A grave miscarriage of justice: Gazan women forced to abort dreams of motherhood
During the most recent Israeli aggression on Gaza, Doaa al-Ejla was forced to abort the test-tube foetus she dreamt of having since her marriage, leaving her depressed for months.
Despite her six-year marriage and constant efforts to conceive, Doaa was unable to become naturally pregnant. So, as is the case with a growing number of women in Gaza, she and her husband went down the route of paying for the cost of artificial fertilisation in order to fulfil their inherent dream of having a child.
"Artificial fertilisation in Gaza costs $2,000, which doesn't include further medications required throughout the pregnancy," she said, adding, "But these costs are of little significance when compared with having a child."
"Israel's shelling of the embattled enclave placed immense stress upon pregnant women in Gaza, with many having to abort their foetuses as a result"
In May, as the Israeli shells rained down on Gaza over the 11-day assault, Doaa's doctor instructed her to refrain from watching the news for fear that it would worsen both hers and her foetus's health. Tragically, this was not enough for the baby to be eventually lost.
The unrealised dream of becoming a mother
Israel's shelling of the embattled enclave naturally placed immense stress upon pregnant women in Gaza, with many having to abort their foetuses as a result. Unfortunately, Doaa was no exception.
Upon hearing that Israel would be escalating its attacks, she and her husband decided to abandon their house in the at-risk neighbourhood of Shujaiya, which was a few miles away from the Israel border.
"We ran in the street for several minutes until we found a taxi driver heading into the heart of Gaza, where my uncle lives," she said. "After two days, the building where we were heading was targeted by a drone missile at midnight, so we had no other choice but to shelter at al-Shifa Hospital until sunrise," Doaa told The New Arab.
Her uncle decided then to rent a house in al-Wehda Street, which had previously been considered one of the safer places to live in Gaza throughout the last three wars. Once again, luck was not on their side. Soon after, Israel levelled three neighbouring buildings, destroying surrounding infrastructure in the process. The 50-pronged rocket attack killed over 45 civilians.
"It was the longest fifteen minutes I have ever lived through in Gaza, it felt like doomsday had come," Doaa said. "I couldn't stop crying, I had to uncontrollably throw myself into my husband's arms and pray to God for our safety."
A few days after the ceasefire was agreed upon, Doaa began to feel severe pain in her abdomen. Her subsequent bleeding then led to her miscarrying. Since then she has been traumatised by her loss, with her mental health suffering greatly as a result.
"I spent most of the time sleeping, unable to do anything else," she said. "I didn't eat well. I didn't want to see or speak with anyone, let alone go anywhere," Doaa told The New Arab.
"Since the costs of artificial pregnancy are so high, I don't know when it will feasible for us to next afford it. And even if we are, I am unsure if it will work," she said with tears rolling down her face.
Terrifying impacts on pregnant women
Over the 11-day escalation, Gaza's hospitals were unable to provide even the most limited of services to pregnant women due to being inundated with the urgent visits of the critically injured. Private hospitals were fully closed.
Al-Awda Hospital was one of the hand-full of hospitals throughout Israel's aggression on Gaza to continue to provide support to pregnant women and deliver births. Yet, with minimal physical outreach, pregnant women were given advice by hospital staff members through social media.
"During and after the 11-day assault, women have been depressed or have suffered deep dissatisfaction after conceiving, with the wards filled with crying mothers who either don't accept their newborn or face irregular sleep patterns"
"The recent escalation negatively impacted the health of pregnant women, with the number of caesareans, premature births, and miscarriages increasing dramatically over that time period," Helena Musleh a psychologist at al-Awda hospital said. "We gave birth to nearly 100 births at the hospital, with 30 of them delivered via caesarean."
Musleh confirmed that stress was one of the predominant factors for this rise, with it negatively impacting hormonal changes. One such result of this imbalance is the inability of the mother to breastfeed. She added that during and after the 11-day assault, women have been depressed or have suffered deep dissatisfaction after conceiving, with the wards filled with crying mothers who either don't accept their newborn or face irregular sleep patterns.
"Most of these women have faced compound forms trauma, from their childbirth experience, their homes being demolished, or having lost loved ones during the war."
Unable to breastfeed
Among these women is Mai al-Masri. The 20-year-old lost her one-year-old child, Yasser, after an Israeli airstrike hit the garden of her house.
"I rushed outside the house, looking for my husband. I found him bleeding and my son covered with blood," she recounted. "After finding no pulse, I realised that my son was dead.
"I couldn't accept that. I cradled him in my arms, asking him to open his eyes," she resumed. "Crying uncontrollably, I did not leave him until a paramedic took him from my arms. I miss him and his laughter. And I miss playing with him," she tearfully added.
Since the house destruction, Mai has lived in her father's house, since her injured husband was unable to look after her after being transferred to the hospital for treatment. She spends her time alone, looking at pictures of her son Yasser for hours on end, crying.
"The murder of Yasser has made me forget about the possibility of another pregnancy," she said. “No other child could compensate for him.”
The trauma of loss has made her unable to breastfeed her other baby, be able to sleep regularly overnight or eat well for long months after the birth. Detached from the world, she rarely puts him in her arms.
“My breasts don't produce milk, so I feed my son formula milk," she says. "I can only thank God I delivered a healthy baby, despite the circumstances and all I have gone through."
Some of Mai's acquaintances were not as lucky. "My neighbour had a premature birth. He is still in the hospital incubators until he can breathe well enough."
In Gaza, with safety and life a precious commodity, such tragic realities are never far off.
Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a Gaza-based writer for WeAreNotNumbers.org