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It’s hard to get a feel for why people feel you are ‘inspirational’. My first thought was “I wouldn’t be nominated for this if my son hadn’t died!” When your baby dies, all control is ripped away from you, you’re left scrambling just to breathe, let alone even put one foot in front of the other. Surviving is what every single bereaved parent does – and that’s inspirational in itself. Surviving the loss of your baby is the biggest challenge any parent could ever face. But losing your baby and keeping on going doesn’t mark you out, not in this community, not when you’re shortlisted against these incredible dads. It’s just the bare minimum.
So what makes any bereaved parent ‘inspirational’? Well, I don’t think any of us set out to be that. We just set out to get through our grief – not get over it, just get through it. Then we just set out to make things better for people, to give something back.
Our son Henry was stillborn at 38 weeks on 2nd May 2014. Two days before everything was fine, and then our entire world caved in. As the days passed, I reached out to Our Angels, and came to get to know some of the most wonderful, caring, and inspirational parents you could ever wish not to meet. I knew when I reached out to them that I needed to feel ‘normal’. I needed to know that people go through this, that people survive, that they come out the ‘other side’.
What I discovered, as time went on, was that you don’t come out the ‘other side’ of baby loss. You just learn to live with a ‘new normal’. What I realised quite early was that I wanted to give back. To try and improve this situation for other parents going through this. To try and improve the care provided to these parents. Most importantly, to try and make a real contribution to preventing parents having to start on this journey in the first place.
So the first Our Angels meeting we attended was July 2014. By the end of that meeting, I had agreed to take on the responsibility of getting Our Angels Registered Charity status. In April 2015, just before Henry’s first birthday, Our Angels became Registered Charity 1161714. I threw myself into fundraising and awareness raising. Our Angels as a registered charity went from strength to strength. We pressed on with this work despite my wife Briony being diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2015.
Chris is such an inspirational Father, his total commitment to raising awareness of baby loss and organising so much training for healthcare professionals is amazing, he gives up so much time travelling around the country, telling his own story of the tragic loss of his son Henry and the journey him and his lovely wife Briony are going through.
He has taken our charity to an amazing level, helping so many people.
Diane Kelly, Our Angels
In the summer of 2015, I took on a 75-mile canal walk from London to Northampton with some friends who work for Barclays in Leeds, raising £7,000, as well as numerous other fundraising challenges and awareness events that have raised many thousands of pounds. The fundraising is vital as it provides the resource to enable us to really set about making a change, but I truly believe the key is what we do with the money once we’ve raised it, and what we do with the platform once we’re given it.
As 2016 began, I was approached to present at the launch of NHS England’s Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle. I’d always been quite open in conversation about our experiences, but standing up in front of a room filled with 250 maternity professionals seeking to motivate and inspire them to save babies’ lives was a whole different level of openness – a huge challenge. Nothing could have been more rewarding however, than influencing maternity professionals to bring about practical change that would lead to babies’ lives being saved.
At the end of the day, the organisers from NHS England gave each delegate a post-it note and asked them to sum up the day in a single word. Fiona from NHS England came over to me as we were packing up excitedly waving a post-it note. I cannot begin to explain the sense of pride I felt in my son to see that someone had summed up the entire day that was aimed at launching a major new national stillbirth reduction initiative simply with the word ‘Henry’.
Since then I’ve been privileged to present to thousands of midwives, other maternity professionals, and members of the public, sharing our story and discussing the different aspects and challenges of both improving bereavement care and reducing stillbirth rates/prevention. I’ve presented at midwife/student midwife study days in Sheffield, Salford, Bolton, Harrogate, and Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle initiatives in Manchester, Birmingham, Kendal, and Liverpool.
I also spearheaded and organised Our Angels’ first ever conference on baby loss, co-hosted with the University of Bradford Midwifery Society in February 2017. We ensured that this full day of training provided by clinicians, midwives, researchers, Sands representatives, and most importantly parents, was provided completely free to nearly 400 midwives and student midwives. In addition to organising this event, I also presented on the day as well.
“Chris speaks candidly and transparently about Henry’s death and birth, yet with such love, and in a way that both uplifts and inspires the listeners. In order to make changes to practice, midwives and student midwives MUST be INSPIRED; and Chris does just that whilst creating a legacy in his son’s memory. He totally deserves recognition for his efforts.
Gemma Brice, Vice-President, University of Bradford Midwifery Society 2016-17
Much of the social media response (using the hashtag #bradfordbabyloss) from the event can be found in this collection put together by the University of Bradford, but included feedback such as:
“@OurAngelsHG1 @ChrisBinnie9 #henry #bradfordbabyloss a privilege to hear Henry’s story”
“@OurAngelsHG1 @ChrisBinnie9 such an inspirational human, you really are! #bradfordbabyloss #Henry”
“A privilege to hear Henry’s story. Don’t forget the dads. @OurAngelsHG1 @UoBMidSoc #bradfordbabyloss #newnormal”
“@UoBMidSoc Chris Binnie from Our Angels charity shares his story about son Henry – ‘The day our world changed’ #bradfordbabyloss #courage”
“#bradfordbabyloss @ChrisBinnie9 tells us better standards will make difference please remember the father as he will be falling apart too”
“Literally had the best and most emotional day of my midwifery journey so far. So many brave, inspirational parents #bradfordbabyloss”
Education of professionals is SO important – not just to ensure that they provide compassionate care following the loss of a baby, but also to ensure that they reflect on their practice and do everything in their power to help babies arrive safely, reducing the amount of bereavement care needed. I feel incredibly strongly about this, and I hope that my work in this field, sharing our story and helping to educate can really inspire a sea-change in these aspects of care.
