Andy will be cycling 2000 miles from Canada to Mexico in Orla's honour. He will start the ride on the 3rd August 2016 - exactly three months after Orla was born - and this tough journey will take around 8 weeks to complete. Michelle will be travelling alongside him as the support vehicle and chief organiser / fundraiser / social media campaigner!
This is why we are doing it:
On Sunday 1st May 2016, the unthinkable happened to us; on the day that our baby had reached full term, we were told that their little heart had stopped beating – no explanation, no apparent cause and nothing that could be done. Absolutely nothing can prepare you for the shock and pain of this. We had experienced a wonderful and smooth pregnancy with absolutely no indications of any problems and were just days away from meeting our much loved and wanted baby. And in moments, this was cruelly taken away from us.
What followed was a flurry of words about next steps. Induction. Natural birth. Pain relief. In our shocked and distraught state, it was almost impossible to believe that we were now expected to go through labour and bring our child into the world knowing that they had already gone. Statements such as ‘its best for you’ and ‘if you want to have other children…’ were made, but in that moment how could we possibly think about that? What we wanted was the child that I had been carrying for the past nine months and for this not to be happening to us. How could they be giving us medical advice now when just days ago they had said that our scan had indicated that everything was okay and our baby was progressing well? We were told that ‘sadly these things happen’, that ‘it’s not your fault’ and to be prepared that a cause would likely not be found. A further punch in the gut when all you want to know is ‘why?’
We went home, packed a bag and came back to the labour ward where we could hear the sounds of other people welcoming their healthy babies into the world. We were put in a side room, which was to become our haven for the next two days, medication was administered and the waiting began. The following hours were a blur of tears, pain and ‘why us’? We were scared of how it would be meeting our baby for the first time knowing that she would arrive asleep – how would we feel? How would we react? We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl – would this news still be as exciting to hear as we had hoped all these months? I have never before felt so out of control of my thoughts.
Being told that we had lost our baby and the passage to meeting her was undoubtedly the most difficult and painful experience of our lives. Our beautiful baby girl arrived asleep on Tuesday 3rd May at 7.30am, peacefully and quietly. You know that you won’t hear the cries and screams that the other parents on the ward will get to hear, but there is a tiny flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, they had got it wrong and she would be okay. As our daughter was handed to us to hold, the physical and emotional exhaustion of the previous 36 hours gave way to a sense of peace and serenity that we hadn’t quite anticipated. I will never forget the moment that we were told that we had a baby girl and how beautiful and special it was able to hold her hands, stroke her feet and explore who she looked like. She had her daddy’s little folded over ears and her mummy’s crooked little fingers, a head of black hair and a little button nose. She was perfect in every way and looked so beautiful and peaceful that it was hard to believe that she wasn’t just sleeping.
We spent the whole of that day with our daughter, holding her, smelling her, taking photos and savouring the limited time that we knew we would have with our special girl. We named her Orla, which seemed so easy despite us having struggled to agree on any girl’s names for the last nine months! We had her dressed in clothes and wrapped in a blanket that had been lovingly chosen for her just weeks before. We took a cutting of her soft black hair and prints of her hands and feet and the staff at the hospital made us hospital wristbands with Orla’s name. It was bittersweet being able to do many of the things that we would have done if Orla hadn’t been born asleep. The feelings of joy and love alongside unbearable pain were overwhelming.
Time seemed to occupy a different space and the day passed by so quickly. Making the decision about when to leave felt impossible – you know that you have to go at some point, but leaving felt like we were abandoning Orla. It felt too unbearable to leave the room with her there, so we had to ask for one of the midwives to take her away, which was only marginally more tolerable.
That was when the tears came hot and heavy and the gravity of there being a life ‘before’ and a life ‘after’ this immense trauma and loss became a sudden and intense reality.
Seeing your baby being carried away, packing your bag and leaving hospital without them in your arms must be one of the most painful things that a parent could ever experience. You move quickly through the corridors, down the lift and onto the street, desperately trying not to make eye contact with anyone. You seek comfort and safety in your home, but the emptiness and silence is devastating. The heaviness in your heart is overbearing and you spend the following days in a haze of tears, thoughts and broken sleep, whilst trying to make sense of what has happened when there is no sense.
Losing Orla has been completely life changing for us and we want to make sure that her short life touches more than just her family and friends. We want to do something that would make her as proud of us as her parents as we are of her. She is such a special baby and we truly believe that we can make a difference to other peoples lives in her honour.
We are raising money for a charity called Sands. Since losing Orla, Sands has been an incredible source of support and comfort in our most painful and difficult hours. We have no doubt that we will continue to use their support in the months and years to come. They also do amazing work promoting the issue of stillbirths and neonatal deaths, campaigning for greater awareness and research into an area that is very under resourced.
Please help us to help them so that one day fewer people will have to suffer the trauma that we are living through. We will be asking for donations rather than flowers for Orla's funeral, but we also plan to undertake some other fundraising projects in the months to come.
About Sands and stillbirth:
Stillbirth and neonatal death is not just one of those things and unfortunately it is not rare. Did you know:
Around 4,000 babies are stillborn each year and another 2,500 die before they reach 4 weeks old. That is around 17 babies every single day.
Stillbirths happen ten times more frequently than cot deaths: 1 in 2,500 babies die from cot death; 1 in 200 are stillborn. Yet, while the levels of cot death have fallen dramatically in recent years, levels of stillbirth and neonatal death have remained virtually unchanged for 20 years.
Stillbirth is the major cause of perinatal death. It is shocking that the majority of stillbirths happen in pregnancies that were considered to be low risk. In many cases the baby died near the end of the pregnancy, which means that if they had been delivered the baby might potentially have survived.
This is a tragedy. Researchers estimate that if problem pregnancies could be better identified a significant proportion of stillbirths may be preventable. However, for many years very little has been done and very little money has been allocated to finding out why these deaths happen and what can be done to prevent them.
Sands is determined to change this situation, by funding research which will give answers to why babies are dying and what can be done to stop it happening. With your help and support we want to ensure that fewer families experience the death of a baby; to understand why some pregnancies go wrong and how to spot which pregnancies are at risk; to ensure the care mothers and babies receive is effective and of the highest standard; to know what can be done to prevent things going wrong and to ensure each baby has the best chance of survival. Sands knows that much more could be done to prevent so many of these tragic and cruel deaths.
Donating through Justgiving is quick, easy and totally secure. It’s also the most efficient way to donate to us: SANDS gets your money faster and, if you’re a UK taxpayer, Justgiving makes sure 25% in Gift Aid, plus a 3% supplement, are added to your donation.