The Quietest Easter

Last Easter we were 3.5 months out from having said “see you later” to Joanna. We went to Pennsylvania to be with family, rather than be alone in the house. It was a nice weekend away, with good food and wonderful family to visit. There was noise to drown out the sad, empty cries of our hearts.

This year, we were home. Our first Easter, just to two of us, without Joanna. I couldn’t help thinking of how different it should be as I hashtagged a photo with “dinner for two” – when it should have been three. We should have a nearly one year old. Maybe she would be walking. Maybe she would be enjoying all sorts of new foods, or maybe she would be a picky eater. Maybe we’d be out “searching” for Easter eggs in the backyard instead of looking at Joanna’s winterberry tree and wishing she were here. We’d be surrounded by little girl screams and giggles and hugs and kisses. The delightful sounds of childhood filling our home and our yard. Filling our hearts.

Instead we were home. Quiet. I made a little Easter dinner, Bill took a long nap in the afternoon since he has worked the night before.

I found myself reflecting more deeply this year on Easter itself. Thinking of Jesus’ sacrifice and how He made a way for us all to go to Heaven. In the quiet of Sunday, I realized how much more grateful I am for this sacrifice now. To know that Joanna has only known Heaven, that she will not know what heartbreak is, that Jesus made a way for her little soul to go straight to Him. That because of His sacrifice, I know I’ll be seeing J again someday.

Though quiet represents a lot of pain and sadness for me, for Joanna, quiet means peace and joy and praise and walks down golden streets and being held by her Creator, while we are not there to hold her.

Maybe this will be our last quiet Easter, but I’m grateful for the time I spent thinking of Joanna and for the peace that covers my heart when I think of seeing her again someday.

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Triggers

It’s been quite some time since I have written. I would like to say it’s because we aren’t sad anymore, but that’s not true. Not a day goes by that we don’t think of and miss Joanna. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 14 months since we held J, and just a few weeks ago was the first anniversary of my blogging about our baby girl and our journey through pregnancy loss, stillbirth, grief and healing.

And a lot of healing has happened. Late in the summer of 2015 my blog posts started to taper off. I think this is because, though I always have a lot to say, especially to Joanna, I was getting to a place where words weren’t what I needed to continue healing. Just living was the thing – training for my first 5K, celebrating my birthday, going on vacation with my husband and best friends. Getting out and doing things I’ve wanted or needed to, and not feeling scared to make them happen. Not being afraid of triggers and not being afraid to tell my story.

That is not to say life is not without triggers. In living more fully and celebrating my own life, as a way to honor J, I have found many things that bring me to a stop. That immediately draw tears. That make my heart drop. I don’t think there will ever come a day when certain things won’t make me sad and miss Joanna.

Recently Bill and I went to a pet adoption event just for fun, after doing some furniture shopping. We were having fun petting the little puppies, holding them, playing with them. Then we walked to another area in the store where the older dogs were hanging out, hoping for someone to adopt them. We ran into a pretty lab/retriever mix. She was golden and so sweet, but seemed pretty antsy. That’s when the handler told me that she was feeling a little sad because her puppies were taken away that day.

I looked down and walked away so fast. The tears were immediately in my eyes. Of course that dog was sad, and not just a little. Her babies were gone and she wasn’t going to see them again. I know things are different in the animal world, but I have a dog and I know he understands a lot more than I think. I know he has feelings that have been hurt and he expresses joy and happiness. So I know that mama dog was heartbroken over her pups being taken. It hurt my heart and took me back to the day I left the hospital without my baby.

It’s so crazy how quickly something can trigger me. But at the same time, it’s not. It’s going to be a lifetime of grieving – of parenting a child who is not here. There is no “getting over” it. Healing comes slowly, but even when we are feeling better, there will be weeks, days and moments of deep, deep grief that will take over. No matter what happens in our lives from here on out, we won’t forget, we won’t stop loving, we will always miss our Joanna. No one can replace her. No one can take away the special place she holds in our hearts, and in our family.

God, in His mercy and grace, has started to heal my heart, and in His power and compassion, He holds me when I feel broken all over again.

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.

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

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.

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

Walking into the Room

Over the weekend I watched Cake, with Jennifer Aniston. I don’t want to give the story away, but Jennifer Aniston’s character is in chronic pain after a terrible accident that left her very injured and her son dead.

The film doesn’t focus a lot on her son’s death, but rather the life she is living post-accident (or not really living, rather), and the family (husband and son) of a woman she met in her chronic pain support group who committed suicide.

