Baby bereavement suite at York Hospital just £12,000 away from target thanks to fundraising from family who suffered baby loss

A couple who lost their baby have raised £2,677 towards a new baby bereavement suite at York Hospital for other families who suffer stillbirths or the death of a baby.

The suite will give bereaved families a chance to have some space

Emma and Martyn Johnson from York are backing the Butterfly Appeal after their baby daughter Faith was stillborn in 2017.

Mr Johnson pledged to run 159 miles, a mile for every day they had with Faith, in a series of events to raise money for the unit.

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Mrs Johnson said: “Fathers can often feel helpless and be overlooked but Martyn decided to fundraise in Faith’s memory and to thank the support the hospital had given us. His decision to run 159 over a number of events was surprising because, whilst having played football at school, he is not a natural runner, and certainly not a distance runner. At that time the furthest he had run was 10km."

Emma and Martyn's daughter Phoebe also participated in one of the runs

The couple, who have two other children, urged people to support the suite because they may know someone who needs it in the future.

Mrs Johnson said: “When someone dies, you are told to think of the good times and hold onto the memories of them. When a baby dies, you have very few memories to hold onto and as the years pass you constantly think of the ‘what ifs’, the Christmases, the birthdays and the milestones they should be meeting if they survived. Instead of leaving with their newborn in a car seat, bereaved parents leave the maternity unit with a memory box full of keepsakes.

“A bereavement suite gives parents the gift of time with their baby and a meaningful opportunity to say a long goodbye and make special memories during a heart breaking experience. We were so thankful of the three days we were given to spend with Faith while I was recovering.

“Those first few days following a baby’s stillbirth are so important to get right. We had the opportunity to have Faith’s hand and footprints taken, which we have on display at home and I have on a necklace. We had photographs taken of her, read her stories, dressed her and held her whenever we wanted to.

“Our friends and family were able to meet her in a safe, comfortable, quiet place away from the main part of the unit where you can hear babies cry and see families excitedly meeting healthy new arrivals. Partners can also stay in the room overnight so they are able to support each other together and begin to make plans for their baby’s funeral.

“Baby loss is a taboo subject and often people don’t know how to talk to bereaved parents in fear of upsetting them or through a lack of awareness about how people are affected. The keepsakes can often start a conversation about their baby and help parents to share their memories of them in those first hours and days with others in the future.”

The Butterfly Appeal kicked off with a donation of £94,672 from the York branch of the stillbirth and neonatal charity Sands.

The appeal has received huge support from the local community and hospital staff but fundraising ground to a halt with the arrival of the pandemic.

The hospital has just £12,000 left to raise to meet the £250,000 target.

Rachel Brook, Fundraising Manager for York Teaching Hospital Charity who launched the Butterfly Appeal, explained: “We became disheartened when Covid-19 hit and we went into lockdown as the events we and our fundraisers had planned to raise money to complete the appeal had to be cancelled. While we have been overwhelmed by support for the immediate needs of the pandemic, we still have £12,000 to raise to finish our appeal.”

Kim Reilly from York Sands, said: “The death of a baby during pregnancy, at birth, or after birth is a major bereavement. It is invaluable to have this room to spend the time with your baby, bathing them and taking photos in a safe environment. These are the memories you take away with you and it’s vital you feel safe in the room. The care that parents receive around this time has a huge impact on their long-term wellbeing and we are delighted to be able to support the Butterfly Appeal.”