Tommy’s: the baby charity

As the Christmas trees are slowly de-baubbled and brought down, and the festive lights that adorn homes, shops and streets are switched off and tucked away for another 11 months or so, I find myself reflecting about the commercialisation of the holidays. In 2017, I was one of the guilty ones who hit the Boxing Day sales from early morning on 26 December, on the hunt for anything and everything that I could buy for my adorable baby niece Ayzah. Considering that I am not fond of shopping – even for myself – at the best of times, this was a record-breaking feat for me. Of course it goes without saying that I consider it to be a demonstration of the pure love that I have for my darling little girl, whose every smile turns me into putty and every tear breaks my heart. But I digress.

The purpose of this post is to comment on how I try to mitigate my guilt over my contribution to festive capitalism. This year, I did not give out any Christmas cards or gifts. Instead, I made a donation to one of my regular charities – Tommy’s, the baby charity – which funds research into pregnancy problems to save babies’ lives. The work that Tommy’s does is particularly meaningful to me at this time each year, because it is around the anniversary of my Aleena’s passing. Aleena was still born due to foetal cardiac arrest only one week before she was due to enter this world. She is an angel in heaven and now has a little sister here on earth who will one day learn all about her big sister who is loved boundlessly beyond the realms of time and space.

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image source: http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/newborns/every-newborn/en/ (click to open full size in a new tab)

The statistics are eye-watering: 2.6 million babies (of those births that are recorded) die annually in the last 3 months of pregnancy or during childbirth (stillbirths) out of which 75% are preventable!* In the United Kingdom, 1 in every 224 births ends in a stillbirth – that’s 9 babies every day in the UK alone! Aleena was born in November 2015 in a country where healthcare (even the private kind covered by health insurance) leaves much to be desired. Poignantly, in January 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report consisting of a series of papers titled ‘The Lancet Series: Ending Preventable Stillbirth’ which  was developed by over 200 experts including staff from WHO and HRP (the UNDP/UNFPA/UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction). You can read a brief overview here. What is most damning is how the complications and dangers of stillbirth were absent from the Millennium Development Goals and are still missing in the Sustainable Development Goals. It is no wonder then, given this indifference at a global level,  that “stillbirths remain a neglected issue, invisible in (national or regional) policies and programmes, underfinanced and in urgent need of attention.”**

All this astounding disregard – despite a 2014 initiative by the WHO, called Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP), (endorsed by 194 member states of the United Nations!) which aims to reach the every newborn national 2020 milestones – led the WHO Director for Reproductive Health and Research in 2016 to comment:

“What is especially tragic about stillbirths is that they are largely preventable. We know key interventions such as syphilis treatment in pregnancy, fetal heart rate monitoring and labour surveillance have the potential to save around 1.5 million lives. The challenge is to deliver these within an integrated care package that extends from pre-pregnancy through delivery.”

Ian Askew, (World Health Organisation, January 2016)

A research project into national, regional, and worldwide estimates of stillbirth rates in 2015, with trends from 2000, concluded “Progress in reducing the large worldwide stillbirth burden remains slow and insufficient to meet national targets such as for ENAP.

Fortunately, some progress has been made, including the use of an ENAP progress tracking tool. A May 2017 report Reaching the Every Newborn National 2020 Milestones was released, which charted the roadmap of actions that now 48 countries have made towards addressing the issue of stillbirths as per eight strategic milestones. A really good poster summarising the ENAP country progress report can be found here. However, a lot still remains to be done.

Institutional-level initiatives, such as Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program have given rise to the the Healthy Newborn Network (HNN). HNN is an online community dedicated to addressing critical knowledge gaps in newborn health on a global scale. The information and resources available on its website can also be broken down country-wise.

