‘I felt the empti­ness in my bones’

Michelle Tol­frey, 37, lives in Lon­don with her hus­band Andy and their daugh­ter Esme, 20 months. Their first child, Orla, was still­born

Women's Health (UK) - - STILLBIRTH - Michelle blogs about par­ent­ing after suf­fer­ing a loss at fromtheother­chair.co.uk

Orla was born at 7.30am on a Tues­day, and I was due in work at 9am. It meant one of the first peo­ple I had to tell that my baby had died was my man­ager. I said I couldn’t make it to work be­cause some­thing had hap­pened. I couldn’t use the word still­birth – it sounded so clin­i­cal. I’ve saved that mes­sage – I don’t ever want to for­get how it felt to write it. As a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist work­ing in the NHS, I’ve spent years deal­ing with grief. I knew the stages that most peo­ple go through, but I didn’t know it hurt phys­i­cally, like an ache in your bones. Wak­ing up the morn­ing after Orla died, with the crib be­side me, I felt an over­whelm­ing feel­ing of empti­ness. It was as if some­one had scooped out my soul and left my body be­hind. The world out­side the front door be­came a scary place. My hus­band Andy and I de­vel­oped safety be­hav­iours to get through

‘I wrote my first let­ter to Orla the morn­ing after she died’

each day; ways of avoid­ing peo­ple with ba­bies. We went for walks around the block at night-time, when we knew the new mums who I’d ear­marked as fu­ture friends would be in their homes. I didn’t leave the house with­out sun­glasses in case I needed to cry. When I be­came preg­nant again three months later, it was as if some­one had pressed pause on my grief. The empti­ness lifted, but my anx­i­ety sky­rock­eted. It’s dif­fi­cult to ar­tic­u­late the trauma of preg­nancy after you’ve lost a baby, but for me, it was like liv­ing on a cliff edge; know­ing what could hap­pen, and that, if it did hap­pen, it might just fin­ish you off. I didn’t let my­self ac­cept that we would bring this baby home. It meant that when Esme was born, and we left the hos­pi­tal as a three a day later, I was com­pletely un­pre­pared. I spent the first few months of her life in a state of shock. To the out­side world, we’d been given our happy end­ing, but it isn’t as sim­ple as that. Grief isn’t fi­nite, and one child can’t be re­placed by an­other. I felt guilty for feel­ing happy that I had a healthy child, and heart­bro­ken that I would watch Esme grow up when Orla never would. It was as if I des­per­ately needed Orla to know that she was my first­born; that she wouldn’t be for­got­ten, and that I was a mother of two. I knew I needed help, but I felt ashamed to ask for it – as a psy­chol­o­gist, I thought I should be able to fix my­self. Then I be­gan think­ing more about the peo­ple I’d worked with over the years, and the bru­tal con­ver­sa­tions I’d had with them. If they had the brav­ery to open up to me, I owed it to them to start talk­ing, too. Six months after Esme was born, I made an ap­point­ment with my GP, who re­ferred me to the peri­na­tal men­tal health team. I was di­ag­nosed with post­na­tal de­pres­sion and re­ferred for ther­apy. I use let­ters with my pa­tients as a tool to help them ac­cess their emo­tions. I wrote my first let­ter to Orla the morn­ing after she died. And for the first year of what would have been her life, Andy and I wrote to her ev­ery day. Read­ing his let­ters was of­ten more painful than writ­ing my own, but it helped us to un­der­stand each other. Read­ing about a pic­ture he took of the Thames one lunch break be­cause it re­minded him in some small way of Orla showed me that she con­sumed his thoughts, just as she con­sumed mine. Those let­ters evolved into a blog, which be­came a gate­way to a com­mu­nity of peo­ple who have been there. I use it to make sense of my new iden­tity as a psy­chol­o­gist who has sat in the other chair; a mother to a child who is here, and a mother to a child who isn’t. More than any­thing, it’s a space for me to talk about my daugh­ter. I’m scared that if I don’t, she’ll be­come a fig­ment of my imag­i­na­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.