Parenting with empty arms


Today marks my first Mother’s Day since Orla’s birth.  I am a mother to a beautiful daughter who would now be almost 11 months old.  I am also a mother to a baby growing inside of me.  Yet, sometimes it is hard to show the world my status as a parent.  I do not have a pram to push or a baby to carry in my arms.  I do not go to baby groups or have playdates with other mothers.  Yet I feel different to the person I was just last year, as having Orla has changed me irrevocably from the woman I was once.  I feel a love and responsibility that I didn’t think was possible.  My heart feels infinitely larger and fuller and it aches with pride.  Yet I don’t have new photos to show, or new stories to tell.  I can’t speak of milestones that have been met or new stages reached in development.  But I still have the innate need to parent.  It is a natural urge that doesn’t go away even when your child isn’t able to come home with you.
As a result, I have had to find my own way to parent; to parent a child who lives in my heart but not in my arms.  A way to parent that isn’t included in any manual or book and in a society that isn’t always quite sure how to respond.  I have learnt from other mothers who have bravely shared their stories; I have seen how they have honoured their precious children and kept their memories alive.  I parent based on gut instinct, doing what feels right and whatever brings comfort, no matter how different or strange it may look to the outside world.  The ‘non-loss’ world.  I parent in a way that involves developing a thick skin, in a way that it courageous and brave.  I battle against barriers and opinions of what is acceptable and not, of what is right or wrong.  I may have to justify my choices, to explain and help others to understand.  And in some ways, I see many similarities to the challenges that all mothers face.
But this is how I know that I am a mother…
We talk about Orla openly and with pride.  When people ask if I have children, I always say yes.  When people look at my swelling belly and ask if this is my first baby, I always say no, this is my second.  The moment I birthed and held Orla, I knew I was a mother.  People don’t ask about Orla as they would if she had lived. I don’t get asked about what we got up to at the weekend or how old she is now.  People don’t ask about our family holiday plans or which childcare options we are considering. Therefore, I have to work extra hard to weave her into conversations.  I talk about my hopes and dreams that I had for her, what she has taught me, how we are preserving and honouring her memory.  How much I love and miss her.  Sometimes it is easy, sometimes less so.  But I never feel sad when I get the opportunity to say her name.
We include Orla in everything we do.  We take her with us when we travel, we show her and others that we are thinking of her at the most beautiful moments.  We leave her footprints behind, in the hope that someone else will see her name and wonder, even if for just a moment, who Orla is.  She is never far from our thoughts and always in our hearts.

We fundraise, we share our story, we let other people know that Orla existed, she matters and she is loved beyond measure.  We try to make a difference to the lives of others in her name, which helps us to find meaning, drive and purpose in our parenting.  We are not exhausted by late night feeds or early morning wake up calls, but we exhaust ourselves in cycling, writing and talking.

Orla’s presence in our home is very clear.  We have photos all over the house, keepsakes that remind us of her, and we have kept her nursery.  This is a space that is full of things that were purchased with love and care, a space that I have continued to nurture and grow despite her never lying in her cot.  It is a place of calm and peace, somewhere to sit and reflect.  Somewhere to touch and smell things that prove that Orla existed.  And even though it is a space that will very hopefully be shared with her sibling, it will always partly be Orla’s room and a place to feel close to her.
We write a letter to Orla every single day.  We share our life, our thoughts, our feelings, our hopes and dreams in our letters to her.  We tell her what we would have done if she were here with us, we explain how she entered our minds that day and show how thought of and loved she continues to be.

I carry a piece of Orla with me every day: her fingerprint around my neck, a curl of her hair in a locket, her name engraved on a pendant, her photos on my phone.  Although she is always in my heart, there is always something tangible, something solid, that can ground and link me to our daughter.
I write Orla’s name, every single day.  Sometimes more than once.  My favourite time is in the shower: I write her name in the steam and reflect on the day that is to come, knowing that whatever happens, she is with me, giving me the strength to continue to put one foot in front of the other.  I know I owe it to Orla to continue, to look forward with hope and to make her proud.  Speaking and writing her name just immerses me in this.
Parenting comes in many forms and I want people to know that all are equally valid.  Whether you are parenting a brood of children that you grew and birthed, children you adopted, fostered, became step parents or guardians to; whether you are parenting children that are no longer in your arms, who were lost as babies, children or adults; whether you are currently growing your babies or desperately hoping that you get to grow them some day.  All that matters is that you know that you matter.  That you count.  That you are a mum no matter what form that takes.
Thank you to Tommy’s for helping us to see that #WeAreAllMums

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  • Reply Lesley Cole March 26, 2017 at 8:51 am

    You manage to capture every thought and feeling I have so accurately. You write so beautifully and your blog helps me realise I am not alone in my feelings so thank you xx

    • Reply dearorla August 7, 2017 at 9:24 pm

      Thank you Lesley – you are most certainly not alone xx

  • Reply Mama S March 26, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Sitting here crying reading your beautifully written post. Crying because I identify with your pain & enormous sense of loss. Crying because I feel guilty that when I’m with my 23 month old & faced with the question, “is he your first?” I quietly answer “yes” because of the fear that people will not understand and to avoid the pain of explaining the agonising truth. The truth that before he came I gave birth to my dear Violet at 16 and a half weeks into my pregnancy & had to say goodbye. Crying because that is a decision we had to make ourselves because Mother Nature can be cruel & crying because the unbearable guilt & pain that that heartbreaking decision bought haunts me each & every day. Crying because I see her in him & often wonder what she would have been like now. Crying because I know she was a fighter & she turned out to be stronger than I expected. And crying because in some strange way I feel her time wasn’t right then but sense her presence in my son, his strong & fearless character. Thank you for sharing your story, you are much braver than I, but knowing I am not alone in parenting an angel brings some sense of comfort. We too mark her presence on special days, although she is in our hearts every day. Her star burns brightly. I shall lay some flowers for her today & tell her how much Mommy loves her. One day when my son is old enough to understand I will tell him all about his older sister. She will always be a special part of our little family x

    • Reply dearorla August 7, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      You are most certainly not alone – and I can relate to so many of the thought and feelings now that Esme is here with us. xx

  • Reply Joli March 26, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    So beautifully said <3 You're an amazing mother to both Orla and your bump. I identify with all your feelings so much, while I parent my Jonah with him not here in my arms.

    • Reply dearorla August 7, 2017 at 9:25 pm

      Thank you so much Joli xx

  • Reply Sarah Morrogh March 26, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    I lost my little boy Ben at 23+5 weeks and he was born on 1st May. I am a children’s nurse and regularly get asked if I have any children and it breaks my heart that I have to say no. I always want to say yes, but how can I put that awkward situation onto a family struggling with their own child being unwell?
    Thank you for writing this blog. Our journeys are not the same but the emptiness and loss are and I thank you for being brave enough to put that on paper.

    • Reply dearorla August 7, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      What a brave person you are to do the job you do and to think of what these families are going through before yourself. That takes incredible strength. xx

  • Reply detricematthews March 27, 2017 at 10:39 am

    I wondered who Orla was, and then I read you blog. You write beautifully and explain things to those who have never been through it exactly how it feels. Lovely blog – I will be reading more for sure, keep writing.

  • Reply dearorla August 7, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    Thank you so much – she deserves it as she has given us so much xx

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