On Milestones

One of my loss mom friends and I talk often about all of these milestones that we pass, that were supposed to be happy and are now often sad.

The 29th of each month marks another month passing without Joanna.

Each holiday that passes that should have been Joanna’s first (Christmas, New Years, Easter, etc.).

Her due date – today. This is the second April 7th we have landed on that Joanna is not here. It’s hard to imagine that, had she been growing strong and healthy, she would have been a Spring baby and we’d be celebrating “1” today (ish).

There are a few other milestones passed this week, in addition to Joanna’s due date.

On Tuesday, I officially hit 26 weeks pregnant. I’ve never made it that far before. It’s a big deal – the anxiety and fear and worry over making it past the point at which our loss of Joanna happened has been overwhelming. Now that I am two days past, I still feel anxious. I’m in new territory. I know so many things could still happen. I also know I see at least one doctor a week at this point and they have all said that baby is doing great, along with my weight gain, swelling, blood pressure, etc.

It’s reassuring to hear that. Scary still, yes, because we have heard so many stories of so many ways babies can pass, at so many different times during a pregnancy. We are just hoping and praying this baby is our “rainbow” baby – for all the rainbows I have seen in the last year.

Pregnancy after loss (PAL) is really hard. Every little thing makes me nervous that something could be wrong. I count down the days until my next appointment so I can be reassured by seeing baby dancing on the sonogram screen – as if the kicks to the ribs and bladder aren’t enough.

Being pregnant with this baby has made me miss Joanna even more, with each day that passes. How I wish she were here too, to feel these kicks and to see her baby sibling growing inside and to meet the baby this summer. If only they could both be here.

And finally, the last milestone for this month – the 2nd anniversary of our miscarriage is coming up on April 25. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years already! I’m sure little baby Bean and Joanna are playing together in Heaven right now.

But there are other milestones – the ones that remind me of God’s grace and His mercy in these circumstances. Every day is a milestone. Every day I get out of bed and I put myself together and I survive. That’s a milestone. We made it another 24 hours. How we miss Joanna. How we wish we could hold her again. How I wish I knew what she would look like as a little one year old. But in all things, God is still good.

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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.

Trying Again

I’m not meaning to be rude, but I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to ask if Bill and I are “trying again” yet. It’s a deeply personal question that now comes with so many emotions tied so tightly to it. On the one hand, if we are not ready, then you’ve probably upset us by asking. On the other, if we are ready for another baby, the question “are you trying again?” doesn’t fit the situation. Of course this is just my take, but I think it’s an angle most people don’t see.

I was reading a few articles and blog posts recently about “trying again” after stillbirth.* When I read those words, it always hits me deep down – it’s not really “trying again.” Every month for 18 months, we tried again and again. And again. Again. And finally conceived last April. Then it all came to a very abrupt end only a week later in miscarriage. Given the all clear by the doctors to “try again” during my next cycle, we did. And then again the next. And the next. And there I was, pregnant, again. This was truly “trying again”, because our first glory baby didn’t “take” or “stick” or whatever you want to call it.

But Joanna did.

She “took” and she “stuck” and she grew.

Joanna, my miracle. Nearly two years of trying again, month after month. One miscarriage. And there, two pink lines. I was so excited. I wrapped up the Disney baby clothes we’d purchased a year before in NYC (an act of hope, that good things were coming our way). I stuffed the pregnancy test in the bottom. I set the bag on the table and waited for Bill to get home from work. As I sat, I doubted. This baby could be gone in a week as well. This baby could make it 8 or 9 weeks and then be gone. What if this baby is not mine to keep?

Back track. I took the items out of the bag I’d so carefully wrapped them in. Put it all away. Sat on the couch, positive test in hand, begging God for this baby to stay with me. Anxious. Scared. A wreck. Those words don’t quite cut it.

When Bill finally got home from work, there was no gift bag. There wasn’t even a cheer. A smile. Not until I could see his face react. I handed him the test. He looked at me, a little unsure. I said, “We are having a baby,” which came out more like a question than an exclamation. He smiled, calmly, laughed a little, and hugged me.

His smile said, “It’s OK!” And it said, “Be brave, my love.” This baby is going to make it.

And she did. For a while.

About 26 weeks. The best 6.5 months of my life.

But here is the simple truth of stillbirth: when your baby dies, you don’t “try again.”

You knew this baby. You saw this baby’s face. Saw her heart beating. Saw her arms and legs flailing around inside you.

You felt her moving. Kicking. Punching. Rolling. She grew, and you grew with her.

You held her on her birthday. You counted fingers and toes. You stroked her little nose and you cuddled and kissed and rocked her. You sang her special lullaby.

