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

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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.

 

Dear Joanna (12.28.15)

Oh, my heart. My dearest. My sweet Joanna. 

A year ago today was the last day–the last day I held you fully inside. The last day I would fall asleep, you still with me. 

Still. 

You were still. We went to the hospital that morning a year ago.

No heart beat. No life. 

Oh, Joanna. My heart aches over that last day. Over those last days, where I wondered if something was wrong but was utterly terrified to know what that “wrong” was. Though the doctors said it was nothing.  

And then it wasn’t. 

You left us, heaven bound. 

And I can only imagine what a birthday you’ll have tomorrow with Jesus and the angels and the streets of gold. 

It’s probably the most glorious birthday anyone could ask for. Yet I wish we were celebrating together. 

Together. I know we are together. Just not physically. I want to hold you again. My arms ache for that. I want to hear you laugh, to feel your warmth, to see you smile. All of me longs for this, which will not be. 

The days pass and we miss you, still. The nights are hard, some nights worse than others, still. Still, our hearts ache for you, for our Joanna. 

Even with all the other blessings in this life, the sweetest moments, the healing moments, the joyful days and the sunny days, we will never stop missing you. We will never forget our gracious gift from God. 

That’s you, J. Even in losing you, we have found grace and we have found new gifts and we have found some, though slow, healing. 

Because of you, our lives are better. Every day, we hope we make you proud, baby girl. 

The happiest of birthdays to my sweet blessing, my beautiful daughter. My Joanna. 

XOXO

Love,

Mom

Dear Joanna (12.14.15)

Dear Joanna:

Today is a hard day for me. Not only because I miss you, not only because I wish you were here for Christmas, not only because it’s not fair that you’re gone, but because a year ago today is the last time we saw you moving and wiggling around on the sonogram.

A year. Already.

The next thing I know it’s going to be your birthday and I don’t have you to hug and cuddle and take pictures.

I was thinking back to the sonogram and I still wonder why your measurements being farther behind than ever (you lost almost a week of growth in three week’s time) didn’t raise some sort of red flag? I wonder if someone had thought to give that a second look, if you would still be here? Would it have made a difference? Was the damage already done?

I suppose you know the answer to that. I’m sorry that I don’t and I’m sorry that we missed it and I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.

I’m so glad we had the opportunity to have a secondary anatomy scan a year ago today. Thank you for being uncooperative at your first scan. Thank you for the gift of seeing you on screen more often than most parents get to see their babies on screen. I think you knew we needed that time with you.

Miss you as much as ever, baby girl.

xoxo,

Mom

On Birthdays and Grief

Today is my birthday.

I’ve spent the last two days focusing on my grandpa. We shared this day as our birthday and I celebrated my first 21 birthdays with him. He even went to the casino with me on my 21st (his 70th) for drinks and to play slots. So many special memories come to mind surrounding our birthday, from blowing out the candles together, to Labor Day picnics, to a motorcycle ride to Eat ‘n Park for a birthday breakfast.

My grandfather’s death was my first experience with grief. I remember crying on the floor in my grandparent’s bathroom after saying goodbye to my grandpa for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. I remember telling my cousin at the funeral that I didn’t want them to close the casket because as soon as they did, it would be real. There were tears over songs that made me think of him. There were tears when I looked at other grandpas with their grandchildren. Eventually the tears came less often. The heart healed, though it would never be the same.

Now, eight years later, my heart still hurts on days like today. It hurt on my wedding day when Grampa was not there. It hurts on Christmas morning when he doesn’t call first thing to wish us “Merry Christmas”! It hurts when a commercial comes on TV and the song in the background is George Jones.

It is true that we move through grief. It changes us. It makes us stronger. It enables us to be more compassionate. Over time, though the loss is always present, the pain lessens. Now, when we think of Gramps, we remember happy times. We enjoy some of the things he enjoyed as a way to remember him. We tell stories and laugh together. Share pictures and songs.

This birthday I’ve come to realize, between my lessening grief for my grandpa and my unbroken grief for my baby, that life really is precious. What a gift. It was such a gift to have Gramps for as long as we did. When a life is long and full, you can celebrate amid your grief.

And when life is taken from this earth far too soon, you grieve that which you knew, those kicks and punches and rolls and the sound of Joanna’s heartbeat, and you grieve the future you’d dreamed for your child.

I didn’t really want to celebrate my birthday this year, but I realize now that each year, each day, is a gift. Even if I’ve had to go through the hardest thing in my life during my last year, it was also my best year. I had a daughter and she was beautiful. I got to hold her. Then, I was forced to change, to grow, to become stronger, to break down, to rise again. Joanna’s life, however short, was the greatest gift. She made me a mom and she taught me that life is fragile, unpredictable and beautiful.

