Jo gave birth to her son Marty while on holiday in France in June 2022. Credit: Joanna Cook

Family’s bike marathon to honour premature baby boy who died on holiday in France

Jo and Mark Cook’s baby Marty was born at just 26 weeks and sadly died seven days later

A FAMILY will cycle 400 miles across France to fundraise for children’s charities and open up the conversation around losing a baby after their son, Marty, passed away last June.

Joanna Cook and her husband Mark lost their son Marty, who was just seven days old, after he was born prematurely on a holiday in France. Jo was 26 weeks pregnant.

Now, Jo and Mark, who live in Whitchurch, want to fundraise for children’s charities and share their story so families going through the same experience do not feel isolated.

Jo, Mark and their then one-year-old daughter Robyn arrived in France on Saturday, June 11, 2022, before travelling to Les Sables-d’Olonne. The next day, Sunday, was the first full day of their holiday.

Jo, 38, said: “I had a very normal day, I didn’t feel unwell or anything like that. I was 26 and a half weeks. On the Sunday night I started to feel what I assumed were Braxton Hicks contractions. I hadn’t had them with Robyn so I didn’t know what they felt like.”

As this continued for a while longer, Jo went to the hospital.

Jo and Mark only had a few minutes with Marty after he was born before he was flown by helicopter to a specialist unit in Nantes, roughly 50 miles away.

Jo gave birth to Marty while on holiday in France in June 2022. Credit: Joanna Cook

The family did not get to Nantes to see Marty again until the Tuesday evening. They were waiting for Jo to be transferred to the hospital as a patient before they could visit him.

Jo said: “It was all looking quite positive on the Tuesday night. We’d spoken to doctors and they were even talking about when he might be able to fly back to Cardiff which we just weren’t expecting at all.

“They said he was doing okay but then by the Wednesday they’d done a brain scan and said that he started to have a bleed on his brain and it was very much ‘we’re just going to have to see what happens’.

“Over the following days it just got gradually worse. The bleed continued, it was on both sides of his brain, it wasn’t slowing or stopping.”

Doctors told the couple that Marty was not going to survive the bleed on his brain and support would need to be stopped at some point.

“It got to the point on the Saturday where they said ‘actually, he will start to be in pain now’ which, obviously, we didn’t want,” Jo said.

After spending the Saturday night with Marty, Jo and Mark made the difficult to decision to stop his support.

An already heart-breaking week was made more difficult for Jo and Mark as they were away from home and their support networks.

Navigating the week with the language barrier was “quite scary at points”, according to Jo.

Jo recalled having conversations with doctors about very technical and emotional topics in French, using Google translate to communicate.

However, Jo praised the staff at the hospital in Nantes as everyone around them provided them with the best support. Both she and Mark were grateful that staff went above and beyond to help them care for Marty.

Jo and Mark’s daughter Robyn with Marty in France. Credit: Joanna Cook

Throughout the seven days, Jo and Mark’s support network started to travel to France, with Mark’s brother coming down on the Monday to help look after Robyn and support the family.

To raise money for the unit that cared for his son, Mark, 37, vowed to complete the cycle challenge and will be joined by three of his friends and Jo’s father.

The route will take him to the same port that the family arrived in last June. They will then head for Nantes, where Jo and Robyn will meet them, before finishing in Les Sables-d’Olonne.

Jo said: “He decided to pass through the cities and towns of significance.

“I think it’s always something he’d quite liked to do, cycling through France. As a place, Mark always used to go there on family holidays, we’d had quite a lot of holidays there together, we got engaged in Paris. It’s a place that’s got meaning for us.”

Over £20,000 has already been raised, which will be split between Noah’s Ark Tiny Lives Appeal, 2Wish Foundation and Nantes University Hospital Neonatal Care.

The cycling challenge will end a few days before Marty’s birthday and the family will re-unite.

Jo and Mark with their baby boy Marty in June 2022. Credit: Joanna Cook

After arriving back in the UK, Jo, a civil servant, took six months off work and started her blog, Marty Matters.

While her blog was initially set up to help explain the seven days to family members, it helped Jo with her isolation in the months that followed and allowed her to express what it feels like to lose a baby.

She said: “I was leaving shops because I saw someone I knew and I didn’t want to have to tell them. I think that’s not really how it should feel.”

However, Jo’s blog and Instagram page helped her realise that talking about her experience should not be a taboo topic and it allowed her to open up the conversation around baby loss.

“Obviously, the majority of the time, people have totally normal and fine pregnancies, like my first, but actually stuff like this happens to more people than you realise,” said Jo.

Jo wanted to share the blog to a wider audience to help others going through something similar. While sharing her experience more widely is sometimes nerve wracking for Jo, lots of people have read the blog and given good feedback.

“I got a bit more confident the more I was writing and the more people who were reading it I felt like ‘it’s out there now so let’s just share it’.”

Marty Matters has now been read more than 3,500 times.

  • You can visit Jo’s blog here to read more about her experience and Marty’s story
  • Donate to the fundraiser here