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