“My experience during childbirth was a nightmare in every sense of the word, or something like a horror film,” said 29-year-old Wajiha al-Abyad.
Her contractions started at around 9 p.m. on Oct. 29. “We called for an ambulance, but they told us they couldn’t come. The streets were empty and pitch-black, and there was no sound to be heard except for the noise of planes and shelling.”
After about 40 minutes, an ambulance did turn up. It transported her at high speed through Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip. “Most of the streets were badly damaged. I was stuck inside contending with contractions and jolts as the ambulance raced through ruined roads.”
Women, children and newborns in Gaza are disproportionately bearing the burden of the war, both as casualties and in reduced access to health care services. The U.N. estimates there are around 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, and that more than 160 babies are delivered every day.
In the space of a few weeks, Ms. al-Abyad’s life had been turned upside down. She fled her home in Gaza City with many of her relatives on Oct. 14, after the Israeli military ordered over a million people to leave northern Gaza. She dreaded the idea of giving birth in these circumstances. “The tension and anxiety I felt were more painful than the contractions,” she said.
Since the outbreak of the war, crossings into Gaza had been closed, making it impossible for her husband in the United Arab Emirates to be by her side. Instead, her mother joined her in the ambulance.
Together, they made it to Al-Awda Hospital in Nuseirat, around a 20-minute drive from their home. They found the hospital’s maternity ward was no longer functioning: It had been repurposed to treat the large numbers of war casualties.
“There was a lot of tension and screaming, and the doctors were under extreme pressure,” Ms. al-Abyad said. “Patients there were bleeding, and they didn’t know what to do for them.”
Less than an hour later, Ms. al-Abyad gave birth to a baby boy named Ahmed. “Every five minutes, there was shelling right outside the hospital, so close that mothers would hide their newborn babies under their clothes, afraid that the windows might shatter and the glass would fall onto them,” she said.
“All I could think about was how will I leave? How will I go back home?”