What’s in a name?

When Andy and I married just over two years ago, I decided that I probably wouldn’t change my name.  I hadn’t given it too much thought beforehand, but when it came down to it, I realised that I was quite attached my maiden name.  I had been Michelle T for almost 33 years, I had been Dr T for 5 of those and it suddenly felt like I would be giving up a huge part of my identity and hard work.  I toyed with the idea of having a ‘work name’ and a ‘home name’, but then I realised how much hassle and paperwork that would involve, so I decided to wait until I had a bit more time.  When I fell pregnant with Orla 16 months later, I started to think about it again, but by this point I was feeling a bit more ‘independent woman’ and thought that it wouldn’t and shouldn’t matter too much, but remained open minded about how I might view things once our baby arrived.

When we were told that Orla had died, I made a decision during labour that I wanted to change my name.  It was like an urgent and desperate need to feel as close as I could to both Orla and Andy; every inch of my being needed to do anything I could to be completely linked to my baby that I knew I would have to say goodbye to.  When we went to register Orla’s birth and death at the registry office, it broke my heart that I was recorded on her official forms with my maiden name.

One of the first tasks I did when we got home was to start this process.  In fact, I think one of the first times I left the house, Andy and I went to the bank so that I could change my name on my accounts.  I handed over our marriage certificate, terrified of being asked why, two years down the line, I had suddenly decided to become Mrs Cottle.  I wasn’t ready to say what had happened to Orla; how my life had completely been torn apart and how having the same name as my daughter was one of the only ways that I could feel closer to her.

In the weeks that have passed, in all the reading I have done and the new friends I have made, I have come to learn how important names are for those who have lost their child.  To have someone talk to you and say your child’s name is unbelievably touching.  It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and makes your heart warm.  It recognises your child as a person – a person who existed and who lived, even if just for the months that you carried them.  Orla Cottle is officially a person who graced this earth and I want to say and write her name every day for the rest of my life.

Just last night, I read a lovely blog post by someone who I now class as a friend.  She described how, as a loss mum, you always look for any opportunity to write your child’s name somewhere; pebbles, shells, leaves, the sand on the beach.  It is something that is almost impossible to understand unless you have lost a child.  Saying and writing their name is one of the only ways that we have to keep our child’s memory alive.

Today I was informed that someone I know (a good friend of a good friend) had a baby girl yesterday and called her Orla.  I’m not naïve to think that we own Orla’s name (a la Beyonce and Blue Ivy); it’s a beautiful name and I know that there have been many Orla’s before our precious daughter and there will be many afterwards.  But to learn that someone so close to my own life named their daughter Orla just 11 weeks after we lost our Orla completely threw me.  I am slowly learning to navigate a world that I know continues, despite mine being shattered; slowly coming to terms with knowing that people continue to have babies even though mine died.  When I see pregnant women, or people with babies that would be a similar age to Orla, it is like someone has stabbed me in the stomach.  It completely takes the air out of my lungs.  It’s a physical response that precedes any rational (or irrational) thought and it occurs almost every time I leave the house, watch the television or go on the internet.  There is absolutely no getting away from it.

To know that there is now a newborn Orla in such close proximity to my new and fragile life is heartbreaking.  It is like a door has been opened to show me a life that could have, should have, been mine.  A door that I didn’t choose to open and desperately want to shut.  My shattered heart feels like it has been ruptured again and the intense feelings of pain and loss have surfaced in a way that I wasn’t sure I was prepared for.  There will be an Orla that I could potentially hear about who will start to sit up, roll over and crawl exactly when my Orla should be doing the same.  And this won’t ever end; the milestones will always continue – first birthdays, starting school, going to college, getting married.  I will always, always wonder about my Orla and there will always be another Orla on the periphery of my life who will remind me of what could have been.

I’m not sure what I should do to protect myself; clearly I need to delete her as a Facebook friend.  But what if mutual friends like her posts and they pop up inadvertently and innocently on my feed?  Do I delete one of my closest friends in case she is by chance tagged in a photo with her?  Will she have to clarify in conversations that she has with others whether she is talking about Orla who lived or Orla who died?  Will she feel awful if she ends up accidentally talking about one of her best friend’s babies to me?

