'I am terrified for my unborn baby': Gaza's pregnant women face a double nightmare
“It is horrifying, we are trapped with innocent souls inside of us, not knowing our fate,” said seven-month-pregnant Noor Odeh about the terror of being caught in Gaza.
The aggressive assaults carried out by Israeli forces and the subsequent restriction of movement in the Gaza Strip have resulted in extreme distress and horror for expectant women.
The majority of pregnant women have been robbed of fundamental maternal healthcare requirements and safeguards.
Noor, who had moved from her home in North Gaza to Khan Younis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip said: “I’m exhausted, mentally and physically, and terrified for my unborn baby.”
“We left our home in the North and moved to the South as instructed, but we are still living in fear every day with the intensifying bombardment from the Israelis, all of this is reflecting on my pregnancy and my baby,” Noor added.
Israel informed the residents of the northern Gaza Strip, including the city's residents, to relocate to the southern region to ensure their safety during the military operations against Hamas.
The Gaza Strip's health ministry said the death toll from Israel's relentless bombardment has reached 8,525, including 3,542 children and 2,187 women.
Furthermore, the number of children killed in nearly a month of Israeli bombing has now exceeded the number killed annually in all the world's conflict zones since 2019.
"UNFPA estimates that there are 540,000 women of reproductive age living in Gaza, among whom 50,000 are currently pregnant, and 5,500 are expected to deliver in the next month"
However, Israeli aeroplanes have continued to target civilians in southern Gaza, heightening the anxiety among those who relocated and causing them to question whether their move has truly granted them refuge.
According to Noor, her gynaecologist has also been displaced and communicating with her for medical advice is very difficult.
Noor told The New Arab, that in the past few days, she has experienced reduced fetal movement and has not consumed the necessary medicine she usually takes on a daily basis, so her worry for her baby’s health is growing and the lack of access to maternity healthcare makes her question if her pregnancy will successfully continue.
UNFPA estimates that there are 540,000 women of reproductive age living in Gaza, among whom 50,000 are currently pregnant, and 5,500 are expected to deliver in the next month.
Last week, the UNPFA called for “urgent health care and protection” of pregnant women.
Expecting mothers are more likely to encounter serious health hazards during childbirth and the postpartum period and confront formidable challenges while attempting to access health care, according to the United Nations.
Throughout the continuing siege, women in Gaza are faced with considerable struggles ranging from insufficient access to safe delivery and maternal care facilities to confronting depleted levels of life-saving resources.
"It is a catastrophic situation for many pregnant women here as dozens are giving birth weeks ahead of their schedule, many are miscarrying and many were killed with their unborn babies"
This is compounded by the consistent fatal attacks and the continual threat of deadly strikes and restrictions that are hindering access to basic needs like food and drinkable water.
Concerns and challenges
At the Nasser Government Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian midwife Haneen Ashour told The New Arab, “It is a catastrophic situation for many pregnant women here as dozens are giving birth weeks ahead of their schedule, many are miscarrying and many were killed with their unborn babies.
“Since the start of the attacks we have seen pregnant women overwhelmed with dizziness, lack of nutrition, fatigue, stress, bleeding and endless headaches and back pain,” Haneen explained to The New Arab.
The absence of fundamental healthcare facilities, including pre and postpartum care, is a cause of significant alarm for pregnant women and new mothers.
Mounting death tolls in Gaza are creating additional strain on hospitals, fueling dread that women might be deprived of access to emergency obstetric care, placing them in jeopardy of life-threatening complications.
Resources are very limited and access to safe and necessary facilities is also becoming increasingly restricted, Haneen told The New Arab.
Reported scarcities of essential items such as food, drinkable water, and primary medication have caused significant disputes lately.
Deliveries into the besieged city via the Rafah crossing with Egypt amounted to no more than four percent of the daily average volume of commodities entering Gaza prior to current hostilities and do not include fuel, according to ReliefWeb.
Supplies critical for Gaza's medical team to carry out crucial obstetric surgeries and treatments, ranging from repairing perineal tears to undertaking a cesarean section, have also been delayed in the aid convoy, according to Domonic Allen, the UNFPA representative for Palestine.
Individually packaged emergency delivery kits for at least half the women expected to give birth soon remain held up in the humanitarian aid convoys waiting in Egypt for permission to enter Gaza, according to Domonic Allen.
Those kits are considered a “last resort” to prevent infection during delivery in the absence of safe or reliable access to a healthcare facility.
"Many women have already lost their fetuses, many are suffering from bleeding as a result of panic and running in fear of shelling, and many are struggling to produce breastmilk due to insufficient food and water and because their personality is completely shattered"
The kits include one bar of soap, a plastic sheet, a pair of scissors for cutting the umbilical cord, three pieces of umbilical tape, two cotton cloths for cleaning and covering the mother and child, a pair of latex exam gloves and an instruction pamphlet to guide women through their deliveries.
The destruction of the main roads in the Gaza Strip has resulted in a significant increase in the travel time for pregnant women to reach the few functional hospitals to give birth.
Hospitals in the Gaza Strip remain under constant threat from Israeli officials. Hospitals have been repeatedly warned to evacuate personnel as well as the tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians who seek shelter and medical assistance within hospital walls.
“They think Palestinians are immune to the absence of safety, to war and tragedy. Many women have already lost their fetuses, many are suffering from bleeding as a result of panic and running in fear of shelling, and many are struggling to produce breastmilk due to insufficient food and water and because their personality is completely shattered,” Haneen said.
“Pregnant women are extremely vulnerable, throughout my service here, I have never seen such a terrible situation,” she added.
Rodayna Raydan is a Lebanese British journalism graduate from Kingston University in London covering Lebanon
Follow her on Twitter: @Rodayna_462