The Walk of Life

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Ben Moorhouse
Ben Moorhouse

If you look up the definition of ‘Yorkshire grit’ in a dictionary, you will most probably find a picture of Ben Moorhouse. The Halifax lad has raised more than £14,000 for the Steve Prescott Foundation in a series of physical challenges in extreme temperatures over the last five years, ably assisted by his partner Gaynor Thompson.

2018’s trial saw Ben become the first person to walk around the Greek island of Rhodes in just 45 hours. Purposefully choosing to up the ante and undertake the walk in August, when the mercury hit a balmy 42 degrees, Ben showed determination and an iron will to complete his task and raise as much money as possible for the charity named after the legendary rugby league player.

By his side, supporting him in his endeavours, was Gaynor. However, this time around she was taking a less active role. Gaynor was six months pregnant with the couple’s first child. As Ben crossed the finish line, exhausted and roasting in the Mediterranean sun, Gaynor was there to congratulate him on adding another £3,500 to his already impressive charitable total.

But later that year, events took a tragic twist. The couple found out that their baby had died just two weeks before her due date. At 5:05pm on 26th October 2018, Kallipateira Rodothea Moorhouse was stillborn at Calderdale Royal Hospital. After such a devastating event, it would be completely understandable if the couple hid away and took a break from the charitable work that is such a big part of their lives.

“Ben and Gaynor are coming out fighting and have big plans to help others in their situation”

But Ben and Gaynor are coming out fighting and have big plans to help others in their situation at the Halifax hospital, as well as raising awareness of what they term the “shocking” stillbirth statistics in the UK.

Recalling the moment, the couple found out their devastating news at a late-pregnancy scan, Ben says “the sonographer in the room started to go over the display screen moving her instrument around Gaynor’s stomach to check babies measurements. She left the room to bring in some colleagues to also have a look at the display of Kallipateira.”

“With less than two weeks to go until the due date, Kallipateira had no heartbeat. Our baby girl had died. Only hours before she was moving about inside as normal.”

The West Yorkshire couple were transferred to the bereavement suite at the hospital; a room with practical facilities such as a television, drinks-making equipment and even a display wall featuring the ocean, but also a room without natural light, lending it a gloom that weighed heavily considering the circumstances.

However, that is where they encountered a midwife called Jenny, someone Ben describes as “one of the kindest, most gentle and most heartwarming people we have met”. Jenny explained the procedure from then on, including the horrifying information that they would have to return two days later to give birth to their daughter.

Throughout the anguish of those early hours following the terrible news, Jenny supported them and promised to be there for the birth too. Kallipateira weighed 7lb 3oz and sported a full head of dark, black hair, and the couple were allowed to spend some time with her, to listen to Greek music with her and to sing to her before they finally had to say goodbye, physically at least. They will scatter her ashes off the coast of Rhodes later this year.

Ben and Gaynor cannot talk highly enough of the staff at Calderdale Royal, but they feel these angels of the NHS are being let down by their facilities.

An abiding memory of this most upsetting of times was, as they sat and grieved in the bereavement suite, the tell-tale sounds of a busy maternity ward. The unmistakable noises from the labour rooms and the cacophony of cries from the array of healthy newborns; sounds that were like a dagger to the heart of a couple reeling from their horrific experience. “Improvements are needed,” says Ben, “and the Head of Bereavement down there, Sarah, has been looking to build a new room for a number of years, but there has been no funding whatsoever.”

And this is the inspiration behind Ben’s next set of challenges. The couple are heading out again, this time with the hope of raising as much cash as possible to help Calderdale Royal Hospital improve its bereavement facilities. “On the 8th June we’re doing a Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge,” he says, “which will be open to family, friends and supporters, so everyone can come and join in for a change. We want it to have a real community feel. I’m hoping for more than a hundred people to join in and hopefully we’ll make a day of it.”

Whereas the Rhodes challenge last year was a feat of endurance, this first part of the fundraising effort in 2019 is more about the occasion for Ben. He’ll be walking up and down Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-yghent at the pace of the group, rather than trying to “knock a few hours off ” the ridiculously fast eight hours in which he managed them last year.

However, he’s not slacking off, there is another extreme challenge bubbling under, as is usually the case with Ben. In early July he will also take on the coast-to-coast walk from Morecambe to Bridlington. Not only is he attempting to complete the 125 miles on foot, he wants to do it within 48 hours. “There’ll be no rest”, he says, “I’m just going to get it done in one go with no sleep.”

“Not only is he attempting to complete the 125 miles on foot, he wants to do it within 48 hours”

The couple have set their sights high as well. “I think for the hospital, if we could raise £10,000, it would be a good start, but I want to raise more between £15,000 and £20,000, so they can once and for all take this room away from the normal labour ward.”

Ben also hopes to raise awareness of stillbirth, “most people think when your pregnancy goes past 20 weeks, you’re safe, but people need to be educated that this does happen, and the UK stillbirth rate compared to other countries is shocking.” The UK was found in a recent study to have a worse rate of stillbirth than almost all of the other 34 high-income nations featured.

“On average, there are nine babies being stillborn every day and most of these babies are fully developed and healthy. There’s no reason why parents like ourselves should be going through this in this day and age.”

In addition, he thinks that dads of stillborn babies don’t sometimes receive the support they need. “Everything seems to be based around mums only. Dads have to be strong, they are expected to go back to work immediately. They are still part of the family, and they do need to speak more about stillbirth and mental health in general.”

“There’s nothing wrong with people showing their emotions. People have said on numerous occasions that I must stay strong for Gaynor, but who’s going to stay strong for me whilst I’m trying to deal with my own grief?”

If you want to keep up to date with Ben’s challenges and find out how to donate to the cause visit facebook.com/stillbirthawarenessandfundraising

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