EastEnders star Rakhee Thakrar on Shabnam’s traumatic stillbirth storyline – “All she wants to do is hold her baby”

"The news absolutely floors her. Her world has stopped," says the actress

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EastEnders star Rakhee Thakrar has revealed that Shabnam and Kush’s relationship will be put under strain after they lose their unborn child.

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“Kush and Shabnam’s relationship will be tested beyond all limits,” says the actress. “Grief can be very isolating and everyone handles it in their own unique way. Shabnam’s trademark coping mechanism is to shut everyone out. Which will inevitably cause problems with Kush. I hope they can recover – I think they’re a special couple who make it feel like things that seem impossible can be possible.”

Doctors are to tell Shabnam that her baby has died in emotional scenes to be broadcast next week. And for Thakrar, the responsibility of portraying Shabnam’s reaction as sensitively and accurately as possible become all important.

“My first reaction was sadness,” she continues. “I was told in a very sensitive way and when you know this is something that happens to parents every day, it’s hard not be moved. I then started to realise that I’m actually going to have to play this and the responsibility of telling this story truthfully started to become very clear. I also felt honoured to be given this storyline. It’s a very challenging story and I wanted to do it justice.”

Events look set to come to a head after Shabnam tells Masood that she can’t remember the last time she felt her baby move. Despite initial protestations about visiting the hospital, Shabnam will eventually seek medical help, only for midwives to fail to find a heartbeat. And after Shabnam finally decides to tell fiancé Kush about what’s going on, doctors give the couple the news they’re dreading.

“The news absolutely floors her. Her world has stopped and she knows nothing else at this point. Pretty soon, the guilt starts to settle in, hard and fast. It was her body, and even though it isn’t her fault, she feels she is to blame.

“There’s also anger, her world has stopped and people are still smiling, laughing, going to work, carrying on with their lives and she wants to scream at them all to stop. The sadness is devastating and all she wants to do is hold her baby.”

To aid her performance, Thakrar consulted stillbirth and neonatal charity Sands and found the research invaluable when it came to portraying Shabnam’s bereavement. 

“I did an immense amount of research – I felt a duty to do as much as I could,” she says. “I started with Sands, and in particular Erica Stewart, Sands’ bereavement support manager, who has been a huge part of this and was always on the end of the phone for any questions I had.

“I read many stories, articles, books, watched many mothers telling their stories online. I spoke to three amazing mothers about their experiences and their beautiful babies who died. Their emotional generosity was invaluable in order for me to play Shabnam’s story.”

Yet despite the traumatic nature of the scenes, Thakrar feels that the experience has only brought her closer to co-stars Davood Ghadami (Kush) and Nitin Ganatra (Masood). “This has been one of the most collaborative experiences I’ve had whilst working. Working with Nitin and Davood was special as we shared some moments in scenes that we will never forget.”

You can watch a 60-second rundown of next week’s episodes of EastEnders below.

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