There’s a moment in the movie where Jennifer Aniston’s character goes into her son’s room, a room she clearly tries to avoid. It is mostly unchanged, aside from some boxes of clothing packed up. As she swung open the door to the room, I felt myself go back to the first time I looked in the nursery after Joanna died.

This half-painted room, a crib still boxed up, mattress still wrapped, dresser in the middle of the room. No blinds or curtains over the window. Unfinished.

At first going in the nursery always felt sad. My stomach would drop and the tears would well up. This incomplete space that was supposed to hold the greatest miracle, now, still, empty, not to be filled with our firstborn. I would hesitate to open the door. Once I did make it inside, I would open the closet and look at the items packed away, never to be used by Joanna. I would stand by the window and cry, wishing I could sit in a rocker and cuddle her.

One morning, though, as I had not closed the door all the way the last time I had visited the room, the sun was shining through the window and lit up the space around the door so if looked like it glowed. A little bit of light traveled across the hall floor to just about where I was standing. The light invited me to the room. As I walked in, the warm morning sun touched my face and the whole room felt bright and alive. It felt like the light was telling me to have hope – that this nursery would be finished someday. That another baby would come someday. That it is OK to miss Joanna as much as we do, but that she will always be remembered and cherished.

So many times since I have gone into the nursery and sat in the morning sun. Lately the nursery has been a sanctuary. I talk to Joanna. I pray for further healing. Sometimes I just cry. I talk to God about my brokenness, about my hope for another child.

Walking into the room today, I think I am ready to finish painting.

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!

Pretty in Pink [A Celebration of Life]

These past few days I have had a lot of trouble thinking about what to say, which is why I haven’t posted in a while. So here goes nothing…

Easter weekend was pretty hard for me. I was surrounded by so many of the people I love. It was a beautiful weekend of joy and celebration. But at the same time, it was devastating. Thinking that I probably shouldn’t even have been up in PA, considering that Joanna could have been born early. Or, better yet, that she was growing and healthy and happy right up until 40 weeks: Tuesday. Which would have meant I couldn’t have traveled so far away for Easter. Those are the things I think of when I’m alone, when I’m in bed trying to fall asleep, when I’m driving in my car… If only things were different.

Speaking of 40 weeks, Tuesday on my due date we had a celebration of Joanna’s life. We decided to plant a winterberry bush in our backyard. It will get bright red berries in December (her birthday) and will have bright green leaves most of the rest of the year (that come out in Spring, around her due date). Prior to the evening of our celebration, we invited friends and family from afar to write “Dear Joanna” letters on tags that I designed and printed on light pink card stock. Then, local friends (and my mom and Aunt Barb) came over for a potluck dinner Tuesday. April 7. We hung all the mailed-in tags and the friends who could attend the celebration filled out tags and hung them as well.

We had wanted to plant the winterberry and hang the tags outside, but the weather was not cooperating. I was pretty upset at first. Something came out of my mouth in the car on my way home from work that sounded like, “God, You get to have Joanna, can’t I at least have nice weather for our memorial?” And it came out in a loud, angry yell. It was certainly a low moment for me, though anger is a common emotion for me to feel when I think about losing Joanna. Regardless, I felt better after saying what I was truly feeling, and a bit of peace washed over me, like God was answering me, “You carry Joanna in your heart, you celebrate her life every day, the weather can’t change that, or how much you love her.” And so I went home, put the tree in the house like a Christmas tree and we celebrated. It was beautiful. The pink really popped, plus we had pink tulips and pink balloons.

Love Mom

I feel so blessed to have so many family members and friends who joined us in celebrating, near and far. I am so grateful for their thoughts and prayers and support during the past three months. There is no doubt in my mind how loved Joanna was and still is – and no doubt that Bill and I are loved, as well.

Proud Parents

A final thought…I feel like making it to my due date and surviving this time is a huge relief to me. Every week I thought about how far along I would be in my pregnancy and what that would mean for us. And now, I am not counting down to the day when my baby would NOT be born. It has passed. I am here. Breathing. Sure, I will think of all those milestones we are missing as the rest of the Spring babies are born. I will be happy and sad all at the same time to see new pictures of those babies on Facebook and even meet some of them once their parents bring them home and are settled. But now, we’ve made it. Now, we look back with love and sorrow all at once. But now we also look forward – and try to hold on to hope that someday there will be a baby brother or sister for Joanna. We look in our hearts and we find her there.