Local mum Anita Raja will appear alongside TV star Ben Fogle in a new film about the life-saving research of charity Tommy’s, airing on BBC1 this Saturday having sadly found herself among the 1 in 4 parents who personally experience baby loss.
Former Pakistan Television presenter Anita, 36, is now a GP in Yardley Wood – as well as being a mum of two, thanks to Tommy’s, the UK’s biggest charity funding research into why pregnancy goes wrong and how this can be prevented. After meeting her husband Nadir at medical school, the couple had a smooth pregnancy with their now 7-year-old son Nirvan but were then shocked to experience multiple miscarriages. In 2017 they were devastated by a particularly painful loss when Anita was 21 weeks pregnant, which led them to seek expert help from Tommy’s recurrent miscarriage clinic at Birmingham Women’s Hospital.
When they found out they were expecting again last year, their already high-risk pregnancy was made even more stressful by Covid-19; as well as having to attend hospital appointments alone, Anita was seeing patients in her GP surgery until 4 days before she gave birth to help the NHS cope with the pressures of the pandemic, while gastroenterologist Nadir was redeployed to intensive care in the fight against the virus. Extreme anxiety meant the couple kept their pregnancy a secret from almost everyone and say they couldn’t have survived without the reassurance and support of the Tommy’s team. Fortunately, their baby boy Rumi arrived safely in August 2020 and has been thriving ever since.
Anita said: “3 years ago, holding my new baby in my arms seemed an unattainable desire, a fairytale. I strongly believed that I wouldn’t make it – or even if I did, I’d never be my normal self again. Without Tommy's support, I’m not sure how bereaved mothers like myself would be able to face yet another uncertain pregnancy full of tribulations and distress.
“The whole process became so traumatic, physically and psychologically, I don’t know how I didn’t have a breakdown. I remember worrying about my unborn baby’s safety every single day. The pandemic, the lack of loved ones around you… I was lonely and the uncertainty really was scary. I am indebted and grateful to Tommy’s, and my research nurse, Oonagh; I couldn’t have imagined surviving those painful months without knowing I was under the care of the best clinicians.” Tommy’s has specialist research centres across the UK, such as the Birmingham clinic where Anita was a patient, where its ground-breaking studies are put into practice to make pregnancy safer for parents at risk of losing their babies.
Professor Alexander Heazell, who leads the Tommy’s team in Manchester and also appears in the new BBC film, explained: “For many years, the idea of baby loss as ‘one of those things’ meant no one asked why; that left us starting from basics, so research has a lot of catching up to do in comparison with other areas of medicine. In a way, the taboo is similar to that surrounding cancer 50 years ago – without discussion of signs and symptoms, people didn’t come forward early enough to save lives. Lifting that taboo is critical.”
Other families who share their heart-breaking stories alongside Anita in the new BBC film include broadcaster and author Ben Fogle and his wife Marina, who sadly experienced a miscarriage in 2008 and lost their son Willem to stillbirth in 2017. Like Anita, their personal tragedies led them to Tommy’s, and they’re all encouraging others to support the charity’s lifesaving work.
Ben commented: “1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth – and shockingly, most parents never find out why. The truth is that so much pregnancy loss could be prevented, but we need more research to improve care; that’s why I’m a huge advocate for Tommy’s and it’s a charity very close to my heart. Across the UK, Tommy's dedicated researchers, doctors, nurses and midwives are finding causes and treatments to save babies’ lives. More research will make pregnancy safer and healthier for everyone and save babies’ lives. Together, we can make it happen.”
Marina added: “I was lucky to survive the placental abruption that killed my son. While trying to recover emotionally and physically, I found exercising really cathartic, which is how I ended up running a half marathon for Tommy’s. As soon as I heard their ground-breaking research was already having a significant effect on saving babies’ lives, I had to get involved. I hope my support for Tommy’s will ensure that my children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren will become parents in a world where baby loss is extremely unlikely to affect them in the way it has me.
Opening up about their experience of baby loss, Marina went on: “I was 33 weeks pregnant when I suddenly fell ill. At the hospital, I started bleeding heavily, so I was rushed in for an emergency caesarean. Our son Willem was stillborn. Initially, I was in shock and very ill; I met our son, I held him, but I was feeling very numb. It was three or four days later that the tears came. It was incredibly sad, the realisation that the baby we’d prepared for was never coming home. It comforts me to know that, thanks to Tommy’s other families will not have to experience the heartbreak we did.”
The film will be repeated on BBC2 and available to watch all month on iPlayer.