A Peckham couple who three months ago were mourning their baby daughter’s stillbirth have found courage from their grief, and are now cycling their way from Canada to California for charity.
Andy and Michelle Cottle felt traumatised when their little girl’s life was “snatched away” from them, before it had even begun.
Everything leading up to the 37th week of Michelle’s pregnancy had run smoothly. But it was the eleventh hour when their midwife confirmed the worst of any parent’s fears.
On May 3, Michelle, 34, gave birth to her stillborn daughter, Orla.
“Within moments,” Michelle said, “everything we had been lovingly hoping and preparing for was snatched away from us. It’s as though our whole world came crashing down around our ears.
“To find out your baby has died is completely and utterly devastating. Nothing could ever prepare you for the shock, trauma and desolation you feel when you are told ‘I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat’.”
Amidst the heartbreak came a search for answers; a need to “find some sort of meaning out of the tragedy”.
Then, just four days after their return from hospital, the brave couple set up a fundraising page for the charity Sands (Stillbirths and Neonatal Deaths).
Today, Andy is speeding down the spine of the US on his bike, on an eight-week 2,000 mile ride from Vancouver to San Diego to raise £10,000 for Sands.
They set off in August 15, with Michelle driving beside her husband in a support vehicle.
Andy, 44, said his only training had been “cycling to work” and “a couple of three-day cycle trips in France and Wales”.
“The scenery really helps with the motivation – as does thinking of Orla and why we are doing this.
“I’m doing no more than four days, then having one day off and averaging around 55 miles a day. We are staying in motels. Food is never a problem in the States as the portions are huge.”
The couple say they were shocked by what little is known medically about the causes of stillbirths.
“We have learnt that it’s mainly through the work of charities such as Sands that research is being done to try and understand why this happens,” said Michelle, a psychologist.
“This was a real motivator for us to share ours and Orla’s story.
“We spent a lot of time researching stillbirth – looking at the terrible rates that the UK has. Around seventeen babies will die every day in the UK [within four weeks of birth]. Nearly two thirds of all full-term stillbirths are classified as ‘unexplained’.
“To not be able to have an answer as to why your child died is horrific.”
Two-hundred-and-four sponsors have donated over £8,000 since their JustGiving launched on May 7. Visit www.justgiving.com/orla-cottle to donate to the couple’s cause.