Being a bereaved mother and a midwife, I have seen how both sides of this journey need supporting and Chris absolutely gets this. He works tirelessly to support those who are bereaved and those who are providing the care.
Chris will never stop striving for more in the memory of his beautiful boy. I am so proud to call him my friend and I am truly in awe of how committed he is in helping those going through baby loss, those watching someone going through baby loss and those providing care during baby loss.
Kirsty Nguyen, Holly’s mum
To that end I was recently the driving force behind Our Angels’ decision to invest nearly £10,000 to fund MAMA Academy safer pregnancy Wellbeing Wallets for a year for every expectant mum in Bradford, Harrogate, York, and Scarborough. We are also exploring the possibility of extending this to some other trusts in Yorkshire. Education does not stop with midwives, or maternity professionals, or even with students. Education has to include parents. These wallets provide a phenomenal, user-friendly and easily accessible source of information for pregnant mums and those around them, and I am hugely proud that we are able to provide these wallets (which have a proven track record at reducing stillbirth rates) for around 13,000 pregnant mums over the next 12 months.
But educating maternity professionals and parents isn’t enough – we must go further still. Everyone in this community is well aware of the incredible taboo and stigma surrounding baby loss, and the sense of isolation from society felt by bereaved parents when they need support the most. So we have to educate wider society too.
So I have also been involved in Q&A sessions following the cinema screenings of the incredible stillbirth documentary Still Loved all over the north of England, and have been heavily involved in promoting this stunning piece of work. This documentary does a brilliant job of explaining to those who aren’t living this ‘new normal’ the journey parents go on. I’m proud to have been involved with these screenings, with raising funds for this film, and with being part of the push to get one of the major TV networks to screen it. To that end I posted on social media to promote a petition to get Still Loved screened on the BBC, a post which received over 1000 comments, 2.5k responses, and over 3.6k Facebook shares, and was partly responsible for a mindblowing 20,000 signatures in the days that followed.
Educating society means educating those people and organisations that influence society too. So when in May 2016, the BBC drama In the Club broadcast outdated and inaccurate information about reduced fetal movements, something needed to be said. So I drafted a letter to the BBC’s Director for Editorial Policy and Standards which was co-signed by, amongst others, representatives of Tommy’s, SANDS, NCT, the Perinatal Institute, Birthrights, the Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre, King’s College London, and the Royal College of Midwives. The BBC agreed on the back of this letter to liaise directly with the RCM for expert input on future midwifery based programmes, which hopefully will reduce the incidences of inaccurate and dangerous false information being broadcast.
The commercial world also needs to understand the irrevocable grief experienced by parents following the loss of a baby. It came to my attention that the well-known pregnancy/birth company Emma’s Diary was still contacting bereaved mums via email even after they had repeatedly unsubscribed from their e-mailing list. Following my putting much pressure on them, their internal investigations discovered that their ‘unsubscribe’ system was not fit for purpose and was only unsubscribing users from some of their emails, not all. Following this discovery they committed to a complete overhaul of their system for people to unsubscribe from their communications, and to streamline the process to simplify it for parents, especially those seeking to end communication following the devastation of a bereavement. Hopefully this has made life easier for other bereaved parents.
In the last few months, I’ve also started writing a blog documenting our journey following Henry’s death, to help those who haven’t experienced this loss have a window into the world we bereaved parents all know only too well. The blog is called Pine Cones and Study Days, as it aims to document the two parts of our journey – Pine Cones for the parenting part of our journey (pine cones have become our symbol for Henry as he is buried under a pine tree) and Study Days for the campaigner/educator/change activist part of our journey.
I’ve also established an online support network for smaller charities in the baby loss sector to come together, collaborate and network, the Alliance of Baby Loss Charities (ABC). In the last few weeks, we have expanded this to create a closed Facebook group for maternity professionals (and enlisted the help of other amazing bereaved parents and bereavement midwives) specifically focused on bereavement care, to give them a safe and secure environment to ask their questions, share their fears, discuss their experience, and understand the issues – which can be found here. It currently has approaching 250 members and is growing every day.
Chris is one of the strongest men I have ever had the pleasure to meet. This man is not only inspirational to myself, but to hundreds of other people in this ‘community’.
Chris puts his heart and soul in to helping people. He doesn’t only aid those on this journey on a personal level, but he is one of the very few who will actively try and help people set up new organisations and charities.
Natalie Oldham, Founder, Otis & Friends
It’s a wonderful honour to have been nominated and shortlisted for this award. Every parent walking this path is inspirational just for being able to get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other. All the people on this shortlist, and indeed all those who were nominated (and those that weren’t), are truly amazing mums and dads, all deserving of recognition in their own right.
Is what I’ve done and am doing inspirational? Some people seem to think so, which is truly humbling. To me, it’s just my way of helping others on this tragic journey, and of hopefully stopping some other parents from walking in these same uncomfortable shoes that we have come to know only too well over the last three and a half years.
And it’s about leaving a legacy for my son. We don’t get to be parents to Henry in the conventional way, so we have to find a different way to do it. All I can hope is that, wherever he is now, that he’s looking down on us and that we’re doing him proud. That’ll never be enough, but it’ll always be the foundation stone for all of this.
#breakthesilence #savingbabieslives #saytheirname #stillBORN #stillloved #ourangels #pineconesandstudydays
What Others Have Said:
“In order to make changes to practice, midwives MUST be INSPIRED; and Chris does just that whilst creating a legacy in his son’s memory. He totally deserves recognition for his efforts.”