Dear Joanna (4.4.17)

Dear Joanna,

It’s me. Your mom. It’s been a while since I have written. I’m sitting here in our Virginia house, snuggling your little brother on the kitchen floor while we have our carpets cleaned. 

I’m not really sure what to say right now, but I know there is something in here to tell you. First off, we are moving. We are moving home to PA, close to family. We miss them and want Leo to know them, like we know our grandparents. I wonder, if your arrival had been different, would we have moved back to PA sooner? Would we still be here, listening to the whir of the carpet cleaner, you playing next to me while Leo sleeps?  

I needed to tell you we are moving because somehow I feel like leaving this home is like leaving you. Somehow leaving here, though you are not here, feels like leaving you behind. All of my memories of you are here. Finding out you were on your way just as we bought this house. Immediately planning the nursery once we moved in, but having it come to an abrupt and heartbreaking stop. A birthday with you in this house. A Thanksgiving with you in this house. An annual tree decorating party with you in this house. You were here.

And after you died, this was still your home. We planted your winterberry out back and we celebrated what should have been your due date. I slept on the floor in the nursery because it made me feel closer to you. We celebrated two of your birthdays here and created Joanna’s Gifts boxes in your memory for other loss families. We ate cupcakes and released sky lanterns. We sent you a balloon on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day last October. 

Then, we found out Leo was coming. This baby promised to us, our rainbow, was on his way. And we began working on the nursery again. The one that was gender neutral, the one that was for you. And now for him. Together. A place you share, a place you both physically exist. And now we are leaving–you will never physically share a space with your brother again. We will move into a new home and he will get a new room, maybe dinosaurs or superheroes. And you will not share it, or get your own new room. 

We will take all the pieces of the nursery and create a similar space, continuing the elephant theme. We will still hang your footprint and handprint with Leo’s and any other baby who comes along. And though pieces of you will be in the room, you won’t have had a physical presence. 

We will take your winterberry. Your memory boxes and ashes are already awaiting us in PA at Gramma and Grampa’s house. That’s where to find us. 

I guess just as you are physically gone, so we will be gone from this place as well. But we do know you are in our hearts. You are ours forever. You are our firstborn and we will see you again someday. 

Last night I rocked your brother for the last time in the nursery. It was hard, but also I was thankful knowing I would rock him and put him to bed for many, many more nights. I so miss that I couldn’t do that with you. Today I looked into the empty nursery and all I saw were walls painted with so much love, but I also saw the dreams that were dashed when you left. I feel blessed to have your brother to dream with. Tomorrow we will leave. Our first house. Your first house. But your new home is the best of homes…the home where Jesus holds you until we can wrap our arms around you again. We just wish you could be with us now. 

Sweet girl. Until we see you again, sending so much love heavenward. 

xoxo,

Mom

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

Dear Joanna (10.19.15)

Dear Joanna,

I know you’ve heard this so many times, but only because it’s so, so true: I miss you.

These last few weeks have been feeling much harder, yet for some reason I thought maybe time would eventually make it easier.

Instead, as the weather gets colder, I’m reminded of how you were growing so steadily in my belly a year ago at this time. I had started to pop, was impatiently waiting for your 20 week ultrasound and still hoping the morning sickness (nighttime sickness) would go away soon.

Actually, a year ago this past weekend your Uncle Greg and Aunt Trish came to visit with cousin Shay. He was so little. I carried him around the zoo most of the day. I was so tired, being sick still, but we had a good time. Today I looked at the pictures of Shay from that weekend and realized…had you come along in April, around your due date, a year after Shay was born, you would be the same age right now as Shay was last year. Was that confusing? I hope it made sense.

Every time I see a picture of Shay from last year, it’s the same thing. I think of you and how old you should be right now. For the rest of my life I will look at pictures of him from “last year” and see you. In 2019 he will be off to kindergarten. I will look at that picture in 2020 and think how you should be headed to kindergarten. And so it will go. 

I don’t think time heals wounds. I think we grow used to the pain. Sometimes it aches as a fresh wound and causes great agony, and at other moments we feel it there, but we can focus on living and getting through the day. 

I wish you were here. I wish I didn’t have to know this pain. I wish I didn’t have to learn to live with it. I wish I could see you grow up. I wish I could hold your hand. I wish we were preparing for your first big holiday season with you in our arms instead of only in our hearts.

Joanna. Gracious gift from God. Can’t wait for the day we will hold you again.

xo,

Mom

40 Weeks

Today marks 40 weeks since Joanna’s birthday. 40 weeks since we said, “see you in a little while.”

It’s almost impossible to believe that she has been gone a full 40 weeks–for as long as it takes to grow a little human. In the time she has been gone, people have gotten pregnant and already had those little ones. Those pregnancy announcements on Facebook in the first few weeks after our loss, the ones that cut like a knife, those babies are here.

