“The real essence of your distinctive footprints may least be felt in your presence and much more in your absence” Ernest Agyemang Yeboah
Andy and I like to travel, although I’m more of a novice. Andy has visited over 80 countries and taken on many weird and wonderful adventures.
A year after we met, changes in work circumstances meant that we both left our jobs and travelled for 7 months through Africa and South America together.
Andy pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to do things that I never thought I could – and although at the time I often cursed him for it I was always grateful afterwards.
We have found a shared love of seeing animals in their own habitats; mountain gorillas in Uganda, The Big Five in the Serengeti, sharks in South Africa. We have stargazed in the Atacama desert and walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We have visited witch doctors in remote African villages.
And when we found out that we were pregnant, we started to dream of taking our child to these places. To give them the opportunity to see the beauty of the world through an unfiltered lens.
We discussed our desire for them to see animals in the wild rather than at the zoo and for them to learn to understand and appreciate diversity and other cultures.
And then we were told that our baby had died.
Until you experience the loss of a baby, it is hard to comprehend the depth of the pain and the ever increasing ripple effect of your loss.
The initial feelings are of complete desolation and pain; the sudden loss of your immediate life plans of parental leave, dirty nappies, sleepless nights and learning to be a parent.
But as the initial shock starts to wane, you realise that your loss is so much greater.
You have lost everything that you had been hoping and dreaming of for the months that you had been carrying your baby. Maybe even before.
The milestones, the birthday parties, starting school, leaving school, teaching them to swim.
And showing your child the world. Everything around you becomes a reminder of what your child will never see or experience. A rainbow after a torrential downpour, a full moon, the ripple effect of the waves on the sand.
Every beautiful thing in the world can become a painful reminder of what your much loved and wanted child will never see.
And yet, in a strange juxtaposed way, everything that is beautiful in the world also becomes a wonderful reminder of your child. We have found ourselves stopping and noticing things that before we would probably walk straight by.
We have slowed down. We have stopped and taken time to look. And in those moments we think and talk about Orla.
When planning our fundraising trip across Canada and the US, we discussed leaving little cards along the way that promoted what we were doing and encouraging people to donate.
We made labels with pictures of Orla’s little footprints and details of our fundraising page and started to leave them at places along our journey.
Very early on, we realised that we didn’t want to leave them just anywhere; we wanted to make sure that they were meaningful or beautiful spots as it felt as though we are leaving a tiny piece of Orla behind.
Now, whenever we find a somewhere interesting or picturesque, we stop and leave a footprint or write Orla’s name.
The thought that someone will see Orla’s name and footprint and - even just for a moment – wonder who she is, brings a warm feeling to our hearts.
We wonder whether she would have grown to like these places; would she love the beach or hate the sand? Would she be a water baby and love swimming or prefer to have her feet firmly on dry land? Would she prefer lions or tigers?
Would she be a brave adventurer like her daddy or a more reluctant traveller like her mummy?
And although these questions are a painful reminder that we will never ever know, we enjoy thinking and wondering. This is our way of keeping Orla’s memory alive.
Of remembering our precious first born child. Our daughter. Whose tiny feet have left the biggest imprints on our lives by making us parents and changing us forever.
Although we will never be able to show you the world, we will see and feel you in every beautiful thing that we witness. We will honour your name and beautiful memory by leaving your footprints in these places, knowing that because of you, we have taken the time to stop and to appreciate things that we might have previously taken for granted. This is your gift to us and we promise to treasure it for the rest of our days.
All our love for always,
Mummy and Daddy
Read more from Michelle or see the trail of footprints she and her husband have left so far at her blog, Dear Orla.