My name is Pascale, and I have been working as an emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Gaza for just over three weeks.
This week, I sat down with some of our patients at Al-Emirati Hospital in Rafah, where people receive postpartum care. In addition to the exhaustion of childbirth, they must contend with the constant stress of bombings, displacement, poor living conditions in Rafah, and the uncertainty of what tomorrow holds.
The people I saw here are displaced. They survive in makeshift plastic tents that they set up with their families the best they could, where they could, in a city increasing in density every day with the constant influx of refugees fleeing airstrikes and fighting all over Gaza. It is the middle of winter; days are cold and some are rainy. These are the conditions in which their babies were born.
Three of these women’s stories particularly struck me.
Maha* is from northern Gaza. She went to a hospital when she felt labor was starting, but she couldn't be treated. All the delivery rooms were full. She knew something wasn't right, that she needed to be admitted—she has had a Cesarean section before. But with no other option, she had to go back to her tent. Her son died. She gave birth to him in the latrines closest to her tent.
When I entered our facility, Maha was sitting on her bed after receiving postpartum care. She's the one who called me to talk to her. She needed to express her deep pain to all of us; she needed to cry out to us about the injustice she experienced. Without this war, she would not have lost her son.
Nour* had a little girl, a very pretty one. After giving birth, Nour was happy but tired, half asleep and a little pale. My colleagues gave her a hemoglobin test—she needed to take some iron and vitamin C supplements. Her mother-in-law accompanied her and told me that their family is from Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip. Her house and her street are now reduced to rubble. I asked what her baby girl's name would be. Nour hadn't decided yet. But her mother-in-law would like her name to be Salam (Arabic for “peace”), which has never been more needed.
Reham* had just given birth to a baby girl, too. They are both fine. She wanted to show me the face of the newborn and told me with a smile that her name is Amal, meaning “hope,” because hope is what encourages Palestinians to get up every morning despite the horrors they have lived through. And it's the last thing Reham wants to lose.
*Names changed for privacy and security