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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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.

When She Leaves First

Debbie Reynolds died today.

I enjoy my fair share of celebrity news, but don’t normally comment much, especially on celebrity deaths. My thought process is that they are people, and people live and die. Some people live a lot shorter lives, and die.

Like Joanna. She lived 25 weeks and a few days and then she was gone – 2 years ago tomorrow.

But the reason I am commenting on Debbie Reynolds’ passing is because she died one day after her daughter. You are not supposed to die after your children. They say you can die of a broken heart – and yes, I am hearing Reynolds might have had a stroke – but what if, even though supposedly Carrie Fisher’s relationship with Reynolds was difficult – what if she died because that’s just how stressful and painful and awful it is to know you’re going to bury your baby (even if she was 60)?

Tomorrow we plan to celebrate Joanna’s life, mark another year since she left us. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve survived, a heart broken, deeply wounded, but still beating. The effect of losing your child is so great, most people don’t realize how hard it really is. How you planned a life together, planned a life where you never had to be apart, a life where your time was only severed by your death, not your baby’s. And then it’s all gone in an instant. And even though you might survive it, and you might even go on to have more children, your life is always marked by “before she died” and “after” – and you aren’t the same.

You see, it doesn’t matter how long of a life was lived, 60 years, or 6 months inside of you – that life had meaning and an impact on yours. You’re forever changed, forever missing a piece of you.

 

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.

 

The Greatest Gift

It’s Christmas Eve.

A year ago today, unbeknownst to us at the time, we received a very special gift.

At my parents’ house, after the extended family left, we pulled out the fetal Doppler and found Joanna’s heart beat for my parents to hear. It took a minute, but there she was, galloping little heart beat, perfectly pounding away.

This would be the last time we heard Joanna’s heart beating.

Tonight as Bill and I celebrate Christmas Eve just the two of us in Virginia, I’m thinking back on last year, remembering how her heart sounded, remembering the happiness of family as they celebrated not just Christmas, but the joy of new life – a life we’d been waiting so long to hold.

Though only a few days later we would hold Joanna, the life gone from her body, we still held the greatest gift.

Our daughter, our first born, our dreams come true. Though this Christmas is hard to celebrate fully without Joanna, the gift of her life and the gift of her in our hearts makes it a little easier.

We are grateful for our forever Christmas gift, Joanna Rose.

Merry Christmas, dear ones. May you find peace and joy in your hearts this year.

Worth It

Waiting 20 months to see those two pinks lines. To feel that joy and fear all at once. To know she was on her way. To hope that I would hold her one day.

“Morning” sickness for 17 weeks. Waking up and needing to eat immediately so I wouldn’t feel sick all day. Sucking on peppermint candy sticks to keep my stomach settled after lunch. Wrapping up all, warm and cozy, with a box of Goldfish crackers every night at 8 p.m. because it was the only thing I could keep down.

Exhaustion. Nearly falling asleep at my desk each day after lunch. In bed by 9 p.m. because I couldn’t keep my eyes open for a second longer.

Tailbone pain that lasted from around 16 weeks until…well, I still have it on bad days. At first it was so bad I could hardly sit and once I was sitting, I couldn’t get back up. A literal pain the in behind.

Carpal tunnel when I woke in the mornings. Fingers curled in tight, hard to open. Wrists that ached throughout the day, typing away at work, trying to find the right position to cause the least pain.

12 hours of induced labor knowing I wouldn’t hear her cry. Nurse her. Take her home.

And even so, it was worth it. To hold Joanna. To kiss her and count her toes. To sing to her. To rock her. To stroke her cheeks. To hold her hand.

Totally. Worth. It.

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.

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 (6.8.15)

Dear Joanna,

I thought I would write a letter to you today.

I wish I had some great lesson or encouraging insight to share with you so that you know I am healing and I am growing through this experience. But, I don’t really have anything much to go on this week. Plus, I miss you just the same.

Would you like to hear about our weekend?

Your dad and I went to WMZQFest – the first concert in our country mega-ticket deal. There were a lot of artists there who you liked. I know you liked them because I could feel you moving around when some of their songs came on. You know the playlist I play in the car all of the time? The one I made for you? One of the songs is Leave the Night On by Sam Hunt. He was there this weekend, and he sang that song. It was a cool experience to hear a song I like so much live. But it also reminded me that if you were here, we wouldn’t have been at that concert.

And so it goes, J. We make it through each moment, day, week, month without you. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed, some days we can’t keep the tears from falling. But other days we just are. We go to the movies. We go to work. We go to concerts. We smile and we have fun, your dad and me. And then, in the midst of a good moment, we are pulled back into moments of sadness. The grief comes in like a wave, washing over me, and in an instant has receded back into the ocean.

That’s how it felt watching Sam Hunt perform. I was so happy, then, for a few minutes, all I wanted to do was cry. A moment later, I was squeezing your dad’s hand and felt stronger once again. However much we do miss you, those moments of joy are slowly beginning to overtake the moments of sorrow. Thank you for that – for being our daughter and for bringing joy into our lives.

Something else I accomplished this weekend, for which I’m sure you’d be proud, I finished painting the nursery, aside from the striped accent wall. (That seemed like too much work to do on my own.) I had been feeling ready, so I thought I would make an attempt. I taped off the ceiling, the trim and the window and finally completed the entire first coat of paint. While I was waiting for it to dry to put on the second coat, I began talking myself out of finishing. I’d already spent a few hours in the nursery and was ready to stay away, to give myself a break. But when the two hours were up, I marched myself upstairs determined to finish.

You were supposed to be the first to occupy the nursery, but we planned a gender neutral theme in order to keep the nursery the same for all of our children. Completing the job is a labor of love, for you, even though you’re only in the room in spirit. Also a labor of hope. Hope that another little one will someday fill the room, and our lives, with as much joy and love as you gave us. So much love.

For just as the swan’s last song is the sweetest of its life, so loss is made endurable by love. It is love that will echo through eternity. -Call the Midwife

Love you, sweet cheeks!

XO,

Mom