Back to Aleena. Feeling devastated and helpless to support Aleena’s parents, at the time, I did the only thing I could – pray and offer words of solace. I didn’t know how else to support them across the continents. In desperation, I googled ‘stillborn support for parents’ and that is how I came across Tommy’s. The charity strongly resonated with me, because it not only funds medical research into the causes of premature birth, stillbirth and miscarriage; Tommy’s offers support to those parents who have lost a child soon after, as well as information for parents-to-be to help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

There are many ways to ‘give back’ during the year, but more so, during the holiday season. If you are looking for a cause to support for either an event, a fundraising activity, or you’d simply like to make a donation to a charity, I would highly recommend Tommy’s. You can donate directly here or through JustGiving. Read about some of the impact of the work that Tommy’s does here. Its research breakthroughs in stillbirths, pre-term births, miscarriages, and obsesity in pregnancy, mean that more babies globally will have a chance in the future.

*Kingdon, C., Givens, J. L., O’Donnell, E., and Turner, M. (2015). Seeing and holding baby: systematic review of clinical management and parental outcomes after stillbirth. Birth42(3), 206-218. You can read the research here.
**de Bernis, L., Kinney, M.V., Stones, W., ten Hoope-Bender, P., Vivio, D., Leisher, S.H., Bhutta, Z.A., Gülmezoglu, M., Mathai, M., Belizán, J.M. and Franco, L. (2016). Stillbirths: ending preventable deaths by 2030. The Lancet387(10019), 703-716. You can read a summary paper here.

NB: My blogger friends have advised that I point out this is not a sponsored post. I genuinely believe in Tommy’s work and that is what has compelled me to write about them.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2018

Oh, Earth!

This blog post has been inspired by Erhan Aqil Arif, the 8 year old son of dear friends of mine. Erhan wrote an eloquent poem about Earth, which he beautifully and smilingly illustrated (including a depiction of the little red planet Mars as well):

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Oh Earth – A poem by Erhan Aqil Arif (click on image for larger version to open in a separate window)

Oh Earth

Oh earth, such a beautiful planet.
Oh earth, you have big cities.
Oh earth, you have beautiful people.
Oh earth, you have beautiful, clean rivers.
Oh earth, you have boats that people can travel on.
Oh earth, you have different countries.
Oh earth, you are such a big planet that God created for me.

(Erhan Aqil Arif, Aged 8 years, January 2017)

Erhan’s poem made me reflect on two counts. The first being certain electoral events in 2016 that have resulted in political upheaval which is still rippling across the global arena in numerous respects; climate change being the primary focus of this post. Climate change pertains not just to global warming, as was the buzz term in the nineties and noughties; but to any changes and extremes (both hot and cold) in global or regional climate patterns as per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a concern so grave, that countries’ national interests have been threatened. Climate change has long been the subject of discussion as a collective action problem, a focus of celebrity cause for concern, and divested political campaigns. Sadly though, there is not much contemporary information available about children’s voice in the discussion about climate change, bar one now-defunct website for teachers about curricular activities on the subject; the 2009 Young Voices on Climate Change series; a 2014 UNICEF publication on ‘Climate Change and Children‘ and the odd scholarly article.  It is my hope that more authentic and unaffected poems such as Erhan’s, or other prose written by children about their regard for our precious planet Earth, make their way  into the minds and hearts of not just politicians and policy-makers, but the common man too, who can do his part – his little drop in the ocean – to tackle this grave issue.

The second manner in which Erhan’s poem made me reflect, was a result of Erhan’s maternal grandfather’s (his Nana’s) response to his poem. He wrote the following to his grandson in acknowledgement of his eloquent ode to Earth:

Oh Erhan, What a nice poem.
Oh Erhan,  What wonderful ideas
Oh Erhan,  keep writing
Oh Erhan,  be happy.
Oh Erhan, Nana is proud of you.

Stay blessed.

(Erhan Aqil Arif’s maternal grandfather, January 2017)

Now, I may be biased in the first instance, as Erhan is already very dear to me, when I say that I thought his poem was an excellent effort for an 8 year old, who articulately expresses the reasons why he loves the planet that he lives on. Of course, Erhan’s grandfather is also biased in his view of Erhan’s eloquence. However, the exchange above epitomises the experience that each and every child should have – the ability to express themselves, to have that expression be positively and well-received and to have future expression encouraged and supported. Erhan’s paternal grandmother too, showers him with love, support and encouragement. No matter what cultural backgrounds children come from, this manner of nurture is one that each and every child has a right to, and that they should receive, so that their self-esteem and self-confidence can be developed and enhanced during their precious formative years.

