“My experience during childbirth was a nightmare in every sense of the word, or something like a horror movie,” said Wajiha al-Abyad, 29.
Her contractions started around 9 p.m. on October 29. “We called an ambulance, but they told us they couldn’t come. The streets were empty and dark, and there was no sound except that of planes and bombings.
After about 40 minutes, an ambulance arrived. He transported it at high speed through Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip. “Most of the streets were seriously damaged. I was stuck inside, struggling with contractions and shaking as the ambulance raced over ruined roads.
In Gaza, women, children and newborns disproportionately bear the burden of war, both in terms of casualties and reduced access to health services. The UN estimates that there are around 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza and that more than 160 babies are born every day.
In the space of a few weeks, Ms. al-Abyad’s life was turned upside down. She fled her home in Gaza City with several of her relatives on October 14, after the Israeli army ordered more than a million people to leave northern Gaza. She dreaded the idea of giving birth under these circumstances. “The tension and anxiety I felt was more painful than the contractions,” she said.
Since the start of the war, crossing points into Gaza have been closed, making it impossible for her husband in the United Arab Emirates to be by her side. Instead, his mother joined him in the ambulance.
Together, they went to Al-Awda Hospital in Nuseirat, about a 20-minute drive from their home. They noticed that the hospital’s maternity ward was no longer functioning: it had been redeveloped to treat a large number of war wounded.
“There was a lot of tension and shouting, and the doctors were under extreme pressure,” Ms al-Abyad said. “The patients were bleeding and they didn’t know what to do for them. »
Less than an hour later, Ms. al-Abyad gave birth to a baby boy named Ahmed. “Every five minutes there were bombings right outside the hospital, so close that mothers hid their newborns under their clothes, afraid the windows would break and the glass would fall on them,” he said. she declared.
“All I thought about was how am I going to leave? How will I get home?
Early the next morning, just hours after giving birth, she left the hospital with her mother and newborn. They walked the streets for more than three hours before she was finally able to stop a car. “I was just praying that we could reach our destination,” she said.
Palestinian health officials say more than 3,300 women and 5,000 children have been killed since the start of the Gaza war. The territory has been under siege since Hamas carried out attacks in southern Israel on October 7 that killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.
Bombings, massive population displacements, the collapse of water and electricity supplies – as well as restricted access to food and medicine – are seriously disrupting maternal, neonatal and child health care. About two-thirds of hospitals and primary care clinics in the Gaza Strip are no longer functioning, according to the UN. For weeks, Gaza Health Ministry officials have been warning of the collapse of the health system.
“The last time I was able to check on my baby’s health was a month before the war started,” said Noor Hammad, 24, who was seven months pregnant. “I’m very afraid of losing my baby.”
Ms. Hammad worked as a nutritionist before the war broke out. She fled her home in Deir Al-Balah after her apartment was bombed and now works as a volunteer nurse at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis for six hours a day. Like many Palestinians in Gaza, she drinks dirty water and eats small amounts of processed, canned food to survive. And she worries about the consequences for her unborn child.
“These meals have no nutritional value for me or my baby,” she says.
After giving birth, Ms. al-Abyad and her son Ahmed finally returned to the apartment in Deir Al-Balah where they live with her mother, her son Taim, aged 3, as well as her siblings, her aunt and cousins — about 20 people in total. She says that right now, Gaza is not a place to raise a newborn.
“We are trying to leave Gaza by any means possible,” she said. “I want to live in a safer place, where there is electricity, water and food. A place where children are respected.
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