Two bereaved parents have crossed the finish line for Birmingham Women’s Hospital Charity, after completing a 102-mile cycle and raising over £2,590 in memory of their daughter, who passed away shortly after birth, almost 30 years ago.

Mark and Christine Hawkins, from Bromsgrove, took to the saddle on what would have been their daughter, Katie’s 29th birthday, to cycle the Devon Coast to Coast ride from Ilfracombe to Plymouth, and raise funds to help bring a new, standalone bereavement centre to Birmingham Women’s Hospital for parents and families just like theirs.

Woodland House will create a safe haven for parents and families who experience pregnancy and baby loss, away from the hustle and bustle of the main hospital site, where they can spend time to grieve together in private, sympathetic surroundings, until they are ready to face the world. It’s a place Mark and Christine wished had existed back when they lost their baby girl.

Christine was 25 weeks into her uncomplicated pregnancy with Katie when she started to feel pains in her tummy. Christine visited her local hospital who assured her everything was fine, but then she started having contractions and her waters unexpectedly broke. She was blue-lighted to the specialist Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

There was no explanation why Christine had gone into early labour, but after doctors established Christine had the complications of placenta previa, which meant her placenta was covering her cervix, and group B streptococcus, a bacterial infection which could affect her baby, doctors broke the news that Christine would need to give birth to her baby nearly 15 weeks early.

The couple were beside themselves but focused on getting through the difficult labour. After several hours of labour, Katie was born, but she sadly passed away soon after. Mark and Christine were devastated but tried to make the most of what little time they had with their daughter, taking handprints and making memories. They then, painfully, said their goodbyes to their first born.

The organisation of a funeral was a struggle for them both however, after a small family service, Katie was buried in their local churchyard and it remains a place they visit for periods of remembrance and reflection.

Mark and Christine went on to have two more children, and experienced complications with both pregnancies, but after being carefully monitored by Birmingham Women’s Hospital, there was a happier outcome. Nevertheless, the couple have never forgotten that heart-breaking time.

Now, 29 years since they lost their precious baby girl, Mark and Christine decided they wanted to do something to mark her birthday. Experienced cyclist, Mark, encouraged Christine to climb onto her bike too and they picked a challenge that would test them. The couple then learned about the Woodland House Appeal, and everything just fell into place.

Mark and Christine joined the organised challenge, making new friends who were taking on the journey for their own reasons but many were touched by their sad story and pledged to donate to support their cause.

Christine said: “Although it was almost 30 years ago now, we will never forget the pain and devastation that we felt when we lost Katie, so we wanted to do something that would keep her memory alive and give us some closure after all these years. We also wanted to say thank you to Birmingham Women’s Hospital for the care we received at the time but also in the years that followed, which brought us our two healthy sons.”

Mark said: “The cycle was tough, especially for Christine, who struggled with her ankles on the second day, but we’re so proud for making it across the finish line. We took Birmingham Women’s Hospital balloons with us and attached them to our bikes on Katie’s birthday, and it all just felt right - being there and raising money for Woodland House, which we know will have such a positive impact on the experiences of families just like ours in the future.”

Miranda Williams, Head of Public Fundraising at Birmingham Women’s Hospital Charity, said: “Mark and Christine’s heart-breaking experience is sadly one of so many that shows how desperately needed a facility like Woodland House is.

“Thanks to incredible fundraising like theirs, building work has begun on our bereavement centre, and Woodland House will soon be a reality for families experiencing pregnancy and baby loss at our hospital. We hope it will serve as a blueprint that sets a new standard of bereavement care across the UK and breaks the silence and taboo that surrounds these devastating losses.”