Last Monday, September 3rd, marked the due date of our Joanna. As relayed in my previous post, sweet JFP went to heaven on July 27th, 2016. I want to lead the story of Joanna’s birth with empathy and encouragement for anyone walking through the loss of a child. When you cannot breathe from the pain, when your heart cannot withstand another ounce of brokenness, be prayerful and lean on community. Find people who want to love, encourage and pray with you. Beg Him to lead you to them, them to you, and He will. In Psalm 34:18 He promises He is close to the brokenhearted. Psalm 56:8 reminds us He counts every tear. Lean in and lean on your spouse, keeping communication open and honest regarding decisions and feelings. Lastly and most importantly, remember you will see them again. If you are in Christ Jesus, you will see them again.
The Last Appointment
After receiving Joanna’s diagnosis early in my pregnancy, our appointments were very different than what you might expect or know as a carrier of a healthy pregnancy. With the uptick of side-stepping marathon waiting room sessions, upon check-in I was always taken straight to a room to check for her heartbeat. My gratitude for the protection from waiting with the smiling women walking to and from routine appointments went beyond measure. It sounds crazy to say, but at every appointment leading up to our last, I left surprised we heard a heartbeat. It also may sound torturous to some, but I also left each time we heard that sweet sound filled with hope and gratitude. Each time we heard her heartbeat meant there was still a possibility we might hold our baby girl while she took a breath on this earth… even if we knew it would only be for a short time.
34 weeks pregnant on July 26th at 1pm, we walked into what I did not realize at the time would be my final OB appointment before Joanna’s birth. In the Spirit’s mysterious way, I arrived at check-in more hopeful than in past appointments. As a former NICU nurse, I knew we had crossed the threshold to a viable gestation age for Joanna. That day however, we did not hear a heartbeat. In His love, He filled my heart with hope walking into this appointment, but I now understand exactly where the hope was directed. This hope rested in knowing Joanna’s Heavenly Father was calling her home.
The next 24 hours passed in a blur. Labor induction was scheduled for two days later on July 28th, and we headed home to tell the girls and our family. I have no recollection of the order of delivering the news. I do recall crying a little bit, but mostly I was in a complete fog. Numb and sad.
In an effort to extend some normalcy to the girls, we went to a movie as a family. During the movie, I started feeling nauseous and achy. We went home and put the girls to bed, but I don’t remember what happened beyond this until cramping began late at night. I got up to use the restroom, got back in bed, and tossed and turned. At 12:45am on the 27th, my water broke and details from here become clearer. In healthy, term pregnancies, you anticipate this moment. You crave it. This typically means there’s no turning point and baby is coming. This scenario being obviously different for several reasons, this came as a complete shock. Anticipating the induction two days later, we had not done any of the things you do to prepare for a dash to the hospital in the middle of the night. Thankfully, within minutes my dad arrived to stay with the girls, and Kelly drove us to the hospital.
We arrived at the hospital at 1:20am, and my body knew it was time. Scratch that. God knew how to protect His daughter from a long, induced labor, and the next chain of events flew… but not without a bump or two. After checking in where the receptionist asked me four times (FOUR TIMES!) who our pediatrician was, they laid me in a bed for triage to confirm I was in labor. Now 50 minutes after my water broke, I felt the urge to push. If I know anything through years of being an athlete and a workout lover, I know when my body tells me what to do.
I voiced my urge to push. No one believed me. I voiced it again… no one listened. Finally, I yelled it. I HAVE TO PUSH! This got their attention, and after a quick check from the doctor, nurses rushed in to prepare for delivery. I pushed twice, and our beautiful baby girl with a head full of hair just like her sisters entered the world. One detail etched in Kelly’s and my mind from this moment was the guttural scream I let out on my last push. This scream turned into a deep heart cry rooted in the pit of my soul.
Joanna Faith Poorter
The nurses asked if I wanted to hold her, and through my tears I said yes. For 24 hours we held her. A few family members came to hold her, but mostly it was Kelly and me. We cried. We prayed. We cried some more. Her beauty still takes my breath away. Joanna was an angel on earth with gorgeous, tiny features. Weighing just 1.7 lbs with 10 fingers and 10 toes, the vision of her intricate nose, lips and ears will forever be etched into my mind. I cherished every moment with her! Nearing the end of our time holding Joanna, we had a beautiful dedication and kissed her angelic face not saying goodbye but see you again. In Heaven.
In completion with Christ Jesus for eternity in Heaven is where we are instructed to set our sights and our hope. Our hope cannot be set on things of this world, and thanks to Joanna, I now know this to be true. She did not take a breath on this earth, but she has taught me more than anyone else about trust, faith, community and prayer.
Walking Through Loss
Bookending my encouragement toward anyone walking through this pain, I want to leave advice and encouragement for anyone supporting someone during and after this devastating loss. I cannot do this without first acknowledging those I connected with after Joanna’s birth who stand out in my heart in addition to those mentioned in my previous post. To Taylor Lacy and Sunnie Sellers: in sharing your own stories of loss, your encouragement and love showed me I could survive! You remain models of strength and grace in my eyes and in my heart. Thank you. To Liz Ming, Lauren Johnson, and Taylor again – you are all amazing survivors of loss – and your texts on Joanna’s birthday mean so much.
If you are walking alongside someone grieving a loss, say the name of the child to your friend. It is cathartic and healing to both say and hear their child’s name. Resist the enemy’s lie you don’t want to make them cry – they cry a lot regardless of what you say 😉 As mentioned above, remember birthdays. It does not have to be a big thing – a simple text balms the soul. What I learned from the amazing women God brought into our lives on this journey clings tightly to my heart. We all need each other. We are stronger together!
Thank you for reading, thank you for caring, thank you for loving our Joanna. My prayer in sharing Joanna’s story is simple: May her legacy lead you back to Him!