A mum in Kirklees is helping other Muslim women who have gone through stillbirths and miscarriages by openly discussing her experiences online, raising money for charity, and providing a community chat group for women to talk about what they are going through.
Raheemah Makda, 29, was induced four months early with her first son, Ayaan, which means ‘Gift of God’ in September 2018, when she admitted herself to hospital after not feeling any movement from her child.
Mrs Makda said: “I was 22 weeks pregnant when I had my miscarriage. When I went in for my 20-week scan everything was normal. It was a shock when two weeks later the doctors said they couldn’t find a heartbeat. I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t supposed to be born until 30 January, but I gave birth to him in September.
“There was a bereavement midwife who went through some things with me but that was it. After that, we were left on our own and there was no support, there was no help.”
Mrs Makda said that talking about a child passing away is taboo within her community, that it is not mentioned and that people try and act as if nothing happened. It wasn’t until a friend – Asma, revealed that they had gone through a stillbirth too, the women decided to launch an Instagram page where they would write about their experiences as Muslim women who have gone through baby loss and try to help other women going through the same thing.
Sharing her traumatic experience Mrs Makda said: “Going through a miscarriage is quite traumatising, some days you felt numb but on other days like you’ve got it. It is natural to feel like this, which is why we decided to start talking about it. We started to get followers on Instagram and then we created a Whatsapp group where mums could talk about their journey, open up and help each other.
“It doesn’t have to be just Muslim mums who can join in the group chat, any mum who has gone through one of these experiences is welcome. Many of the mums I speak to mention that they feel more hurt through their grieving process as some of the people like friends or family members they have confided in disappear”.
According to the NHS, miscarriages are more common than people think. Among women who know they’re pregnant, it’s estimated about 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in miscarriage with many more miscarriages happen before a woman is even aware she has become pregnant.
A stillbirth is when a baby is born dead after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy. It happens in around 1 in every 200 births in England. Some stillbirths are linked to complications with the placenta, a birth defect or with the mother’s health. For others, no cause is found.
After receiving support through Children of Jannah, the first charity set up in the UK to help Muslim parents who have experienced the death of a child, Mrs Makda and her friend Asma decided to fundraise for the organisation, and raise money to pay for bereavement support packages to give to women through local hospitals.
The bereavement support packages or ‘hope packs’ include books on how to deal with stillbirths and miscarriages from an Islamic perspective, as well as a journal to write down the thoughts, feelings, and emotions, felt when going through the grieving process. Mrs Makda said: “I found the journal so therapeutic to write in. There is also a booklet in the hope packs called ‘Where is my child?’, which really helped me try to understand things better.”
Mrs Makda and Asma managed to raise over a massive £2,000 for the charity and gave out hope packs to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield and Burnley General Hospital.
Children of Jannah also offer a free and confidential hotline for parents who want to access advice over the phone, group meetings, downloadable resources and more to help people cope through the difficult time.
Three months before the pandemic hit in 2020, Mrs Makda gave birth to her “rainbow baby” Mohammad, who was born prematurely at 26 weeks, with most babies being born at 39 or 40 weeks.
Premature labour is labour that happens before the 37th week of pregnancy. with about 8 out of 100 babies being born prematurely.
Speaking candidly about her second son, Mrs Makda said: “I fell pregnant again and everything was going smoothly even after the 20-week mark.
“Six weeks later I had to have an emergency c-section and Mohammad was born, weighing half a bag of sugar at about 690 grams. It was traumatising, my baby was in an incubator in the NICU fighting for his life. He was on oxygen and had complications and for the first few days we were separated. He was in a hospital in Hull, where my husband stayed with him, and I was in Pinderfields with my side of the family recovering from the cesarean.
“I was back and forth pumping milk for him and after two days the doctors decided that I needed to be moved in an ambulance to Hull to be closer to him.
“The ward was open 24/7 for visiting but it was like two steps forwards and four steps back. I was told when I could hold him, that we couldn’t bathe him or dress him until the doctors say so.
“We were able to stay in Hull for over a month and then were transferred to a hospital in Calderdale where we were told we couldn’t stay with him and that was very tough, especially since I was still expressing milk.
“All the hospitals were very good though. There wasn’t any time to think, all we knew is that our baby needed to be healthy and come home. It wasn’t until we left the hospital after three months we realised what we went through and how Mohammad had come on after fighting for his life.”
One of the reasons why baby loss and babies that are premature isn’t talked about in the South Asian community is because it is seen as taboo, Mrs Makda says. “It is a closed subject in our community, no one is willing to open up because they think people will judge them or look at them differently. It could also be a pride thing, I’m not sure.
“It doesn’t matter if your child’s development is slower than others, it is not a race or a game. Due to the lack of knowledge about prematurity people often get confused when they ask about how old is your child and you tell them their age. Until they are two premature babies have their actual age which is their birthday and corrected age which consists of their development and milestones, My baby was born three months early and considering everything he has gone through, he is doing well and has reached his milestones earlier than expected.
Giving birth just before the first Coronavirus lockdown was announced in the UK, Mrs Makda went straight from the hospital into isolation with her premature baby.
She said: “It was a really traumatising three months and then the pandemic happened. I was looking forward to baby classes and taking him to the swimming pool and we couldn’t do any of that at the beginning. We had to be in isolation and our families had to visit our newborn through the window.”
Recognising the trauma that fathers go through when their partners have miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature babies is equally as important. Mrs Makda mentions “For men going through these things, it is so different. They tend to be forgotten. It is always ‘Is the mum ok? How is she coping?’ but nobody ever asks how the dads are doing, they are never mentioned. Women physically go through these things but the men go through it mentally and emotionally as well.
“Through my stillborn and premature baby, I don’t know what I would have done without my husband. He is my rock. When I couldn’t do something, like feed the baby a bottle, he was there. Not many men talk about these things, but it doesn’t mean that they are not going through it.
“If anyone is in the position has experienced having a stillborn, miscarriage, or premature baby there is support out there. Please don’t despair, have hope and never give up.”
Helen Holland, Bereavement Support Midwife at The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We’re extremely grateful for Raheemah’s donation. These resources are of great support to women in the Muslim community.”
If you, or anyone you know has had similar experiences as Mrs Makda, then support can be found on Mrs Makda’s Instagram page called @mystillborn_micropreemie.