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.

Heart Beat

I thought about saying nothing today. I thought about letting this day be. But I’m having a hard time today and want to write it out. Maybe it’s Christmas Eve and no one will read this, but it’s not about who reads it. It’s about helping me to process how I feel. 

And I feel very sad. 

Today my son woke up from his nap rather loudly. When I arrived in his room I placed my hand on his chest to calm him and let him know I was there. 

I felt his little heart beating so hard and so strong. How thankful I am for that heart beat. So thankful that it continues to pitter patter away. This Christmas I’m feeling especially grateful for my rainbow, for the baby fulfilling God’s promise to me that I would have another baby. 

But even in my thankfulness, feeling that heart beat made me sad. Two years ago tonight was the last time we would hear Joanna’s heart beat. The galloping rhythm of the heart beat of a baby not yet born. The most precious sound. 

How I wish hers still beat too. I wish I had two babies in my arms this Christmas. The wonder of Christmas through a two-year-old’s eyes. Magic in her heart, joy overflowing with each beat. 

Beat. 

Heart. Beat. 

I think Christmas will always be hard for me. But I am blessed beyond words and even though my heart is [still] broken, it’s still beating. 

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.

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

Dear Lentil

Hi, everyone. Just a little change for the week. I invited my friend Polina to write a letter, and so today’s post is written by her. She and her husband Joel lost their son Lev Ryan, affectionately known as Lentil. Like Joanna, Lentil entered the world silently in December 2014 at 33w3d. Bill and I met Polina and Joel at our MIS support group. Without further ado, here is Polina’s letter to Lentil.


Dear Lentil,

Two months ago your Daddy and I went to see Scott Bradley and Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) in concert. Back in September, your Dad introduced me to this band on YouTube. They take modern pop-music and turn it into more classic music styles (jazz, blues, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s styles, and many more). I remember that was the week when we read that you could hear us, hear music and different beats and we should play music for you. When your Dad started playing their songs, you liked it so much that we could feel you kicking and enjoying it. We played them for you several times, and you definitely were very fond of PMJ since you always let us know by kicking with the music. Last November, a few weeks before we lost you, I went to see “Fiddler on the Roof” and I felt you inside bopping along with the music. I came home and told your Dad that you are going to love live theater and have a good musical ear just like I do.

It was very good to see your Dad having a great time and enjoying the concert so much. I loved hearing him laugh when he would recognize the song that the PMJ was about to play. I haven’t seen your Daddy so happy in a long while. I felt happy in that moment as well, there was truly phenomenal singing and dancing. However, after we left the concert, we felt really sad and missed you even more. The last time we heard this band, there were 3 of us, and you enjoyed the music as much as we did.

Our little boy, today is exactly one year since we found out that you were a boy. I asked the nurse to place the paper with your gender into an envelope and seal it, as I wanted to find out at the same time as your Dad. We opened the envelope at the same restaurant where we had our first date. Then we called our parents to share the news with them. It was a very special moment – one I will never forget. We were so looking forward to meeting you, and all we wanted was for you to be healthy and happy.

We miss you every moment of every day, and when there is a time when we don’t think about you, the thoughts of you come to us with even more intensity. We talk about you all the time; what we would be doing with you being 6 months old right now, what your milestones would be now, where would we travel with you…

I often get so angry that we won’t get to experience all the things with you. We’ll never see your first smile, never see your first step, never see you run in our new house which seems very empty and sad right now, and we’ll miss so many other firsts that we were robbed of. Most of all, I get so sad thinking that YOU won’t get to experience those things.

Lentil, of course, is your nickname. Your Dad was the one who came up with it. When we just found out that I was pregnant with you, I found an app that tells you about what size the baby is at any given time of the pregnancy. At that time, it said that the baby is the size of lentil, so Daddy started calling you Lentil. Our friends said that nobody will call you by your actual name after you are born and everyone would still call you Lentil. I wish it was the biggest of our problems right now. Lev Ryan is the name you were going to have, after my Grandfather Lev and your Dad’s Grandmother Ruth. I always knew if I was going to have a boy, he would be named after my beloved Grandfather. It makes me sadder knowing that you are not here to honor their names and share all the love that was waiting for you from us and all of our families and friends. Who am I kidding, if someone told me to call you the weirdest name imaginable, but that you would be born healthy and happy, I would have done it… and, of course, later faced the consequences from you. ☺

We love you and miss you so much,

Your Mom and Dad

Lentil

For Father’s Day

For Mother’s Day I wrote a post meant for all mothers in all stages of their motherhood journey. And so I thought, all fathers should be honored and recognized, no matter what part of their fatherhood journey they are on.

Happy Father’s Day to all men. Whether you have children, want children, have a child on the way, have lost a child, or have an empty nest, Sunday is your day. You have love in your heart for a child(ren) that will be, already is, or was.

Once you become a dad, you’re always a dad. It’s a really special thing to be a dad. You have the privilege of leading a household and raising children to do the right thing, to be caring, to show them and teach them compassion, to show them love and teach them how to love.

Love, to me, is the most important. I learned a lot about love from my dad. He loves my mom with all his heart. He is good to her, he puts her first, he is kind. In turn, he also loves his children and cares for them and supports them in all they do. Watching him love my mom has shown me how a man should love a woman. One of the greatest lessons I learned from him is love. Because I knew what to look for, I have the most amazing husband. I also have the most amazing father for my children.

Since losing J we have found that fathers often get the short end of the stick when it comes to mourning and grieving. People always ask the dads how the moms are doing but they forget that the dads also lost a child. Their hopes and dreams have been dashed. Their hearts broken. Their pain is just as real as the pain of the moms.

So this Father’s Day, remember the bereaved dad. For his burden is heavy: taking care of his wife, assuring her he loves her and will always be with her. Remember him, because he carries his child in his heart, but he loves her just the same as if he were holding her in his arms. Remember him, because though he seems strong, his heart breaks every day.

Be kind to him. He puts on a happy face but he is still sad. Love him, because he is one of the strongest dads as he carries the weight of grief on his shoulders.

I have often heard that because we love deeply, we hurt deeply. No one loves these little lost lives as much as their parents. No one knows, aches, with the hurt as much as them.

If your babies are still with you, hold them close for the dads who can’t cuddle their daughters. If your babies have grown and are away from home, call them and enjoy the sound of their voices for the fathers who can’t laugh with their sons. If your babies are on the way, sing to them and feel them tumbling around in the womb for the dads who will never hold their babies again.

Whatever kind of dad you are, you’re wonderful and you’re someone’s hero. I know Joanna’s dad is both of these things to me, and to J.

We love you! Happy Father’s Day!

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