Tineke Harris

From one mother to another

on 22 January 2013

I recently returned from maternity leave. I am now the proud mother of an adorable daughter. However, the process of becoming a mother was by no means easy. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with a rare condition which endangered my baby’s life and meant that the birth had to be artificially induced. Once my daughter was born, I had to be rushed to the operating theatre for an emergency procedure. And then, after several more nights in hospital, followed the exhausting first few months with a new baby: the sleep deprivation, the struggle to get to grips with breastfeeding, my own fragile post-natal health and the sheer panic of suddenly being responsible for a tiny little person all made for a bewildering experience.

Thankfully, I had enormous amounts of support to help me through my pregnancy, birth and those first few months with my new baby, both from my husband, wider family and from multiple medical professionals. I also have a fully stocked shop selling baby supplies 300 metres from my flat. As a result, I was able to concentrate on the joys of motherhood and could mostly forget about the stresses.

I wish that 25-year-old British mother Khadija Shah could say the same, as she gave birth to and then cared for her baby daughter Malaika. But Khadija and Malaika are in one of the worst prisons in the world in Pakistan, where life threatening conditions like TB are rife. Khadija, a very vulnerable young woman, was arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of drug trafficking when she was already heavily pregnant. Despite this, she was astoundingly denied bail. She has now given birth and remains in prison with her newborn baby. If Khadija is found guilty, she could be executed.

I find it difficult to imagine what life must be like for Khadija. She is utterly alone on the other side of the world in a foreign jail. Unlike me, she cannot share the burden of parenting with her baby’s father. She cannot have her own mother come over to help out for a week. Neither she nor Malaika receive any of the basic medical care that my daughter and I received back in the UK. I am not sure if Khadija is able to breastfeed in prison (which is generally not physically possible if the mother is under any stress) but I also doubt she would have access to sterilising equipment, bottles or formula milk. She cannot run to the shop around the corner when she runs out of nappies. No handy slings or buggies for Khadija - when she has to go for court hearings, she has to carry Malaika in her arms the whole time.

And, of course, overhanging it all, is the threat that Khadija will be found guilty of drug trafficking, sentenced to death and executed. Surely no new mother – and no newborn baby - deserves this

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