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.

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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

I Go Back to December

It’s been a while since I have posted. So much is going on lately I just haven’t found the time or energy to sit and write.

So I am making time now.

Now, it’s December. It’s Joanna’s month. The month we saw her alive on sonogram for the last time. The month we heard her heartbeat for the last time. The month we held her in our arms, and left the hospital empty-armed.

There’s a song by Taylor Swift (about a breakup, of course), but it always reminds me of Joanna and December and her birthday.

I’d go back in time and change it but I can’t…
I’d go back to December, turn around and make it all right
I go back to December all the time

Back to December

This is not to say that I wouldn’t do it all over again. No matter the outcome, I would still want Joanna. But simply that I wish I could go back and know that something wasn’t right. I wish I could fix it and that Joanna were here. Most nights when I can’t sleep I am reliving those last few days…I go back to December.

I wasn’t sure how December would make me feel this year. It’s amazing that it’s been almost a year already but somehow, I don’t know how we got here. I have been planning the usual December activities without much thought — just pushing through, trying not to get hung up on things.

But last night we had our annual Christmas tree decorating party and to me, Joanna’s absence was so obvious. Friends came with their children. One friend whose son celebrated his first birthday the day after Joanna was born. It reminded me that I missed his birthday party a few days later because I was not leaving my house, nor was I attending a party with a bunch of small children. Another baby boy was at our party too, who was born the day before Joanna. This is the baby boy I held only a few days after losing J. The first baby I held after Joanna. It was the first time I was seeing him in person since last December, and it was bittersweet — so good to see this sweet little boy, healthy and strong, but so sad to know that J should be the same age.

I spent the day Saturday prepping for our party and putting the lights on our tree. That night when I was coming up from the TV room to head to bed, I crept ever so quietly up the stairs and sat for a few minutes on the top step watching the lights twinkle in the dark living room. I remembered how I sat in front of the tree last year, with my parents, crying and watching the lights twinkle, the night before J’s induction.

I think December will continue to bring these memories to me, and I welcome them. I welcome the love, the happy moments, the teary ones, the laughter and even the painful moments. I welcome them all because I love Joanna and I wouldn’t want to hide from any emotion that her memory brings. I just want to feel them all, recognize that J is physically missing from our lives, but hold her close in our hearts for always.

Happy birthday month, baby girl!

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.

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

Cuts Like A Knife

If you’ve been following my grief journey here on [Still]Gracious, you probably came across my post Someone Said Her Name. This was the first time that I heard someone say “Joanna” referring to a child who was not mine.

It’s not often I hear her name, and since that first time, I can’t even remember hearing it out and about, other than when Bill and I oh-so-happily binge on Fixer Upper.

But last night, at our support group of all places, my heart broke, over and over again. A grand total of six times. Yes, I was counting.

A new loss family came to our meeting, their son recently passed at six months old. This family also has three living children. One of their daughters, Johanna.

I realize the name is not quite the same. But oh, how is rolls of the tongue just as beautifully, sounding so similar, cutting my soul like a knife.

Every time she said her name, my heart dropped. Every time she said her name, my stomach churned.

The fifth time, I got up and left. I had this unrealistic idea that if I stepped out, by the time I came back she wouldn’t mention her living daughter again. Of course, I was wrong, but I knew my limit at that moment and I did what I had to do.

This was a very new experience, because the group is a safe place where you expect to go and heal. To talk to people who fully understand you. To grieve with other loss families and to support each other.

I’m still struggling today, wishing I could talk about my Joanna as that mom spoke of her Johanna: happy, healthy, alive.

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].

What Sleep Won’t Solve

I’m tired a lot.

For a long time after Joanna died I didn’t sleep well. Some nights I would lay in bed, awake for hours. I would not be able to calm my thoughts and I would stare at the ceiling asking the what-ifs and play the blame game. Other nights I would sleep, but I would toss and turn and feel like I hadn’t slept at all when I got out of bed the next morning.

Of course those nights would lead to tired days. Days where I would wish for my bed. But when I would get to bed that night, sleep wouldn’t come.

Thankfully, most nights I sleep better now. I don’t miss Joanna any less; I tuck her carefully into the bed that is my heart, and we sleep in peace. There are still nights, like last night, that I don’t sleep well, or when the nightmares come, but generally, I am well rested.

However, I have been surprised to find that I am still tired. I am tired in other ways.

I’m tired from worrying. I worry over other pregnancies. I’m tired of doubt and of begging in my prayers that no one else would lose a baby. I’m tired from reading Facebook posts that talk about being in the “safe zone” or “past the scary point” and thinking to myself, “if only you knew.”

I’m tired of my heart racing and my stomach dropping when pregnant friends text me and I fear I will open the text and get bad news. I’m tired of phone calls from friends and asking them, “what’s up?” and then holding my breath when they reply “well…,” hoping they aren’t about to tell me they are pregnant, yet hoping so hard they will know the joy of motherhood.

My soul is tired. My heart is tired. Worn. Wrecked. The weight of grief is still making me weary, though I am not crying every day. Though I am not angry as often. Though I smile most of day again. I am simply tired.

I am tired of feeling this way…where I can’t just be “me” because “me” is someone new now.

When Days Are Harder

I think as a loss mom, I expect every day to be hard. Getting out of bed without a baby to take care of is hard. Coming home to a quiet house where your baby should be a happy, giggling 4.5-month-old is hard. Seeing your friends go through pregnancy and have healthy babies when your baby died is hard.

But what I don’t expect are days when things really should be only routinely difficult, yet they turn out to be extremely, surprisingly hard. Miserably, in fact.

On Friday I went to the ob-gyn for my annual check-up. I figured I should go, since the appointment would be fully covered by my insurance as preventive care and I would need the testing completed if we decide to re-visit the reproductive endocrinologist (where the exam would not be covered).

I knew it would be hard visiting the office, it always is. But of course on this particular day, there was a waiting room full of moms-to-be. All of those pregnant bellies, probably most unsuspecting of what could happen, happy to be there and getting to hear their babies’ heartbeats. Not only was the room full, but my doctor was running 20 minutes late. So there I was…sitting for a half hour wishing I were there to hear my baby’s heartbeat too.

When the nurse finally called me back, she recognized me from all of my prenatal appointments.

“Oh, hi! How are you? How’s the baby?” she asked me.

Ummm. The baby? Isn’t that the purpose of a chart? So that you can see before you meet with a patient what is going on with them? This was my third visit to the office since Joanna passed and certainly my file had that note in it.

I wanted to respond kindly to the nurse, but I was so immediately angered by her question that I said, “I guess you didn’t look at my chart – she was stillborn in December.”

She apologized and then I said, “To answer your question, I suppose she is doing much better than either of us.” I mean, Heaven is a better place to be, even if I wish she were here with me instead.

That was maybe a bit snarky, and I might have felt a little bad. But seriously. We shouldn’t have to go through things like this… Haven’t we been through enough?

To top off the harder-than-usual day, one of the lullabies I sang for J was playing as I waited for the doctor in the exam room. I don’t know how I had the strength to get through the experience and the rest of the day without crying, but I did.

When days are harder than I expect them to be, I usually want to close myself up in my room and cry or sleep or at least just be alone. When days are harder than usual, I often find myself wishing I could go back in time – that I could figure out the moment things started to go wrong and change them. When days are harder than I’ve planned for, I try to round up the strength to push through, to tell my story, to live for Joanna, to go on even when it feels impossible.

I’m thankful that those harder days come less often.


Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have strength. -Napoleon Bonaparte

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