“My experience during childbirth was a nightmare in every sense of the word, or something like a horror film,” said 29-year-old Wajiha al-Abyad.
Her contractions began at about 9 p.m., on the 29th of October. “We called for an ambulance, but they told us they couldn’t come. The streets were empty and pitch-black, and there was no sound to be heard except for the noise of planes and shelling.”
It took about 40 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. The ambulance drove her through Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip at a high speed. “Most of the streets were badly damaged. I was stuck inside contending with contractions and jolts as the ambulance raced through ruined roads.”
Gaza’s women, children, newborns and other vulnerable groups are suffering disproportionately from the war. They suffer as a result of both the casualties and the reduced access to medical care. According to the U.N., there are approximately 50,000 women who are pregnant in Gaza and more than 160 newborns are born every day.
In the space of a few weeks, Ms. al-Abyad’s life had been turned upside down. On October 14, the Israeli military forced her and many of her relatives to flee their home in Gaza City. She feared giving birth to her child in such circumstances. “The tension and anxiety I felt were more painful than the contractions,” She said
Due to the closure of Gaza’s crossings, her husband, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, was unable to accompany her. Her mother instead joined her in an ambulance.
Together they reached Al-Awda Hospital Nuseirat – a 20-minute trip from their home. They found the hospital’s maternity ward was no longer functioning: It had been repurposed to treat the large numbers of war casualties.
“There was a lot of tension and screaming, and the doctors were under extreme pressure,” Ms. al-Abyad said. “Patients there were bleeding, and they didn’t know what to do for them.”
In less than an hour, Ms. al Abyad delivered a baby named Ahmed. “Every five minutes, there was shelling right outside the hospital, so close that mothers would hide their newborn babies under their clothes, afraid that the windows might shatter and the glass would fall onto them,” She said
“All I could think about was how will I leave? How will I go back home?”
She left the hospital the following morning with her mother, and their newborn son, just hours after she gave birth. After walking through the streets over three hours, she finally flagged down a vehicle. “I was just praying that we would reach our destination,” She said
Palestinian health officials claim that since the Gaza War began, more than 3300 women and 5 000 children have been murdered. Hamas has been waging attacks against southern Israel since Oct. 7, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,200.
The bombardment, massive levels of displacement, collapsing water and electricity supplies — as well as restricted access to food and medicines — are severely disrupting maternal, newborn, and child health care. About two-thirds of the Gaza Strip’s hospitals and primary care clinics are no longer functioning, according to the U.N. For weeks, Gazan Health Ministry officials have been warning of the health care system’s collapse.
“The last time I was able to check on my baby’s health was a month before the war started,” Noor Hammad, 24, is seven-months pregnant. “I’m very concerned that I might lose my baby.”
Ms. Hammad had been a nutritionist in the years before war began. After her apartment in Deir Al-Balah was bombed she fled and now volunteers as a nurse at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis. Like many Palestinians in Gaza, she’s drinking dirty water and eating small amounts of processed canned food to survive. She’s worried about the effects on her unborn child.
“These meals don’t have any nutritional value for me or my baby,” She says
After giving birth, Ms. al-Abyad and her son Ahmed finally made it back to the apartment in Deir Al-Balah where they are staying with her mother, her 3-year-old son Taim, as well as her siblings, aunt and cousins — around 20 people in total. She believes that Gaza, at the moment, is not a place where a baby can be raised.
“We’re trying to get out of Gaza any way we can,” She said “I want to be in a place that’s safer, where there’s electricity, water and food. A place where children are respected.”