“Trying again” is something you do when you haven’t met your child. When you haven’t held her in your arms. When you haven’t had to decide to cremate your daughter. To have or not have a service or memorial. When you haven’t made a memory box full of sympathy cards.

“Trying again” is for when you haven’t spent the last five months cuddling a stuffed elephant because you need something of hers to fill your aching, empty arms. Not for those who labor and deliver in the same physical pain as any other pregnancy, but in terrible emotional anguish as well. Not for those who enter the hospital full and leave empty. Who go home to empty nurseries. Empty cribs.

“Trying again” is not for those who have to prevent milk from coming in with compression, rather than praying there would be enough to fulfill tiny infant needs.

To me, “try again” is for those who don’t know – the innocent. You’re a mother from conception, but you don’t know what it feels like [what it is, how you’ll miss] holding your baby in your arms.

Joanna is our firstborn and not replaceable by “trying again.” Any other children are siblings; they won’t bring Joana back. They won’t fill the hole that is a permanent part of my heart.

Finally, to me, “trying again” feels like an implication of failure. It’s taken me a long time to work beyond the feelings that I was the failure, so I don’t need this type of language to take me back to where I don’t want to be.

I did not fail. Joanna was perfect. I love her. There is no failure in that.

So, when we do discuss more children, we ask “should we have another baby?” or “are we ready to have baby brother/sister?” – but never “are we ready to try again?”


*Please note: I am not meaning to offend or upset anyone. These are my personal feelings based on my motherhood journey through infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth. Every situation is different. Every pregnancy is different. Each person will feel differently.

For Mother’s Day

In all honesty, I didn’t want to blog about Mother’s Day. I thought about putting something on Facebook, but that didn’t seem quite the right thing for me. I’m not having a bad Mother’s Day, but certainly not the Mother’s Day I was expecting. I was going to blog tomorrow, a reflection on the day, but felt that I couldn’t let the day slip away without doing for myself what I have wanted others to do for me today: acknowledge myself as a mom.

I am a mom. And though I may not get to parent Joanna, I get to love her, forever. She is mine and I will always be her mom. She gave that gift to me and I am so thankful. Though I can’t walk down the hall and scoop her out of her crib and cuddle her, though I will never see her take her first steps, go off to kindergarten, graduate high school, dance at her wedding, I will always have some precious moments with her.

The first time I got morning sickness.

The first time I craved avocado.

The first time I felt her move, and the second and the third, and even the last, because that was special too.

The times we heard her heartbeat and saw her little face.

Those 12 hours of labor, and though she arrived silently, she was mine. She was ours.

She made me a mom. I am proud of that. I am proud of me.

And I am proud of all the other mamas out there.

I am proud of the mamas who have their babies to hold tight. Don’t let go.

I am proud of the mamas-to-be. Be vigilant and cherish your pregnancy.

I am proud of the mamas in waiting. The ones who know deep in their hearts they will have children some day. The ones who have just started trying to have a family, and those who have been waiting, hoping, aching and praying for years. Don’t give up.

I am proud of the mamas of babies who’ve grown and moved away. Especially proud of mine – without her, I could not have been the mom I needed to be for Joanna.

And I am proud of the baby-loss mamas. Whether you’ve lost your baby to miscarriage, stillbirth, or sometime after they were born, you’ll always be a mom. Your arms may be empty, but your heart can still be full in remembering your baby(ies). It may take a while. I’m not there myself. But I know it can happen and I know it will happen.

So, mamas of all types, I hope you were good to yourselves today. I hope your families were good to you, too. No matter where you are in your motherhood journey, you are a mom, you deserve to know it and you deserve to celebrate it.

Happy Mother’s Day!
XOXO,
Carol

P.S. I wasn’t sure I would ever share this picture publicly. It’s a moment of both great joy and great sorrow (and messy hair, but who cares, right?). Because it’s Mother’s Day, and one of the few pictures of my little family, today is the day. Joanna, I am so proud to be your mama, today and every day.

joanna

TTC, BBT, PCOS?!

A year ago today I was pregnant. 6 days earlier I had gotten the first positive pregnancy test of my life. It was the most exciting and wonderful time. 

We had been trying to conceive (TTC) for almost 18 months and couldn’t believe we were finally going to be parents. We had told my parents the day after we found out, because as luck would have it they were with us that same weekend. 

Because it was taking so long to conceive and because I was taking my basal body temperature (BBT) and knew I wasn’t ovulating most months, it was really quite a shock!

That week was sweet and scary. Knowing there was a baby was exciting. But I was also feeling like something was not right. Like I was cramping. Like this baby was not to be born. 

