shut my mind down — the what-ifs and the how-could-you-have-fixed-this and the whys?!

But there is no trade. There is no do-over. There is no bargaining.

There is just life, continuing on, even through the let down: the heartbreak and ache of baby loss.