It is my hope that Erhan takes from this experience the lesson of how much value his thoughts and views, and indeed, his very existence has in this world. It is through children such as he – indeed, all children (proud Aunt alert!) including my beloved 3-month old niece Ayzah – that we adults can experience joy and positivity and follow through on emotive calls to action for a hopeful future.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

The Circle of Life

One of my mother’s oft-sermonised mantras relates to not judging people by appearances. “You never know what challenges and hardships, trials and tribulations their seemingly-carefree façades may be masking,” she’d often tell my brother and I, particularly during our formative years, as we  faced struggles of varying degrees and descriptions and would often turn to her, my Uncle and my grandmother in frustration and despair. And so, we persevered. We got knocked down, but we picked ourselves back up and were sustained by those who cared. Worries and complications still abound, but we endure.

What is most interesting to me today is the circle of life as it works its way around:

Where once my mother was our pillar, we are now hers.

Where once she was a source of courage and fortitude for us, we can now be hers.

Where once those who had but few words of care, kindness or comfort, have now the time and inclination to spout platitudes and bromides, and pose unsolicited, yenta-spirited counsel.

Where once a little acorn stood its ground, and from it grew a mighty oak tree… but where once a mighty oak heaved and burgeoned; is today felled and forlorn – all in tandem with the circle of life – the most chilling reminder of all!

But as ever, any karma-related discussion with my mother results in yet another oft-quoted reminder, “Gratitude and humility – these are the two things I want my children to have learnt from me. Do not gloat; do not compare yourself with others; and do not begrudge. Embrace your blessings. Success, wealth and fame are insignificant and ephemeral.”

So I leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King  which prompted today’s blog post, catalogued from his keynote address, ‘The Three Evils in Society,’ at the 1st Annual National Conference on New Politics in 1967: “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” – Martin Luther King Jr (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968).

 Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

Stories through pebbles

A few months ago I spent some time volunteering with Syrian refugees in Budapest, Hungary. The memory of the experience is forever imprinted in my mind. So much so, that whenever I come across news to do with the refugee crises, I am compelled to read it through the lens of someone who has spent hours talking with these brave souls about their unimaginable journeys from what were once their homes and safe havens.

I recently came across the work of a Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. Hailing from the historical Syrian port city of Latakia, Nizar’s latest works of art are based on  pebbles and stones found in his town of residence. A recent corpus of his work is based on the theme of the Syrian refugee crisis – a  situation quite literally close to his heart.

Nizar’s work “transmits the pain of the people who have to die, to suffer, to leave the country, but also… a hope for the revival of the country, the return of human values – love, home, family.” I believe his pieces of art speak louder than words; his work is painfully accurate in its portrayals of the emotions and physical tribulations that refugees have to endure.

The incredible power of Nizar’s wordless visualisations of human suffering and migration due to war are made even more poignant by the fact that they are made from Syrian pebbles and stones.  Nizar himself is a man of a few words, saying on his Facebook page, “”I love the dust and stones from Syria. My message is a humanitarian message.”

I leave you to absorb a few of his works.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

Grief

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

― Vicki Harrison

My heart is truly broken for two people very near and dear to me who have suffered the sudden and bewildering loss of their daughter a week before she was due to be born. How do you comfort someone whose loss is of such an intense magnitude that you cannot even begin to comprehend? What do you say? How do you grieve with them, and yet at the same time, try to be strong for them? Their pain and sense of loss is one that I share in but a small way. Sometimes, when I think of the little angel – Aleena – and her parents, the grief that I feel is a physical ache for me. And I am reminded of Helen Keller’s profound words, “All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

God bless you forever and ever darling Aleena, and may He keep you close to Him. As you frolic on the swings amongst the angels in the heavens (the way you did in my dream about you), know that you are loved beyond words and beyond the realms of time and space. God bless your parents too. May He bring them peace and courage in the knowledge that you are now their Guardian Angel watching over them every day until you meet again.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015