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.

Dear Joanna (4.4.17)

Dear Joanna,

It’s me. Your mom. It’s been a while since I have written. I’m sitting here in our Virginia house, snuggling your little brother on the kitchen floor while we have our carpets cleaned. 

I’m not really sure what to say right now, but I know there is something in here to tell you. First off, we are moving. We are moving home to PA, close to family. We miss them and want Leo to know them, like we know our grandparents. I wonder, if your arrival had been different, would we have moved back to PA sooner? Would we still be here, listening to the whir of the carpet cleaner, you playing next to me while Leo sleeps?  

I needed to tell you we are moving because somehow I feel like leaving this home is like leaving you. Somehow leaving here, though you are not here, feels like leaving you behind. All of my memories of you are here. Finding out you were on your way just as we bought this house. Immediately planning the nursery once we moved in, but having it come to an abrupt and heartbreaking stop. A birthday with you in this house. A Thanksgiving with you in this house. An annual tree decorating party with you in this house. You were here.

And after you died, this was still your home. We planted your winterberry out back and we celebrated what should have been your due date. I slept on the floor in the nursery because it made me feel closer to you. We celebrated two of your birthdays here and created Joanna’s Gifts boxes in your memory for other loss families. We ate cupcakes and released sky lanterns. We sent you a balloon on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day last October. 

Then, we found out Leo was coming. This baby promised to us, our rainbow, was on his way. And we began working on the nursery again. The one that was gender neutral, the one that was for you. And now for him. Together. A place you share, a place you both physically exist. And now we are leaving–you will never physically share a space with your brother again. We will move into a new home and he will get a new room, maybe dinosaurs or superheroes. And you will not share it, or get your own new room. 

We will take all the pieces of the nursery and create a similar space, continuing the elephant theme. We will still hang your footprint and handprint with Leo’s and any other baby who comes along. And though pieces of you will be in the room, you won’t have had a physical presence. 

We will take your winterberry. Your memory boxes and ashes are already awaiting us in PA at Gramma and Grampa’s house. That’s where to find us. 

I guess just as you are physically gone, so we will be gone from this place as well. But we do know you are in our hearts. You are ours forever. You are our firstborn and we will see you again someday. 

Last night I rocked your brother for the last time in the nursery. It was hard, but also I was thankful knowing I would rock him and put him to bed for many, many more nights. I so miss that I couldn’t do that with you. Today I looked into the empty nursery and all I saw were walls painted with so much love, but I also saw the dreams that were dashed when you left. I feel blessed to have your brother to dream with. Tomorrow we will leave. Our first house. Your first house. But your new home is the best of homes…the home where Jesus holds you until we can wrap our arms around you again. We just wish you could be with us now. 

Sweet girl. Until we see you again, sending so much love heavenward. 

xoxo,

Mom

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. 

Holding Us Now

Wow, y’all. December is here again. How did this happen?

In just 28 days we will mark the birth/death of Joanna Rose – her second birthday.

Our second year without Joanna was filled with anticipation of bringing home her little brother, and he came, full of life and health and sweetness. But having a “rainbow baby” does not make things “better.” He is not a replacement and not a fix for the broken. He doesn’t fill the hole left by Joanna. But he does fill my arms with love and happiness and so much joy, and he is a missing piece of our family now put in place. But she will always be missing. She will always be elsewhere.

But that elsewhere is Heaven. Though I miss her still, every day, I know I will see her again. I rejoice in the fact that I can live my life here, without her, with the confidence that we will meet again. That I will hold her again.

I was listening to a newly purchased Christmas album today and there is a song that combines Silent Night with another called Holding Us Now. As I was listening, it really spoke to me.

On a starlit wonder of a night
You came so all would be made right
And the baby that all beheld
The same baby Mary held, is the same God
Who is holding us now

As I was listening I began to cry, thinking of these lyrics. Jesus came to make things right, to make a way for us to go to Heaven. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the way for me and Joanna to be together again. But I also cried knowing what it’s like to hold a child who is dead, wondering if Mary realized in that moment that she would feel as I do, the broken, painful agony of burying a child, YOUR child.

The rest of the lyrics are just as powerful. The baby that everyone came to see, the one Mary held in her arms, is THE SAME God who is holding me now, holding me together through the hard days, the sad moments, the times when I miss J so much it hurts (which is still most days). He is ALSO the same God holding Joanna now. The same.

The same God He was in the joy of learning Joanna was coming. The same God He was in the devastation of finding out Joanna had died. The same God who was with us as we held Joanna and said our hellos and goodbyes all on one day. The same God–walking in pregnant, walking out parents empty arms. From a manger in Bethlehem, to a Savior on the cross, to the God in Heaven who holds our hearts through all things. He holds both me and Joanna, and someday He will hold us both, reunited.

 

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

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!

Even When It’s Not True

Some words came out of my mouth the other night that I never thought I would say. But they were there, in my mind, weighing down on me. I had to try them out for size.

And the moment I uttered them, I burst into tears. I knew, as they rolled off my tongue, that the weren’t true, that they were just doubts and fears that I was allowing to take over. Yet the only way for me to fully realize this was to put them out there.

So, on Monday night as Bill and I discussed (more like debated) the possibility of a vacation in September, I struggled to admit what I really wanted to do. Hawaii? Eastern Caribbean? A beach trip close by?

Why was the decision so hard to make? Because we were discussing the best option, keeping in mind that I could be pregnant again by that time. Did we want to be away from a doctor? Was getting away from “everything” and being together more important than that “safety zone” that is my obstetrician, perinatologist and cardiologist just a few miles away?

And so in my frustration, I said to Bill…”I don’t know what I want. I don’t know if I even want to have another baby yet.”

There I said it. And in the same instance I knew it was a lie. I want another baby. As soon as possible.

On Tuesday I was still struggling with a decision on vacation, but I knew having another baby is in our future. In all honesty, I cried a lot on Tuesday. I cried because I had doubted. I cried because I am scared. I cried because my desire is so strong and I’m nervous pregnancy won’t happen again for us.

As I was driving home, I was praying for hope, for faith, for strength for the journey to baby. It was raining, but as I got closer to my exit, the sun popped out in front of me. I was certain there had to be a rainbow behind me. I was positive that I was missing it. As I exited and rolled around the off-ramp, the sun now behind me, I spotted it: the most glorious sign of God’s promises for my life (as well as what I hope was a “hello, Mama!” from Joanna). A rainbow. A double rainbow, in fact.

I know I’ve written about rainbows, but I just can’t tell you enough how rainbows bring such joy and hope to me. And this one, I needed it so desperately.

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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