The Pains of Being Pregnant in a Gaza Hospital

In October, three children born in Gaza came into the world just as the three women who gave them life left it, having been pronounced dead upon arrival at the Al Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the area. They are among the many children who have lost their families in this conflict – and among the few children able to survive it thus far.

Of the approximately 50,000 pregnant women currently in Gaza, some 5,500 were estimated to have given birth in October, with an estimated 160 deliveries per day. That’s according to data from late November from the United Nations Population Fund, which also notes that some 840 of these women will experience complications during labor and delivery.

To be pregnant in Gaza today is to race against death. Since Oct. 7, when Hamas surprise-attacked Israel, the health care system in Gaza has crumbled. In the past weeks, 124 health care facilities have been targeted, killing more than 200 health staff and injuring 236 more, according to the most recent data from the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. Already, 26 out of 36 hospitals have been rendered non-functional. And the capacity for basic, quality medical care in those remaining – and dwindling – ones is limited – even if women could safely reach them between the air raids and the rubble.

At the facilities, which are both over-occupied and under-resourced, electricity, fuel and medicine have begun to run dry – even with the aid received during the recent weeklong ceasefire. Doctors have reportedly been forced to perform cesarean sections without anesthesia, antibiotics or any neonatal resuscitation measures within “catastrophic” working conditions,” a midwife at Al Shifa Hospital reported to the UNFPA.

And it goes without saying that the chances of accessing prenatal, postnatal and newborn care are slim, further increasing the likelihood of complications and morbidities. What’s more, some pregnant women in Gaza have even suffered third- and fourth-degree burns.

Countless bombs assail Gaza daily, creating a high-stress environment that is extremely detrimental to the health of pregnant women and their unborn children. One pregnant woman, taking shelter in a school, told the UNFPA, “My baby was feeling every explosion.”

Studies have shown a drastically higher risk of maternal mortality for pregnant women in war zones, as well as increased incidences of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, congenital abnormalities and a host of additional health issues, some of which can lead to life-threatening infections for both mother and child.

But the trauma will endure, even for those pregnant women and newborn babies who manage to survive. A study published in 2021 looking at implications of armed conflicts for maternal and child health found that the serious long-term impacts of war resulted in increases in maternal mortality observed for up to seven years after a conflict – and perhaps even for the rest of their lives. I can only imagine what those experiencing the conflict today will feel in the years to come.

It is not new to say that women suffer the most in a conflict, but we must not turn a blind eye to the pregnant women in Gaza who face horrifying attacks where civilians are being lost in the thousands. In this war, assassinating pregnant women and children is eliminating generations and a whole future of a population that deserves to live in peace, dignity and sovereignty, and that should call for the violence to end.

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