Dear Joanna (8.6.18)

Dear Joanna:

It’s been a long time since I have written to you. I think it’s because I spend a lot of time thinking of you, talking to your little brother about you, and looking – peacefully – at your tree in our backyard while I wash dishes each night. I love you more than ever, and I miss you just as much.

Today is an interesting day for us. Today I am 25 weeks and 6 days pregnant with your baby sister. I think you know her, I think you and God probably told her about her family before her little soul made her way to earth with us. I think she’s been picked to stay with us forever, but I’m still on edge as to what the results will be.

But today, at 25 weeks and 6 days, today is the day in your pregnancy that you were born, still. That means that tomorrow, we’ve made it farther with your sister than we did with you. I think this is supposed to bring me relief, especially since she is our second rainbow, but considering all of the factors, I am still afraid. I heard you can’t be brave unless you’re afraid. But I wish I didn’t have to be either. I still wish I had you here with me.

I find myself thinking less about what this baby girl will look like, and more about if you’d have looked like her, like the little girl she will hopefully grow into. Because she is hopefully going to have the chance to grow up, and maybe in some fleeting moments we will see you. But she is not you. You cannot be replaced. We are excited for her arrival, for her place in our family. She’s already stolen our hearts (and took us by surprise). We are not a family of four, but of five. We are not a family with “one of each” but a family with two girls and one boy.

This pregnancy has revealed more clearly what might have happened to you. The weight of that still gets to me, that maybe you could have actually been saved. That maybe there were measures we could have taken to keep my body from hurting you. I have learned to let go of guilt in the last 3.5 years, guilt that I did that to you, that I couldn’t keep you safe. This pregnancy has brought it back in waves, the grief and the guilt mix. I feel that so much of your sister’s safety is on my shoulders. Yes, any one of several random problems could still happen, but the biggest issues can be solved by me, now that we know. It’s a lot of weight to carry. But I am trying to remember, different pregnancy (even though it feels so similar), different baby (even though she’s a girl, too), different outcome (even though it can be hard to imagine her in my arms, alive).

Little one, I love you so. I miss you and wish so much I could hold you again. I know I will some day. And tonight, I am just cherishing the little kicks and punches your sister is giving me…and her first hiccups that I felt earlier today. I’m glad on this night specifically I can know that she is OK in there.

I love you with all my heart, J.

xoxo,

Mom

 

 

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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.

Slow Down

Time is flying by. Leo, my rainbow, is turning ONE in a week. How has this happened? This miracle-of-a-boy who took so long to arrive, whose pregnancy was full of anxiety and fear that made it seem to drag out, even longer than a low-risk pregnancy could feel — he has been here a year! I can hardly believe it. I am so proud of this little guy we have made, so proud of the big, strong one-year-old he is about to become.

The closer we get to his birthday, the more I am hearing this phrase:

Slow down.

And this one:

Tell him to stop growing so fast!

While I know those phrases are spoken by friends who mean well, this loss-mama heart falls apart to ever think of him slowing down.

Why?

Joanna was born 1 pound, 1 ounce. Too small for her gestational age. Joanna slowed down.

Joanna’s movements slowed down. Then, she stopped altogether.

How could I ever ask for Leo to slow down? How could any mama wish for her baby to slow down? To stop growing. You just can’t wish that, because to continue to grow at the steady rate of standard time is, wouldn’t you say, far better than the alternative?

I don’t know any loss moms who like these phrases or use them at all. They remind us of our little ones, gone too soon, and they remind us that we figured out they were gone because they had slowed down.

I will say it’s true that I wish time could slow down. I try hard to soak in all the little things, and the big things too. I feel as though I already can’t remember what he was like when he was born…how will it feel when he is 18?

I wish no baby had to slow down. I wish no baby had to stop growing. I wish no mama had to experience the consequences of it happening to their child.

Sweet Leo, please continue to grow big and strong. Brave and kind.

And Time, be gentle on me.

When She Leaves First

Debbie Reynolds died today.

I enjoy my fair share of celebrity news, but don’t normally comment much, especially on celebrity deaths. My thought process is that they are people, and people live and die. Some people live a lot shorter lives, and die.