Somewhere between my griefs today, I celebrated the gift of my life, and I celebrated life, for those who cannot.

Here’s to my life and yours, may we always remember how blessed we are to be here [still].

The 28th Year…

It’s been forever. I know. I’m approaching my 27th birthday and excited for my 28th year on earth. True story: my 27th year was pretty amazing.

I am going to recap, as I am going to try harder to blog more often. I’ve been writing in my journal at night when I can’t sleep, so I will share some of my thoughts with you from those pages, as well. But first, the mass update.

In January we brought in the New Year with much love and hope that we would be starting our family and bringing home a baby before the year is out…

In February we took a weekend trip to Luray Caverns. We stayed a the Mimslyn Inn and visited the caverns and the museums, and finished off the weekend at the Caps vs. Pens game.

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In March we went to NYC. We saw Chicago and Wicked. We visited Times Square, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, ate Ray’s Famous Pizza (not sure how famous it really was, but it was tasty, so, that’s good)! We tried new restaurants, 44 1/2, Penelope’s, The Meatball Shop, The Shake Shack (which we apparently have in DC, so we’ll be looking for it)! All-in-all, it was a wonderful trip with my wonderful husband and I will remember it forever.

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In April Bill was promoted to Management Trainee, overnight. He loves it and we are able to see each other so much more often. Also in April, my boss from WRX, where I was contracted most of last year, called and said he finally had a full-time, permanent position available and he thought of me. Did I want it? Well, I was having THE WORST time at my old job. I was unhappy with my boss, I was unhappy with my boss’ boss. I was unhappy with my 1.5 hour commute each day, each way. I said, “of course!” I interviewed and was offered the job in just three weeks. OPNET/Riverbed tried to get me to stay, but I told them there was nothing they could do, so they let me go without a fuss. I got a nice pay increase and I LOVE my boss, my office, my commute and what I’m doing. Never a dull moment. And I’m still at Wegmans (will be getting my 9-year name tag in about a week). Lots of babies were born between March-May….sister-in-law Kimmi had baby Allie…bestie Erin had baby Annakay (more below).

In May I started my new (old) job. We spent a lot of time with our friends Blaise and Matt and their new baby girl, Gianna. We went to see The Band Perry in concert and it was AWESOME. I had to make time to spend with my girl, Temi, from OPNET/Riverbed. She took a new job back home in Nigeria and moved in June. It was a very sad time, we became quite close (even road-tripped to Atlanta for a coworker/friend’s wedding in April) and I miss her and her shenanigans very much.

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In June, we went to Butler and celebrated Bill’s brother’s wedding. He married Ashley, his girlfriend of MANY years, and they have two lovely children together (and are expecting their third in April 2014. In addition to that, Liz and Kendall had baby number two, Mr. Emerson David, and he is so sweet. I met him via Skype, and Cora and I talked about dogs and cups (I think).

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In July, I got to go home for the 4th, plus I was able to celebrate my best friend’s upcoming marriage — her bachelorette party at the end of the month. We also got to go to a Pirates game at the Nationals Stadium with Jackie and Stephen. It was SO great. This month we also ended up signing our lease for 14 more months. There are so many options as to what we will actually do…move home, move to somewhere else (maybe State College?), buy a house in Fairfax, buy a house outside of Fairfax where it’s a bit cheaper…we will just have to see.

This month, we went home to celebrate my Aunt Penny’s marriage to Doug. She lives in Chicago now. We also went to a Pirates baseball game in Pittsburgh on the way home. The Pirates lost after 16 innings but we did have a lot of fun! And you know, the Pirates are probably going to have their first winning season in 20 years…so it’s worth it to be there! Bill got an autograph from Sanchez, on his SI magazine (Pirate on the cover). Also this month, I was able to go home for Noelle’s bridal shower, which was just last weekend. My mom and I took her out for some drinks and dinner and gave her some…lingerie! It was very fun and she shower was also nice.

Friday is my birthday party. It’s also a bittersweet time for me. I miss Grampa more around this time of year than ever. Sometimes I’m afraid I’m losing my memories of him, but I still have pictures and home videos, so I like to turn to those when I get sad. I’ll never forget how tightly he would squeeze me as everyone sang Happy Birthday to us. I won’t forget how we always blew out the candles together and how much easier it is to do with two people. I loved how loud (and out of key) he would sing, and how he would sing my name. And I loved how I sang it right back. Special times.

And through all of this…we are not yet expecting our little miracle. But, we are hopeful. And we know it will happen when the time is right.

Here’s to another year, a happy life, and wonderful husband, great family, lovely friends and a satisfying job!