Waiting for Joanna to come seemed like such a long, drawn out period. But somehow these 40 weeks since she left have gone by so fast, I almost lost count. And even so, J’s birthday still feels like yesterday, the memories raw.

I just wanted to share that…how time marches on whether or not we want it to. How it pulls us forward when we don’t have the drive to push ourselves.

Thanks for following our story for these 40 weeks, and for loving and supporting us through it all.

I wanted to share with you that I have written a new article for Still Mothers, one that has not been posted on my blog before. Please check it out – it’s about the silence of these last 40 weeks.

Read my article here: Silence

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

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

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

Dear Joanna (5.29.15)

Dear Joanna:

It’s been a little while since I have written to you. But I figured you don’t mind, since I talk to you all of the time. I know your daddy does too, especially while he works in his garden.

I was thinking back to Mother’s Day, when I went into the nursery and sat down in the half-painted room, tracing your hand and footprints. I told you that even if the result of my pregnancy with you were the same, I would go back and do it all over again. Joanna, you meant so very much to us, you still do. We miss you every moment of every day, but most days have less tears, usually, than the day before. Every day also has more love for you than the day before.

Today marks 5 months since your birthday. You quietly slipped away a day or two before, in a moment I didn’t even notice. That breaks my heart, that as your mom I didn’t know. I try so hard to remember the last time I knew all was well, that last moment I felt you moving. But I don’t know when it was and for that I am sorry.

I am also so sorry you won’t be joining us for Emily and Cameron’s wedding this weekend. It was supposed to be your big debut with so many sweet friends. They love you, even now. Emily even told me that your dad and I can have your cupcake because she knows you will be there with us. These first milestones without you are so hard. But Emily is right – you are always with us, in our hearts forever.

And so, sweet girl, I wanted to share this quote with you, because I am in a place where I know it to be true:

“Sometimes I think of you and feel giddy. Memory makes me lightheaded… All the things we did. And if anyone had said this was the price, I would have agreed to pay it. That surprises me; that with all the hurt and the mess comes a shift of recognition. It was worth it. Love is worth it.”

Joanna, some of the happiest memories of my life are of you. I think back on my pregnancy and can smile. Not every day, but some days. Like I told you on Mother’s Day, I would do it again.

You are worth it, my love.

I love you.

Mom

Dear Joanna (5.15.15)

Dear Joanna:

Last night we went to support group. At first, I thought I wouldn’t like going. But in February we attended our first meeting and we listened to everyone’s stories. Each story hurt our hearts, just as our own story hurt. But being in that room with people who truly understand how we feel was good for us. I cried as I shared the story of you. Your daddy cried too.

Even so, we went back.

Last night we went for our 4th time. Now, there are familiar faces each week, friends even. People know our names and they know your name, Joanna. They know our joys and our sorrows and they know how special you are to us. They get it.

A few new people came last night. We heard new perspectives and new insights. New stories with fresh wounds. Older stories, still raw a year, 2 years, or more, later.

Joanna, I want to tell you about something that really resonated with me. I have been thinking about the future, about how it will feel to be pregnant again, how I will feel. I don’t mean the will-I-have-morning-sickness feeling…I mean the “me” feeling. Will I be scared? Anxious? All of the above? Yes, that’s likely.

Your daddy and I have considered what we will do – announce the pregnancy with just as much enthusiasm at 13 weeks as with you? Or wait a little longer, 20 weeks or more, to share the news with the hopes that the farther along we are the more likely your little brother or sister will arrive safely.

Lately, I have been leaning toward earlier, feeling like EVERY baby deserves to be celebrated and loved from the moment the two pink (or blue) lines appear. Every one. Joanna, we may have lost you, but we had so much joy with you. I want that for your siblings. Yet, it’s hard for me to imagine being excited and happy when all I can see in the future is fear and anxiety.

This is what stuck out last night. One of the ladies at support group is pregnant with twins after losing her son to placental abruption at full term. She said that you can live in fear, or you can soak in the moments and take all the joy. If something happens during your subsequent pregnancy, what will you have left? Only the fear? Or will you have the joyful moments your child brought to you throughout pregnancy?

It meant a lot to hear that, Joanna, because she is living it! She can, during her subsequent pregnancy after loss, find joy. Celebrate. Love. Connect. Be her best. All for those double rainbow babies. It’s one thing to say it and think you can do it – move beyond the fear and into hope and happiness. It’s another story for me to see it happening. To see that truth come to life. I’m so glad to witness, in the flesh, that it’s possible.

Possible to cherish and celebrate after loss. Someday, I’m going to get to do that.

Joy comes in the morning!

Love you, Joanna.

XOXO,

Mom

P.S. Thanks for the double rainbow at the house the other day. We really enjoyed it!