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

But Really, What Do You Say?

Deciding what you’ll say when someone asks that (horrible) question of “Do you have children?” really isn’t that hard. After multiple discussions at our support group, and reading quite a few articles, I had decided my response was going to be simple, but honest.

I have a daughter, but she passed away.

Simple enough. Easy to write. Easy to say. Only eight words.

But no one tells you how hard it will be to make those words come out of your mouth.

Thankfully I have only been asked three times. The first was only about 3 weeks after J died and my immediate response (and well-rehearsed in my childless years) was a simple, “not yet.” When I left the store with my mom, I snuggled Elephant in the car (I was not able to leave the house without her yet). I cried. I still can’t tell you if I was crying because I said no when I wanted to say yes? Or if it was just sadness that my baby was gone and I couldn’t do anything about it. Probably both.

Three months after Joanna went to Heaven I was asked the same question by a very sweet employee at the eye doctor. She was just making casual conversation. Her name was Jessica, and she had just finished asking how long Bill and I have been married. “It will be five years in September,” I told her. She seemed impressed and told me she wished her man would propose to her. They’d been together seven years and had a five year old. I knew what was about to happen but I didn’t try to change the subject.

“Do you have kids?”

I told her, an answer I had thought of over and over since the first time I was asked, yes. “Yes, we just had a daughter in December but she was stillborn.”

Jessica looked at me with sad eyes, maybe she was even tearing up. She said she was so sorry for our loss and then proceeded to tell me about her own loss at 16 weeks and her subsequent infertility. We talked a bit about our losses, intermixed with trying on glasses and details about potential laser surgery for Bill.

Two things strike me about this conversation, looking back. One, how brave I was to share my story. It’s not an easy thing to decide to tell a complete stranger what has happened to you. It’s hard to know how they will react, what they will say, if they will ignore your comment, accept your comment, or end the conversation altogether. People don’t like to talk about babies who die, and they don’t like to think that their children are not immortal. The second thing that strikes me is that this girl thought it was a good idea to ask me such a question.

We discussed this recently in support group. Now that such a sad and painful loss has happened, it causes you to pause before asking questions related to this topic when talking to strangers (or even to acquaintances or old friends you may not have spoken with in a while). As a fellow loss-mom, didn’t she know what sort of question she was asking? Didn’t she remember what happened to her baby and that maybe it was not a good idea? I have stopped asking people about children–about when they plan to have babies, if they have babies. I know how it feels to be on the other side and to be dealing with infertility or baby loss. People will tell me what they want to, when they want to.

And the third time I was asked about my family situation was this weekend. I was invited by my friend to visit with her and her family on Saturday while I am in California. I was finally able to make a work trip that included a weekend so I could do some sight-seeing and exploring. The invitation was to go visit at her house for a while, meet the kiddos and then head to Stone Farms for fun, food and beverages with a bunch of her friends, their husbands and children. I, of course, said yes! How much fun was this going to be?!

But the more I thought about it though, the more anxious I became. I was going to be surrounded by moms with kids. I was going to be surrounded by kids, all ages older than Joanna would ever be. It dawned on me that I might not enjoy myself. I spent most of Friday evening and Saturday morning worrying that I had put myself in a bad situation. So, I began rehearsing.

Someone is bound to ask you if you have children, Carol. What will you say? And so, the answer came, the same answer I always decide upon: I have a daughter, but she passed away.

Truth be told, I had a fantastic time that afternoon. I enjoyed the company of new acquaintances. I loved hanging out with my friend outside of work for a few hours. I enjoyed meeting her children and husband. I had a delicious root beer, saw some pretty flowers, listened to children laughing for hours and thoroughly enjoyed the perfect weather.

But, someone did ask me about my family.

The thing is…what DO you say? I could have just told her. I could have said Joanna was perfection and we miss her every day. I could have said anything, but I didn’t. It’s because there’s always an ongoing battle. Even when prepared for it, I still fight. Do I want to mention my sad story, and therefore bring down the mood of anyone who overhears? Or do I just skip over it to save all of these mothers of wonderful children the heartbreak of my story?

I guess I chose to skip this time.

And even though I had a blast (and would do it again), I still went back to my hotel room and cried.

Walking into the Room

Over the weekend I watched Cake, with Jennifer Aniston. I don’t want to give the story away, but Jennifer Aniston’s character is in chronic pain after a terrible accident that left her very injured and her son dead.

The film doesn’t focus a lot on her son’s death, but rather the life she is living post-accident (or not really living, rather), and the family (husband and son) of a woman she met in her chronic pain support group who committed suicide.

There’s a moment in the movie where Jennifer Aniston’s character goes into her son’s room, a room she clearly tries to avoid. It is mostly unchanged, aside from some boxes of clothing packed up. As she swung open the door to the room, I felt myself go back to the first time I looked in the nursery after Joanna died.

This half-painted room, a crib still boxed up, mattress still wrapped, dresser in the middle of the room. No blinds or curtains over the window. Unfinished.

At first going in the nursery always felt sad. My stomach would drop and the tears would well up. This incomplete space that was supposed to hold the greatest miracle, now, still, empty, not to be filled with our firstborn. I would hesitate to open the door. Once I did make it inside, I would open the closet and look at the items packed away, never to be used by Joanna. I would stand by the window and cry, wishing I could sit in a rocker and cuddle her.

One morning, though, as I had not closed the door all the way the last time I had visited the room, the sun was shining through the window and lit up the space around the door so if looked like it glowed. A little bit of light traveled across the hall floor to just about where I was standing. The light invited me to the room. As I walked in, the warm morning sun touched my face and the whole room felt bright and alive. It felt like the light was telling me to have hope – that this nursery would be finished someday. That another baby would come someday. That it is OK to miss Joanna as much as we do, but that she will always be remembered and cherished.

So many times since I have gone into the nursery and sat in the morning sun. Lately the nursery has been a sanctuary. I talk to Joanna. I pray for further healing. Sometimes I just cry. I talk to God about my brokenness, about my hope for another child.

Walking into the room today, I think I am ready to finish painting.

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!