As Gaza Burns, Pregnant Women Share The Stark Reality Of Living In A War Zone

"The fear of giving birth during this war haunts my every waking moment. What if I can’t reach a hospital when the time comes?"
Getty/HuffPost/Chris McGonigal

As the Israel-Hamas war rages on, thousands of innocent people are caught in the middle, desperately trying to continue their lives while the city of Gaza is destroyed around them and access to basic necessities becomes scarce.

Amira*, 35, has five children and is currently seven months pregnant. She and her family were forced to flee their home in the first week of the war as bombs hit Gaza – a retaliation from Israel after Hamas militants stormed a music festival in the country, killing thousands and taking over 240 people hostage.

Amira and her family haven’t been able to return home since and have had to move shelter five times already. “My biggest fear haunts me every day – giving birth during the war,” she says.

“Hospitals are overcrowded, unsafe, and targeted by bombings. I met a woman in one of the shelters who shared her horrifying story of delivering and the hospital was bombed. I’m terrified that they might bomb the hospital or the shelter while I’m giving birth.”

Most recently, Israeli forces reportedly raided the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where thousands of people have taken shelter, sparking fear among doctors, patients and displaced people.

In these health facilities, damaged water and sanitation systems and dwindling cleaning supplies are making it almost impossible to maintain basic infection prevention and control measures, according to the World Health Organisation.

With services stretched, pregnant women like Amira are having to take matters into their own hands. “I’ve become my own doctor now, monitoring my baby’s every kick and movement,” she says.

“Each reassuring sign is a bittersweet relief. I’m constantly exhausted, dizzy, and in pain, but I can’t show it. I have to pretend to be strong for my children because, honestly, I don’t have a choice. If I collapse now, they’ll collapse with me.”

There are almost 1.5 million displaced people across Gaza, prompting growing concern for those living in severely overcrowded shelters with poor access to hygiene facilities and safe water.

Amira and Bana*, another pregnant woman, say basic necessities are scarce, and finding clean water and enough food is an endless struggle.

They are both filled with fear over what will happen when their babies are born.

Amira is plagued by questions: “What if I can’t reach a hospital when the time comes? Will there be someone to help me deliver in this shelter? Will I survive, and will my baby survive in these dire conditions?”

Umm Ibrahim Alayan, who is eight-months-pregnant, covers her face as she reacts at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 10, 2023.
MAI YAGHI via Getty Images
Umm Ibrahim Alayan, who is eight-months-pregnant, covers her face as she reacts at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 10, 2023.

“When the bombings start, I’m terrified for my children, my unborn baby, and myself,” says Amira.

“I often find myself thinking that maybe, just maybe, the womb is the safest place for my little one. And as the ground trembles, I hold my children close, trying to shield them from the horror outside.”

The 35-year-old is also terrified for the winter and how they’ll survive, especially as temperatures can drop to around 9-10°C in Gaza – “we have no warm clothes, nothing for the new baby,” she says.

Bana is just 20 years old and expecting her first child in two months. What should be a happy and exciting time for her is filled with fear.

“Each bomb that explodes nearby brings with it a nauseating stench and a suffocating sense of dread,” she says. “I choke on the noxious fumes.

“My fear is not for myself alone; it’s for the tiny life growing within me. I can’t help but worry that I might lose my child before they even have a chance to enter this world.”

Rather than feeling the typical joy and excitement of an expectant mother, she is constantly worried about how she’ll keep her son alive – both in the womb, but also when he is born.

“Instead of preparing to welcome him into the world and arguing about his name, we are consumed by fear and terrified of losing him or even losing our lives and leaving him behind,” she says.

“I think about my husband, my family, and their safety in a world torn apart by violence. I can’t even begin to prepare for my baby’s arrival. There are no tiny clothes, no crib, no toys.”

“I can’t even begin to prepare for my baby’s arrival. There are no tiny clothes, no crib, no toys.”

- Bana

She often wonders how she’ll get to the hospital when the time comes for her baby to enter the world, as “the roads are damaged, and transportation is non-existent”.

“And even if I somehow make it to the hospital, will they be able to deliver my precious baby safely? The hospitals are overflowing with the injured and the dead,” she adds.

Unicef has warned that women, children and newborns in Gaza are disproportionately bearing the burden of the escalation of hostilities, both as casualties and in reduced access to health services. The charity is currently running an emergency appeal to provide families with crucial supplies.

Meanwhile, charities have been calling for an urgent ceasefire to halt the mounting death toll in Gaza and allow life-saving aid to reach those who need it.

In the UK, on November 15, the House of Commons rejected calls for a ceasefire. MPs voted by 293 to 125 against an SNP motion calling on the government to “join with the international community in urgently pressing all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire”.

As of 3 November, 2,326 women and 3,760 children had been killed in the Gaza strip, representing 67% of all casualties, while thousands more had been injured, according to Ministry of Health data.

There are an estimated 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, with more than 180 giving birth every day – and 15% of them are likely to experience pregnancy or birth-related complications and need additional medical care.

Yet access to healthcare is limited. With a vast number of hospitals and primary health care centres closed, some women are having to give birth in shelters, in their homes, in the streets amid rubble, or in overwhelmed healthcare facilities.

The last time Bana was able to see a doctor was two months ago. At the time, she was prescribed vitamins and iron for anaemia – but her supplies are now running low.

“The only solace I find is in the gentle kicks and movements of my unborn child,” she says. “Each flutter is a tiny reassurance, a whisper that my baby is still with me, fighting to be born.”

*Names have been changed upon request.

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