Coronavirus robbed one MK mum of those precious first moments with her new baby. In fact, Shamshad didn’t meet her daughter for a whole two months.
But it could have been so much worse were it not for the sterling efforts of doctors at Milton Keynes Hospital.
The pandemic has been a traumatic time for most of us in one way or another. Worrying about loved ones, financial fears, job uncertainties and the many knock-on effects have been unsettling at best, devastating at worst.
But finding yourself pregnant? Like any mum-to-be during lockdown, there was a little bit of expected trepidation, but mostly it was a chance to look forward with positivity – a chance to focus on something wonderful, writes Sammy Jones.
And that’s how it was for Shamshad Begum and her husband.
The couple already have two daughters aged nine and 11, and news of the pregnancy buoyed the family who began preparing their Wolverton home for the arrival of their new addition.
And then everything changed in an instant when Shamshad, 44, tested positive for Coronavirus during a routine hospital appointment.
Aside from feeling a little out of sorts, which she attributed to the pregnancy, there was no indication that she had the virus, or of the drama that was set to follow.
Doctors at Milton Keynes Hospital decided to admit Shamshad to hospital immediately to monitor the baby.
“She went straight to a ward and into isolation,” Shamshad’s brother Zaheer said, “It wasn’t what we expected or hoped for, of course, but it was a precautionary measure and we thought everything would be fine, aside from the inconvenience of a stay in hospital.”
But the virus quickly tightened its grip; Shamshad’s condition worsened, her breathing became a struggle and she needed ventilation.
Concerned for the life of her unborn child who was worryingly dehydrated, doctors made the decision to proceed with an emergency caesarean of the baby, six weeks early.
Two days before Christmas, baby Shifa was born, weighing just four pounds. She was tended to by staff in the neonatal unit while her mother was placed in a coma in intensive care.
As a family we were all helpless – not being able to see each other or visit the hospital because of covid regulations was understandable, but so difficult. We sought solace in patience and prayer,” Zaheer said.
“Shifa had a rocky start, but was thankfully free of the virus, and she received exceptional care by staff.”
Three weeks after her birth, the family battled mixed emotions as Zaheer’s brother Mohammad took her home while their sister was still battling in the hospital.
“While the baby slowly went from strength to strength after a rough start which was great news, we were acutely aware of my sister’s situation – she was unconscious for such a long time and the severity of it was awful,” he recalled, “There was a month or so when she was under and there was just no change. We are a close family and all we could do was pull together and keep focused. If you think negatively it is too easy to go down a black hole, and I couldn’t let that happen,” Zaheer said.
After nearly five weeks, the family received the news they had longed to hear – Shamshad was awake.
“It was a huge relief when she finally woke up, but she was still too poorly to meet her daughter so we had placed pictures of her baby girl around her bedside.
“Very slowly she got better and was able to come off the ventilator but it was a long process,” Zaheer admitted.
As Shamshad continued her recovery, the family would video-call her, so that she could see her growing daughter.
Finally, eight weeks after giving birth, mum and baby got to meet for the first time.
“It was incredibly poignant when my sister was finally able to cradle her new child,” Zaheer said, “The hospital staff and the team at the charity Emily’s Star were amazing and I can’t speak highly enough of them for all they did to look after and support my niece, my sister and my family through this whole ordeal, which is why we felt it was so important to share our story and pay tribute to their life-saving work.”
The story is a stark reminder, not that one is needed, of the severity of Coronavirus: “I had no underlying health conditions, and it was very, very dangerous for me. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I had to for the sake of an injection,” Shamshad said, “When you are offered it, I would advise anyone to go and get vaccinated.”
Shamshad isn’t yet strong enough to walk, but importantly, she is home and she is on the mend.
And thankfully her daughter will have no memory of the drama she went through. But her name will serve as a permanent reminder of the battle she faced before birth, and the fight her mum endured.
“Shifa was on a list of potential baby names, but she couldn’t be named until my sister woke up and made the decision, so she spent the first few weeks of her life nameless! Shifa means ‘healing’ in Arabic which seems particularly apt all things considered.
“Having my sister and niece back at home where they belong truly is a blessing – now I have another girl in my life who will soon be able to wind me up and I couldn’t be happier!” Zaheer smiled.
During baby Shifa’s time on the neonatal ward at Milton Keynes Hospital, her family was supported by the Milton Keynes based charity, Emily’s Star.
The support network grants wishes to families who have a child or children with life limiting or life threatening illnesses and also provides neonatal boxes to Milton Keynes Hospital’s neonatal unit.
To date, they have issued more than 7000 boxes. It’s an incredible achievement, and testament to the charity’s founder, Katie Mainwaring, who runs Emily’s Star with just one other member of staff, and a team of invaluable volunteers.
Katie’s daughter Emily was born with Trisomy 18 syndrome and tragically passed away at just 26 days old.
Setting up Emily’s Star in memory of her daughter gave Katie a purpose during the most traumatic of times, and ensures that Emily’s legacy continues.
“It gave me a reason to keep going and kept Emily’s memory alive,” Katie told Pulse, “It’s my way of being her mum.”
The charity does incredible work, but it starts with the most simple, and important, of goals: “It is my aim that no baby is born without clothes that fit, no matter how small they may be,” Katie says, “Every baby deserves their own clothes.”
To learn more about the charity, to donate, or to offer your services as a fundraiser visit emilysstar.co.uk