Like Joanna. She lived 25 weeks and a few days and then she was gone – 2 years ago tomorrow.

But the reason I am commenting on Debbie Reynolds’ passing is because she died one day after her daughter. You are not supposed to die after your children. They say you can die of a broken heart – and yes, I am hearing Reynolds might have had a stroke – but what if, even though supposedly Carrie Fisher’s relationship with Reynolds was difficult – what if she died because that’s just how stressful and painful and awful it is to know you’re going to bury your baby (even if she was 60)?

Tomorrow we plan to celebrate Joanna’s life, mark another year since she left us. Sometimes I wonder how I’ve survived, a heart broken, deeply wounded, but still beating. The effect of losing your child is so great, most people don’t realize how hard it really is. How you planned a life together, planned a life where you never had to be apart, a life where your time was only severed by your death, not your baby’s. And then it’s all gone in an instant. And even though you might survive it, and you might even go on to have more children, your life is always marked by “before she died” and “after” – and you aren’t the same.

You see, it doesn’t matter how long of a life was lived, 60 years, or 6 months inside of you – that life had meaning and an impact on yours. You’re forever changed, forever missing a piece of you.

 

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. 

Dear Joanna (7.26.16)

Dear Joanna:

I’m sorry that it has been so long since I have written to you. It’s not because I don’t miss you, because I do, every minute of every day. But lately I have been spending a lot of time cuddling your sweet baby brother and not a lot of time on my computer.

Two years ago today I found out you were on your way. One year ago tomorrow, I went to a concert and I heard that still small voice in my heart assuring me that there would be more children, that you were not meant to be an only child.

Today, you are a big sister. Tonight, your brother is sleeping soundly on your daddy’s chest, and right now, I wish you were here more than ever. With each snuggle, snore, dirty diaper, cry and feeding of your baby brother, I wish I’d had that time with you when you were born. Leo is the sweetest, and he fills my heart with so much joy, but even as full as my heart is now, it is still broken.

Broken that you have been gone almost 19 months. Broken that I never got to wake in the middle of the night and listen so closely to hear you breathing. Broken that I never got to feed you, dress you, look into your eyes, take you to the pediatrician, see you grow and change.

How can my heart be so complete and so broken at once?

Yet, I should tell you, sweet girl, that even though my heart is broken, even though our rainbow baby is here, my heart wouldn’t be complete without you. I would never trade you. I would never wish to have not gone through what we did together – your life and death and your presence in my heart. I cherish it all and I love you more each day, as I miss you more each day.

I love you so much, Joanna.

xoxo

Mom

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.

 

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 (9.17.15)

Dear Joanna:

I feel like I haven’t told you enough lately how much I miss you.

I miss you when I wake up in the mornings and only have myself and the dog to take care of. I miss you while I’m at work because I should be at home with you. I miss you when I drink Diet Coke because I wouldn’t dare to drink it while you were with me. I miss you when I get dressed and all of my old clothes fit and my maternity clothes sit in the back of the closet. I miss you while I’m driving, the back row missing an occupied car seat. I miss you when I walk down the hallway and stand in an empty nursery. I miss you when I go to the store and see the foods I used to buy that you liked. I miss you when I’m sleeping, but sometimes I see you in my dreams.

I miss you when I’m breathing.

Every. Second.

Your dad and I are going to Disney World on Sunday. I know your absence will be intensified. Last year you were with us. Not too many people knew yet. We bought you your own pair of Mickey ear and had them embroidered with “Baby J” on the back. We used them to create an announcement to tell THE WORLD you were on your way.

I know when we go to Beast’s castle for dinner your dad is going to be very sad. He was so happy to have the Beast wear your Mickey ears and point to my belly and take a picture with us. But, even in the sad, there will be sweetness. The sweet memory that you were here. We will be back in a place where you were with us. Even in your short life, we made memories and you got to go to Disney.

I’m not sure what the most bittersweet part of our trip will be for me. Riding the rides I couldn’t last year because I was keeping you safe? In all honesty, I feel guilty about how excited I am to ride those rides this year. I would rather have you all over again. I hope you know that.

We love you and miss you so much.

And, hey. J, you will always be our dream come true.

All my love.

Hugs and kisses, little one.

Mom

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.