A war against women and babies

Hospitals are severely overcrowded in Gaza. 

Ali Hamad APA images

Noor was pregnant when Israel ordered that she leave her Gaza City apartment.

While moving southwards, she had a severe pain in her abdomen. The pain intensified but she did her best to conceal it.

While the pain disappeared after a while, she encountered further problems after she took shelter – along with her husband and two children – at her uncle’s home in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

Each time there was a bombardment of the neighborhood, Noor felt more abdominal pain, followed by bleeding.

Worried about the possibility of a miscarriage, she went to al-Helal al-Emirati maternity hospital in Rafah, accompanied by her aunt.

The imaging section in the hospital was full when she arrived.

There were only five beds available in the section and just one doctor. Yet there were tens of pregnant women.

After waiting for three hours, a nurse called out Noor’s name. Noor was asked to lie down on a bed so that she could be examined.

Noor told one of the staff at the hospital about the pains and bleeding she was experiencing.

She was informed that such problems were probably caused by the constant stress and fear of living through a war.

Soon after that trip, Noor – then seven months pregnant – felt that she was going into labor.

She was brought to hospital by car. As no beds were available, she had to give birth in a waiting area.

Her new baby was a boy named Ahmad. He was just 1.5 kilograms in weight.

Ahmad was placed in an incubator. Within the following two weeks, he gained 500 grams in weight.

“When I got him out from the incubator, I didn’t know what he should wear,” Noor said. “I didn’t find any baby clothes in the stores. My aunt borrowed some winter clothes from her neighbors but couldn’t find enough baby milk cans for him in the pharmacies.”

The United Nations Population Fund estimated that there were approximately 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza when Israel declared its war during October.

Those women have been denied adequate care and it has frequently been impossible for them to attend medical appointments.

Just 15 out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning – and, in all those 15 cases, only partially.

With acute food shortages, most pregnant women are malnourished.

Miscarriage after a massacre

Amal had a miscarriage a few weeks after Israel destroyed her family’s home. Her parents and some of her siblings were killed in the massacre.

Married in 2015, Amal was told by her doctor a few years later that getting pregnant would be difficult. She had spent thousands of dollars on fertility treatment since then.

It was not until 2023 that she became pregnant.

Her due date was approaching when her parents were killed. The shock of that horrific crime was so acute that all she could do afterwards was recite the Quran and look at photographs of her family members on her phone.

She lost her appetite. When she made herself eat anything, she vomited.

One week after the attack on her family, Amal started bleeding heavily. She screamed.

Her husband drove her as fast as possible to a nearby hospital. There, she learned that she had miscarried.

“I was killed twice,” Amal said, explaining that she herself felt like she died both when the massacre of her family occurred and during the subsequent miscarriage.

“It will be difficult for me to have any life now,” she added.

Amal had been due to have a son. She had prepared a room, cot and clothes for him.

She had not yet chosen his name.

Sondos, 26, was nine months pregnant when her home in al-Rimal, a Gaza City neighborhood, was targeted.

Her husband and daughter were killed in the attack. Sondos managed to survive after being rescued from the rubble.

She and her family had remained in the northern half of Gaza after Israel ordered their evacuation. They did not have any relatives or friends who could host them if they moved southwards.

Sondos was brought to Gaza City’s al-Hilo hospital. There she gave birth to a girl through a cesarean section.

She called her daughter Habiba. The baby’s sister – who Israel had just killed – had the same name.

The baby had to be placed in an incubator. Sondos did not have enough food or clean water over the past few months and that had an adverse effect on the baby’s weight.

The hospital was unable to provide any anesthetics during childbirth and Sondos was in acute pain.

“I forgot the pain once I held my baby in my arms,” Sondos said. “I thank God that I was granted a new child on the day I lost my other daughter.”

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.