'For Freya':  Father's running challenge to aid Harrogate baby loss charity

Matthew and Lee-Anne Leach
Matthew and Lee-Anne Leach

Matthew Leach has undertaken a marathon running challenge to support a Harrogate charity, which helped him know 'that he wasn't alone' after the tragic stillbirth of his daughter Freya.

To coincide with Baby Loss Awareness Week, the Harrogate Python RUFC player is attempting to run a total of 1,410km by Sunday, October 14, to aid the charity, Our Angels, and mark a year having passed since Freya's death.

Matthew is aiming to run 1410km in 287 days, to honour the memory his daughter, Freya

Matthew is aiming to run 1410km in 287 days, to honour the memory his daughter, Freya

From the help they gave Matthew and his wife, Lee-Anne Leach, at hospital, to the ongoing support groups that are run in Harrogate, the charity touched the couple's hearts.

Inspired by the efforts of Harrogate's own Ben Dave, who ran almost 500 miles across Yorkshire to raise awareness of men's mental health earlier this year, Matt has undertaken a number of half marathons and 10k's since January this year.

Originally aiming to raise £1,410, he has since smashed this target with more than £4,000 raised through his JustGiving page. The original funding goal, distance and completion date were all to coincide with the anniversary.

Now, he is hoping to keep the momentum going and raise more for the charity, not only as a way to remember Freya but also let other parents know of the help available through, Our Angels.

Matt said: "I remember being at the hospital when we were told what was happening. Lee-Anne went in to spontaneous labour at 33 weeks of pregnancy and after the initial assessment we were told that there wasn't a heart beat.

"You're then taken to a room that is especially set up for bereaved families, the Ferndale Suite.

"Even though you are in the midst of coming to terms with what is going on, that your baby has died, your wife still has to give birth which is difficult to comprehend in what should be the most special moment of your life. It’s after this when you really have to accept what has happened, which is an unthinkable situation.

"I never realised such things as a cold cot were available, which kept Freya’s body cool, allowing us extra time to spend with her to make memories and give an opportunity for our family and friends to meet her.

"Before this I would have thought how strange this is, but in the moment it completely changes your perspective. It was so important to have that time with her. We came and went as we wanted, seeing her when we wanted.

"It makes you realise how important charities like Our Angels are and how supportive the midwives were, in particular our Bereavement Support midwife Wendy, in making this difficult situation a little easier to bear.

“Our Angels have a big part in making the Ferndale suite a more comfortable place for bereaved parents to spend time with their baby, and fund the memory boxes that contain hand print kits and other mementos that give parents an opportunity to create memories of their baby.

"They let you know that you are not alone in this, and along with the midwives help with organising things like registering the still birth and planning the funeral which is something that is incomprehensible at the time.

"The charity funds several projects - the memory boxes, specialist equipment and upkeep of the Ferndale suite, which is the room dedicated for bereaved families at Harrogate Hospital, midwife training, support groups and the annual balloon release, an opportunity to gather and remember our angels who are gone too soon.

"I think the biggest help I got personally though was knowing you're not alone. When you're sitting in that room at the other end of the emotional scale, all you want to be doing is be walking out of the hospital, with you're baby and your sat there making arrangements for your first child’s funeral. In that moment you think, why me?

"But with Our Angels you realise there are other people, on you're own door step, going through the same thing."

Matt is continuing to train with the Harrogate Pythons, while also receiving help to stay injury free over the course of the challenge with HG3 Fitness and R J Sports therapy. The majority of his running has been done around the Stray.

Although only attending a few support group meetings in Harrogate, Matt and Lee-Anne say talking to others, who experienced the impact of a stillbirth helped them in ways not possible with friends and family.

While being a chance to talk on 'a taboo' subject, the couple also met other parents who had managed to safely have children after their own stillbirths, 'providing them another level of support'.

As he continues his challenge Matt and Lee-Anne have welcomed a new addition to their family, a 'rainbow baby' boy, Arlo Buddy, who was born on Wednesday, September 26.

Matt said: "Friends, family & work colleagues have been an amazing support but speaking to other people who have also experienced baby loss too gives you another level of support.

"The group is a place you can go and be yourself, talk but also know that if you need to have a cry then you can, if you get frustrated you know people will understand.

"During the first year it also helps with things like broaching going back to work or going somewhere else where no one will know anything about what happened.

"At the group there are people who have gone on to have children, and I do think seeing that helped so much."

If you would like to donate towards Matt's campaign click here