Upon first check of my beta levels, I was definitely pregnant. The second check didn’t look promising and then the bleeding started. 

A year ago tomorrow. No longer pregnant.

That first loss was so hard to handle. Thankfully some of our best friends came to town that weekend and were with us as our hearts were breaking. 

This loss pushed us to see a reproductive endocrinologist (ER) – the fertility doctor. He actually said that everything looked really healthy but did diagnose me with PCOS. This confirmed my suspicions since I already knew I wasn’t ovulating regularly. 

The ER gave us options. Try on our own for a few more months but add metformin to help sustain a pregnancy, use mild fertility drugs to induce ovulation or use mild fertility drugs plus IUI. Because my health insurance didn’t cover any treatment, we opted to add metformin and wait it out a few more months. 

Somehow we conceived Joanna naturally. I wasn’t even a week into starting the metformin. A miracle at just around the two year mark of TTC. 

And now, here we are again. Hoping for miracles as we think about our next TTC journey. Will it take another 18 months to give Joanna a sibling?

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week…so on this first anniversary of my first loss, I just wanted to share a little more of our story. 

Dear Joanna (4.3.15)

Dear Joanna,

I want to tell you something. Just know it is not your fault. It’s not mine either. Though it’s always hard to believe that. 

I am feeling left behind. 

Sometimes I feel bad feeling that way. I know I have friends who wish they were married and feel left behind. And I have friends who wish they could buy a house and feel left behind. Of course I have friends who don’t have children yet and probably feel left behind as well.

Still, I feel left behind because I don’t have you. All of your dad’s siblings have children. My brother has a son. Many of my friends who married after me, or are not married at all, are having children. Or even just friends who are younger than me. I thought it was my turn – our turn. Your dad and me.

We thought we were going to join the new parent club when you were born. While we did join a parent club, it’s not quite the same. Being part of the bereaved parent club…it’s one no one wants to join.

We thought you would be our Rainbow Baby, the baby who is born after a loss. But now, you’re another Glory Baby. Another precious life not living here with us, but in Heaven. 

But speaking of rainbows, your dad and I saw a rainbow today on our way home to Pennsylvania. We saw a few rainbows the summer we found out we were pregnant with you! This was the first I’ve seen since you left us and I want to believe it was sent our way to remind us you’re with Jesus on this weekend where we celebrate Him and His resurrection and our salvation.

Maybe, it’s even a sign to remind me, on the weekend before your due date, that there is hope of another baby – a sibling for you. Our Rainbow Baby. 

This weekend will soon be over. Your due date will soon pass. But I will still feel left behind… Behind you, already in Heaven. Someday, we will meet again. 

I love you, sweet girl!

Love,

Mom

  

A Breath of Fresh Air

Jane Austen once wrote, “Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”

While she was writing of romantic love, I have found a lot of meaning to this quote in the disappointment that is pregnancy loss, that is a mother losing her child.

When we miscarried our first baby, I cried for days. How could we have waited so long for a child and struggled with fertility nearly two years only to be disappointed days later? I was devastated. I was hurting. I felt alone.

But in my time of pain and sorrow, friends who had experienced the same kind of loss were there for me. From my mom, to my sister-in-law, to friends far and wide who had lost one, two, or more pregnancies. Their kind words and encouragement and shared experiences helped to ease the heartache and bring some hope back into my life.

When we miraculously conceived Joanna only 3 months later it seemed like she was going to be our rainbow baby. Flash forward nearly 26 weeks. When a doctor tells you, “There’s no heartbeat,” it literally breaks your heart. I say literally because you feel it inside your chest ripping in two and then it crashes to the pit of your stomach into smaller pieces. Heartbreak really does physically manifest as chest pain, among other things.

I cried every day for months. I still cry most days. But the outpouring of love and support and prayers from our friends and family has been what helps us get by. One day at a time. Or more accurately, one moment at a time.

Over the weekend I had the chance to visit a friend. A dear, sweet friend. It had been a long time since I had seen her; we hadn’t seen each other the whole time I was pregnant. She has not experienced the same kind of loss, but this deep, precious connection that we have had for so many years – it was the balm I needed. Her sweet cards and consistent phone calls and texts have been coming to me on the days I have needed them most. Yet there is no comparison to seeing a dear friend in person when your heart is aching. There is nothing like a familiar hug from one whose heart is as broken as yours, for you. Friendship is, itself, a healer. A ray of light and breath of fresh air in a dark and saddened place. A glimmer of hope when all feels lost.

I praise God in all things, even the most devastating times. And I thank Him daily for the blessing of friendship, the balm of the brokenhearted.