Today I feel sad for me.  I feel sad for Andy who has to scrape me up off the floor.  I feel sad for my oldest friend who is caught in the middle of a difficult situation.  I am happy that not all pregnancies have a tragic ending like ours and I would never ever wish this on anyone.  But I am sad that sometimes people make decisions without thinking about the devastating impact that they may have on others.

This was not at all how I anticipated this post would be; ironically, I had started writing about it before I heard the news and before I posted the picture of Orla’s name in the shower steam.  To many people this may seem like a completely irrational and unfair thing to talk so openly about.  I am fearful that people reading this will think I am being unreasonable and selfish; that I am bitter and cruel for finding this situation so painful.

And maybe I am.

But I made a promise to myself when I started writing this blog that I needed to be frank and honest.  Writing will only help me if I can talk openly about the anger, the hurt and the shame.  Writing will only help others if I give a true account of how bloody difficult life after loss is, even without being hit with additional curveballs.  Unfortunately, I am not able to resolve the intense hurt and anger I feel right now.  I’m not sure I ever will.  But if I am completely honest, I don’t know anything about how life after losing Orla will pan out.  I know that even with parents who haven’t lost their babies, names can become very territorial.  However, when you have lost your child and you have absolutely no other opportunities to make any more memories with them; when the only memories you make are writing their name anywhere you can and speaking their name at every opportunity, knowing that another baby with the same name will grow so closely in a world where our Orla should have grown is sadly the ultimate reminder of how painful life will always continue to be without her.

Today I have realised that I am still vulnerable and I am still broken.  I will piece myself back together again, but I am aware that I need to take it easy, that life is unpredictable and things that maybe would have seemed small in my old life will hurt more than I ever imagined they could.


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  • Reply Alicia July 22, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    This is such a great post Michelle and I think it truly captures how us mums that have lost a baby feels. You are not alone in those thoughts about how you feel towards that friend who named their daughter orla. She will probably never understand how you feel even if you told her as she lives in her ‘innocent’ life.
    Its hard to explain to people how horrible it is for you that you don’t get to share in other people’s happiness anymore. And like you said,you never wish this on anyone,but you wish most of all it didn’t have to happen to you.
    And I felt exactly the same way about my last name after I had Stella. It is 5 months today since I had Stella and I’m feeling all the same things you are. It definitely doesn’t get easier but you learn a bit more the things that might trigger you and how you can almost prevent some of the breakdowns occurring.
    So be kind to yourself Michelle,today might be a bad day but you never know,there could be a ‘good’ day just around the corner.
    Keep inspiring and sharing,your doing a great job. And who wouldn’t want to write Orla Cottle everywhere,it’s a gorgeous name! Much love,alicia.

    • Reply dearorla July 28, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      Thank you Alicia. You’re right that most people who are lucky enough to live in ignorance just would never understand. Sometimes you just hope that they would maybe try though. You’re right about not knowing what sort of day is around the corner and it is just so important to hold out hope that there are more good than bad. I hope that 5 months on that there are lighter and brighter days for you, even though I am sure that there are still difficult ones. Much love xxx

  • Reply trishashton July 23, 2016 at 6:34 am

    Oh lovely – that is sooooo unbelievably hard. I struggle with how wrapped up in themselves people can be. It’s just so hard to convey to others that losing your baby isn’t something that is tough for a little while, because you lost their future.
    Lots of ladies I know came off Facebook entirely after their losses. I didn’t – it was strangely like the pain from biting an ulcer – I had this morbid curiosity to know what was going on with others and almost to test myself as to how I would deal with it.
    I have unfollowed a lot of people rather than unfriended to prevent a news feed full of baby pics and have always been quite glad that we chose a popular name for Oliver cos it means I hear it a lot so it doesn’t carry quite the same sharp pain hearing it as it did at the start…
    That said, I’ve not had to navigate such a stark reminder of exactly what I should have had. 11 weeks age gap is nothing. Esp not in a couple of years time. It makes me want to come and give the parents a good talking to on your behalf.
    I’m not sure this is you being fragile either. It’s flippin unfair
    Sending lots of love your way xxx

