Birth under bombing I

An interview with a mother in Idlib

This interview is from the Autumn 2019 issue of Syria Notes.

Maryam is a mother of three, two girls and a boy. She talked to Syria Notes about the day her son Muhammad was born, when the sky was filled with planes, and more than twenty airstrikes hit the area.

— It’s a baby boy! —

When I first found out I was pregnant I was very happy. Especially when we found out it was a baby boy. We were hoping for a brother for our daughters.

In the first few months of the pregnancy, Idlib was going through a ceasefire, and there were no battles or bombing. But the ceasefire was temporary. When I was six months pregnant it was broken. Our areas were subject to aerial bombardment again.

My husband was worried about me and our girls, especially because I was pregnant. Friends of his had lost a baby recently because of the airstrikes. The wife who had been eight months pregnant was in shock. She had fallen and lost the baby.

We left the city and went to the countryside to seek refuge. We only took the essentials with us. The place were we took refuge was a farm just outside of Idlib city. It was surrounded with olive trees. There were no houses nearby, nor any other people living around us.

We lived there all through the third trimester, and even after I have given birth, because of the constant bombardment on Idlib city. My husband had to go back to the city every day for work despite the danger. It was the only way to feed and support his family.

— The third trimester —

The third trimester was very difficult. I was tired and always in fear. I was thinking all the time of the birth. I had no idea where or how I would give birth. No hospitals were safe, not even private hospitals. Public hospitals were especially targeted.

I put together a plan in case the hospital in Idlib city was attacked. I thought the other option was to give birth in a private hospital in the town Kafr Takharim. However, a month before I was due, the area of the hospital was bombed. A man who was waiting for his wife to deliver their baby lost his life. He died before seeing his wife and new baby.

I was living in fear and worry. Thinking of how and where I was going to give birth was occupying every moment. I was praying to God day and night to have a safe birth. The whole situation was miserable—there was no escaping the fact that I had to give birth, and there was no escaping the fact that there was nowhere safe to do that.

Throughout the pregnancy it was hard to get regular medical checks. I only managed to see my doctor twice. It was very dangerous to go and see her. She worked in a hospital in Idlib city, and going to the city while it was under attack was very risky.

Illustration by Amany Alali.

— The day of the birth —

The contractions started two days before I was due. At first the contractions were light. One the second day of the contractions, I went to see my cousin who is a midwife—she had also taken refuge in the countryside of Idlib because of the bombardment. She examined me and told me the birth was going to happen soon.

My doctor who had seen me during the pregnancy was travelling on urgent family matters, and I was having difficulty reaching her. I called the nurse who worked with her, and she told me that the doctor would not come back for at least few days. I tried to call other obstetricians to arrange for the birth. Most of the doctors were unavailable, or they were in areas far from where I was.

I felt that everything was closing down on me. I felt hopeless and the pain was getting worst. I was in so much fear and I couldn’t stop worrying.

On the day of the birth, the bombardment was especially bad. It was like the sky was raining fire. My husband was working in the city, and I was scared he would be killed. The planes bombed every corner of the city—the market was bombed and civilian neighbourhoods were targeted. We counted more than twenty airstrikes.

Meanwhile, my contractions became worse after the early hours of the morning. I don’t have the words to describe how had it was. I spent the whole day crying and screaming in pain. I could tell from the pain that the birth was imminent. My sister in law was staying with me to take care of me. I was in labour and the contractions were increasing. I was determined to hold the baby in and not to give birth until it was safe to do so. I didn’t tell my husband how bad the situation was, and I refused to call him to come and take me to a hospital. I was afraid he might be killed on the way home. I kept persevering despite the pain.

My husband came back around 6pm, and he immediately saw what bad shape I was in. I realise now that I was very close to losing my life and the baby’s life. My husband was prepared to do anything to save me and the baby. He put me in the car and we drove to Idlib city. The planes were still flying above us, and the airstrikes were still going on, but we had no choice. We reached the Women and Children’s Hospital in Idlib.

I was extremely lucky to find that my doctor had managed to come back almost the same hour I arrived at the hospital. I felt the mercy of God at that moment, and that I would be okay. The doctor examined me and said the birth was about to happen in the next thirty minutes.

I was pacing the hospital corridors to try and manage the pain. While I was pacing, I could hear the planes circling the hospital. I was feeling the pain of the contractions but my head was not thinking about them. It was different from my experience giving birth to my daughters. This time the pain was combined with fear of being killed in an airstrike.

Are we going to stay alive? Will I, my husband and the baby, be together with our daughters again?
The doctor took me to the delivery room, and I was put on a bed. They gave me some injections and I felt my energy was dissolving. There was nothing more I could do now. It was time for my baby to be born. Even if an airstrike hit the hospital now, and both of us and all the medical staff lost their lives, it was the time for my baby to be born.

Half an hour later, baby Muhammad was born.

— The road to safety —

 Half an hour after the birth, I left the hospital. I was so scared that I had to leave the hospital against medical advice. I asked them to stop the intravenous drip they were giving me so I could go home. I remember that on the day, the hospital was empty of all patients. When we arrive there were two Patients but when we left it was completely empty.

It was 8.30pm when we left the hospital. The streets were completely deserted. I never seen Idlib city like this before. It was a ghost town.

The aerial strikes were over, but a plane armed with a machine gun was flying above. Anything that was moving was a target. Especially at night, if anything had a light on it would likely be fired at. So my husband drove the car in the dark without using any headlights.

We drove like this for five or six kilometres until we reached the farm where we had taken refuge. Only then was I able to feel relief and to relax a little bit. That night I felt shattered but I was not able to fall asleep. I kept going through what I been through during the day. The psychological weight of what happened was leaning heavily on me.

— After the birth —

We were displaced from our home in Idlib city for another year after the birth of my son. The farm where we took refuge was not equipped for a newborn baby. It was not suitable at all, and my son kept falling ill. In winter it was very cold.

Medicine was hard to get. Even the main vaccines were not available. I only managed to get him the first three vaccines when he was eight months old. In all of Idilb there are only two paediatricians.

— Stolen joy —

Giving birth to my son was the most difficult day of my whole life. God has blessed me with Hammodah*. He is now three years old.

I couldn’t take any precautions to have a safe delivery. We had to risk our lives. The streets were dangerous and no hospital was safe. I felt that the joy of having my son was stolen from me. I was not able to feel happy like any other mother would feel.

Idlib is today is a small geographical area with a very large population due to people being displaced from other places in Syria. There are no resources and no jobs. Life is very difficult. It’s hard to feed your children. It’s hard to play with them or take them for an outing. It’s hard to buy them toys. There is nothing except the fight for survival.

All my children have seen of life is war and devastation. There is no good education here. Even if you find a private school it’s very difficult to scrape together the tuition fees. There is no entertainment available for the children. Children need to have fun!

I don’t have anything to say to those who have the power to protect the civilians in Idlib. I’m sure they all know what is happening. We just want the bare minimum to be able to live. We want safety to live in our own homes.

I don’t want to see my children being killed in front of my eyes. I want to be able to take care of my children if they are ill. I want healthcare for them. I want schools and education for them. We are not asking for much. We just want to live.

*Term of endearment for Muhammad.

Next: Birth under bombing II — A doctor in Idlib