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A midwife's duty of care to pregnant women in Gaza

A midwife's duty of care to pregnant women in Gaza
7 min read

Fatimah Mohamied

08 February, 2024
Palestinian women deserve safe, healthy and dignified pregnancies. As UK midwives, we must speak up for birthing people everywhere, writes Fatimah Mohamied.
Ignoring the plight of vulnerable women in Gaza is a shame to the name of midwife, writes Fatimah Mohamied. [Getty]

After trudging through a quarter-life crisis at the age of twenty-five, where I undid and re-did the seams of my values and beliefs, I came out of it deciding to change careers and become a midwife.

My decision wasn’t motivated by all the cute babies, though that is a decided bonus, but by a desire to advocate for women from my own community as well as women with life altering vulnerabilities.

Birthing women and people have safer, happier pregnancies, births and family health when they are cared for in a personalised, tender and wholesome way. To catch a baby born from a woman whose dignity has been safeguarded by respect for her autonomy and humanity is to propagate a lifelong positive impact for herself and her family. 

There is no higher honour for a midwife than to facilitate this during such a sacred time.

Midwives, having been graced with access to the most intimate experiences of a family’s life, are therefore duty bound by such privileges to care for women and birthing people wherever they may be.

Vulnerable women do not only exist within our UK borders. In fact, the long history and legacy of the British empire has created a vast number of vulnerable women around the world, wherever it has left its scars.

As midwives, we are hence forever linked to the global community of birthing people. Shunning the plight of vulnerable women elsewhere is therefore a shame to the name of midwife.

There are approximately 52,000 pregnant Palestinian women in Gaza, sustaining 180 births on average a day, in conditions abhorrent to our Western sensibilities: in tents, by themselves, grieving lost children, husbands, family and limbs, with no access to healthcare let alone pain relief. Atrociously, the deliberate siege imposed by Israel means pregnant women in Gaza are forced to undergo Caesarean sections with little or no anaesthesia.

The unfathomable pain they must endure is testament to Israel’s horrifying aggression in Gaza, which has killed more than 27,800 Palestinians and pushed the boundaries of devastation from warfare. Miscarriages in Gaza have skyrocketed by more than 300 percent.

Israel has managed to inflict pain on the very uterus of Palestinian existence.

Even when Palestinians do birth a healthy live infant, there still remains the stain of imminent risk to life due to indiscriminate bombardment. If they survive the night, they have to contend with a lack of drinkable water, food and shelter the next day.

The imposed starvation makes managing childbirth bleeding unimaginable, let alone supplementing breast milk supply, the only choice considering there is no formula milk available. Let’s not even talk about nappies.

Palestinian women, along with their people, are currently exemplifying acute resilience in the face of Israel’s ethnic cleansing and genocide in Gaza. But they should not have to be this kind of resilient, no one should. Their horrors should have ended, not months but decades ago.

But Britain is again shirking its historical responsibilities to the people of Palestine, and activism has had to step in to make up for the UK government's embarrassing lack of integrity to its own values of justice.

I am one such activist, because I am a midwife. But for voicing support for Palestinian resistance against occupation and apartheid, I have been targeted by individuals of the midwifery profession, as well as by members of the public.

Emails have been sent to my workplace labelling me ‘anti-Semitic’, a supporter of terrorism, and an unsafe practitioner for Jewish women and demanding termination of my employment. The first email even issued a warning to the organisation that I would bring disgrace to them should the press get wind of my pro-Palestinian sentiments.

Three days later, I was informed that a major tabloid newspaper was going to run a story about me and my tweets. Fortunately they did not run with the story, perhaps because they realised how little substance it held. But considering I am a brown Muslim woman of mixed heritage, and tabloid press being very loose with facts, I’ll leave it up to you to guess what they planned to write.

The intentions behind all these intimidation tactics is not only to silence opposition to Israel’s occupation, war crimes and apartheid, but also to instil fear in those brave enough to speak up.

Justice and human rights have never been handed benevolently to those demanding them from the powerful, they have been acquired always after struggle. Those in pursuit of dignity understand the courage required.

Has this all been shocking? No. Disappointing? Yes, but not more disappointing than facing a midwifery workforce that is largely silent on the subject.

The Royal College of Midwives have refused to call explicitly for a ceasefire, or encourage any calls to action for the end of Israeli occupation, despite repeated attempts by many of us to call on the organisation to do so. Healthcare workers have faced disciplinary action for simply liking a pro-Palestinian tweet.

When academic midwives from the Netherlands wrote the remarkably well evidenced “Resistance is Fertile” open letter in support of Palestinian reproductive justice as resistance to occupation, midwives who plotted their name in solidarity were publicly and privately threatened by senior members of our profession.

Despite it being a legal right, many nurses and midwives have already been referred  or investigated for voicing their support for Palestine.

The carefully sculpted silence and opposition to speaking truth is not specific to maternity, but a reflection of the conflict within the wider UK society of not wanting to condemn Israel for their dehumanising racism, and not wanting to appear supportive for a largely Muslim society that must inherently be ‘anti-Semitic terrorists’.

This conflict is the direct result of a mainstream media septic with Islamophobia and hell bent on framing Israel as innocent, no matter how many they kill, maim or starve.

This is a difficult time, but don’t let this lead you to believe that midwives are apathetic. We are some of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet, because we understand in our core that reproductive rights are human rights.

We understand clearer than many the vital role we play in protecting the human race, not just to exist, but to live healthy, safe, wholesome and dignified lives, from the moment of the first cry, to the last breath.

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Many are conflicted and uncomfortable over Gaza, but for vulnerable women, our discomfort is just not good enough. We must be steadfast to common humanity with anyone facing injustice by emoting with empathy, but we must also condemn what is wrong, inside and outside the birth room.

A unified voice for Palestinian humanity and against Israeli occupation is necessary, because for every child shrouded, every shut down incubator, every departed spouse, every labour contraction of a grieving woman, every birth of a newborn within a cold tent, we owe it to the Palestinian people to use our privileges to fight for their dignity.

And as midwives, that is our duty after all.

Fatimah Mohamied is a Muslim, mother and midwife. As an activist and writer, she is passionate about advocating against injustice, especially from capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy. 

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.