    • Reply dearorla July 28, 2016 at 3:57 pm

      Thanks Trish – it really completely blew the wind out of my sails in a way that I never anticipated it could. I think its one thing if it was a random person, but to be someone you know who knows what you have been through seems almost unbelievable. I just have to hold on to the fact that I would never do that to anyone I know and better to be hurt than live with the feeling that you have hurt others.
      I totally understand the ‘testing’ yourself. I did that for weeks after we lost Orla, just looking at my whatsapp contacts to see if any of the NCT group had changed their profile picture to their new babies. It was like I needed to torture myself as a form of self punishment. Luckily I have deleted / blocked people that I know will trigger too much pain.
      Thank you for the love, support and solidarity – it means so much xxxx

  • Reply Hayley July 23, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    I cannot believe someone did that. That is very short sighted and I’m so sorry it’s knocked you off your feet, again. Sending strength X

    • Reply dearorla July 28, 2016 at 3:58 pm

      Thank you Hayley – strength was definitely very much needed. An eye opener that not everyone acts in ways that maybe we would expect xxx

  • Reply Analissa July 24, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    It’s as if you’re reading my mind and writing down my exact feelings.
    My baby girl, Aura, was born at 35 weeks on June 1st, 2016 and lived for only 15 minutes. I know exactly how you’re feeling and don’t know how I’ll make it through.
    I’ve contacted other angel mama’s through social media. I just feel like they are the only ones that can understand this devastating and unbearable pain.
    Hope we can start communicating and maybe sharing our journey.
    I’m from Panama City, Panama so pardon my English since it’s not my mother tongue.
    Hope to hear back from you.

    • Reply dearorla July 28, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      I’m so sorry that you lost Aura – it really is so recent and raw for us both. I have found social media to be such an amazing source of support (when it can so often be just about presenting perfect lifestyles), so I’m pleased that you have found it helpful as well. Sometimes, just seeng that someone else is having the same thoughts or feelings can be such a relief – even if you have no communication with them. I hope that you also have support from those directly around you in Panama. Sending love and strength xxx

  • Reply Mrinalini Raj July 27, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    I don’t exactly know what to write to you Michelle. You have seen life much more than me, I’m too young to say.
    Your courage is boundless, and such a Strong Woman you are to come-up and express yourself. To point out what pins you. It will take time, Orla is with you. I see my mother’s strength in you.
    Andy needs you too. Lots of Love .

    • Reply dearorla July 28, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement xxx

  • Reply Kelly December 13, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your beautiful daughter Orla, I saw your blog on the Sands newletter and have been reading your posts, so beautifully and poignantly written….I wanted to send you my love and thoughts. I know exactly how you feel about “names” I’m five years in to this journey but last year my sister in law had a baby son and used the same middle name as we gave our son, and it completely broke me. I had so many different emotions and it really hurt me, they didn’t mention it beforehand so it was a shock. A year on I have minimal contact and I honestly found it unbearable. Thank you for writing about this as I thought I was such a horrid person…I know it was only a middle name but I chose that specially for my boy. I’m so sorry that you have had to go through this also, it’s so painful. Thank you for writing about Orla x x

  • Reply Louise Mason March 28, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Dear Michelle.I just wanted to send you my love and to wish you so well for your rainbow baby birth. I gave birth to my third Son at 25wks 15 years ago this April.We gave him our family surname(Mason) as his name as we felt that this way he would have a part of all of us with him always.I will never forget how I felt when a year or so later when my best friends sister announced that she really disliked the name Mason!!. People can be so wrapped up in themselves and totally oblivious to other peoples feelings.I truly believe that we are kinder and softer and so much more aware of others due to the loss we have endured.You are in my thoughts
    Louise. Mum to Joe 20,Dan 17 and Zak 10.

  • Reply canadiangirlatlarge March 28, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    I just came across this blog post and I wanted to thank you for it.
    I lost my twins, Penelope Rose and Shawn Michael, on July 12, 2015, just two days after our baby shower.
    In November, one of our ‘friends’ who threw us the shower had a baby and named her Penelope. She never once thought to speak with my husband and I about her name choice, only emailing me once she realized that we had taken a step away from her and were unreachable. It broke my heart into a million pieces and I felt like she had chosen to pretend our Penelope didn’t exist or didn’t matter.
    It put us and our mutual friends in such an uncomfortable position and instead of understanding about why we had to step away, she has chosen to be angry with us for ‘not being there for her after her scary and traumatic birth experience’.
    Thank you for this, thank you for your honestly and thank you for validating our experience.
    Love to you and your beautiful Orla <3

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