Losing a baby in pregnancy through miscarriage or stillbirth is still a taboo subject worldwide, linked to stigma and shame.
Many women do not receive appropriate or respectful care and support when their babies pass away and the time that follows, which is why Ambreen Kauser, 38, is changing this for women in the South Asian community in Bradford.
In February 2020, a mere few weeks before the pandemic shut virtually everything down across the country, and indeed across the world, Ms Kauser, and her now ex-husband, were told that they lost their child, a son, at six months.
Ms Kauser had to carry her third son for five more days before she could deliver their child at Bradford Royal Infirmary.
Since then, Ms Kauser has been open and honest about the loss of her child, and the impact that it has had on her family and relationships.
According to the NHS, a stillbirth is when a baby is born dead after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy, occurring in around 1 in every 200 births. If the baby dies before 24 completed weeks, it’s known as a miscarriage or late foetal loss.
Some stillbirths are linked to complications with the placenta, a birth defect or with the mother’s health. For others, no cause is found.
Research from De Montfort University found that South Asian and Black women were more likely to have pregnancy complications than white women.
The researchers found that South Asian and Black women living in the most deprived parts of England, such as inner-city Bradford, experience the largest inequalities in pregnancy outcomes with 12% of stillbirths attributed to ethnic inequality.
They found that if South Asian women in deprived neighbourhoods, half of stillbirths could be avoided if these women lived in white, affluent areas.
Co-author of the research published in the Lancet, Professor Jan van der Meulen from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “There are many possible reasons for these disparities.
“Women from deprived neighbourhoods and black and minority ethnic groups may be at a disadvantage because of their environment, for example, because of pollution, poor housing, social isolation, limited access to maternity and health care, insecure employment, poor working conditions, and stressful life events.
“National targets to make pregnancy safer will only be achieved if there is a concerted effort by midwives, obstetricians, public health professionals and politicians to tackle the broader socioeconomic and ethnic inequalities.”
In 2020, there were 2,429 stillbirths (167 fewer than 2019) in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Despite the gloomy weather storm Eunice brought about, it didn’t stop Ms Kauser, her two sons, Haaris, 12, and Aayan, 16, her friend Leanne, and ex-sister-in-law, Jade, visiting Scholemoor Cemetery, where her son lays at rest, for a balloon-releasing ceremony on the two-year anniversary of losing her little one, Aydin Suleman Israr.
Asian Standard caught up with Ms Kauser at Kunafa Tea on Thornton Road to talk to her about the importance of removing the stigma attached to losing a child through a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Ms Kauser said: “It has been two years since I lost my son, it happened just before the pandemic.
“We need to talk about how people are not having a conversation about stillbirths and miscarriages. I carried my son for six months and then I lost him, there was no support network in our community.
“There is support from outside organisations and nurses but within families and in our community, people think it is a taboo subject to talk about because the baby wasn’t brought into the world, people don’t think it is relevant.
“The emotions are very real; we start planning the minute we conceive and know that we are expecting.”
When the couple lost their baby two years ago, Ms Kauser took to social media to share her story and experiences with giving birth to a stillborn child which resonated with “around 350 people”, she said.
“Behind the scenes, a lot of women have come to me and told me that they have found it difficult to have conversations surrounding stillbirth and miscarriages with their family, even women in my own family and close friends.”
One of the reasons why Ms Kauser adamantly believes that parents, specifically women, should talk about the loss of their child is to alleviate depression and bad mental health.
She said: “We need to start having these conversations. Losing a baby can spiral people, like me, into depression. It is important to talk because that child existed, whether it was a stillbirth at a full term or even a miscarriage.”
Being around friends that helped pull Ms Kauser out of depression and look at her experience in a positive way, helped her immensely.
She added: “In my darkest, darkest days, my friend Leanne, helped me. Some people didn’t know how to deal with it and omitted themselves from the situation. Leanne helped pulled me out of my depression and suffering.
“For me, suffering was being on my own, not having the support I needed, understanding the stillbirth and the loss of my son. I not only had a stillbirth, but I had to carry my son for five days before I was allowed to deliver.
“It is a really dark place to be but having a positive mindset really does work. A lot of people say I’m strong, but it is the people around you that make you strong, some of the people around you, can make you weak.”
Like many from the South Asian community, Ms Kauser found it difficult to speak to her family about her stillborn child. “It is difficult to have a conversation around stillbirths and miscarriages with family, perhaps it is that element of respect or because you have never had these kinds of talks before,” she said.
Another one of the reasons why people in the South Asian community often do not speak about baby loss within pregnancy is because they do not see babies who have not entered the world as a loss, Ms Kauser said.
She said: “I can’t speak for everybody out there, but a lot of people do not see miscarriages or stillbirths as the loss of a child.
“I was unconditional mother to him; his father was an unconditional father to him. I didn’t think about his development, he was just our son.
She added: “I’m one of the thousands if not millions of women who have experienced a loss but the fact that I was able to speak up about it in the community that I am in has made women come forward to me and tell me that they want to share their feelings with families.
“If it takes one woman, one sister, or somebody’s husband or partner to stop and be able to communicate about the loss of the child and feel listened to, then that will make all the difference for me.”
The NHS has set a target of halving stillbirth and neonatal death rates and reducing levels of premature birth, by 25 per cent by 2025.
When Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease at BRI, Ms Kauser has been invited by the head midwife at the hospital to volunteer and help other women from her community talk about their experiences with losing a child during pregnancy.
If you need help or support with the death of a baby, before, during or shortly after, you can visit Sands, a charity that offers bereavement support to parents, family, and carers with the loss of a baby.