Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The Birth of A New Hope

Joy and pain mingle in a city under siege.
By Samar al-Ahmad
  • A woman walks with her child among the ruins of Aleppo’s al-Sukari neighbourhood. (Photo: Baraa Al Halabi)
    A woman walks with her child among the ruins of Aleppo’s al-Sukari neighbourhood. (Photo: Baraa Al Halabi)

My first baby was almost due, and I had just been to see the doctor for a final examination.

I was so exhausted and upset when I got back home that I went straight to bed. An hour later when my husband came home I was still lying there, crying.

He asked what was wrong, so I told him that the doctor had scheduled a cesarean section for me in three days time. This wasn’t because I was in poor health, but as a precaution.

Eastern Ghouta had been under a government-imposed siege for more than a year, during which time it had been starved of both food and medicine. Local hospitals were struggling to cope and a natural birth would risk post-delivery complications that could not be treated.

So having a C-section would be safer for both my baby and me.

My husband tried to calm me down, pointing out that the doctor had told me this was what most women in Ghouta were doing. Still, the whole situation frightened me.

The following morning I went to my parents’ house to tell them the news and ask for their help. We needed to privately secure IV drips, needles, syringes and drugs for me as they were no longer available at the hospital.

My husband, mother, friends and relatives all began searching for the required items. They were like  gold dust.

We managed to find the medical equipment, but we just couldn’t find the drugs. We were forced to settle for buying medicine that had already expired. I hoped it would be good enough.

I gave everything we had gathered to my mother so she could bring it to the hospital with her. I still remember the funny way she cradled the package, as if it were a treasure, not some basic medical items.

I couldn’t blame her, though, as due to the siege on Ghouta, items once worth 5,000 Syrian pounds (22 US dollars) had cost us around 100,000 pounds (450 dollars).  

On my delivery day, August 8, 2014, I went to the hospital with my husband, my mother and my friend who is a nurse.

She accompanied me to the operating theatre, and I was shocked at the poor level of hygiene I saw. The room was supposed to be a sterile environment, but it was neglected and dirty and had a terrible lingering smell.  

My friend laughed when she saw the look on my face.

“Did you think you would be taken to a room like the ones you see in TV soap-operas?” she whispered.

“This room is busy around the clock. Surgery is carried out here to save the wounded, and there are never enough tools, disinfectants or time to clean it.

“But don’t worry, we’ll take care of you,” she continued. “You’re one of the lucky people who managed to secure the drugs we need.”

In an attempt to cheer me up, my friend told me to think of my grandmother and the conditions in which she had given birth to her children.

The doctor administered the local anesthesia and prepared to proceed, but as it had passed its expiry date, the drug did not working. She gave me another dose, but I was still in so much pain that I screamed in agony.

My friend tried to distract me by talking to me, but it didn’t work.  

I started thinking about my detained father and my martyred brother, I imagined them by my side and tried to gather strength from the idea.

Finally, my daughter Rafif was brought into this world.

An hour after my daughter was born, we were both discharged from the hospital. There was no room for us, so they had to send us home.

My husband asked the Red Crescent ambulance to collect us. We could no longer use our car as it was almost impossible to find petrol.

All the way home my mother, holding Rafif tightly, talked about the difference between the state of hospitals before and after the revolution. She compared the current poor conditions with how they once were.

My mind began to wander and I thought back on the good life we used to have. I never would have imagined that I would deliver my baby in an operating theatre lit by a generator, then be forced to leave immediately due to the lack of beds.

I never would have thought that I would bring my baby home in an ambulance designed to transport the wounded and martyred.

Despite my physical and emotional pain, I burst out laughing at the irony of it all. My husband and my mother joined in.

That day, the birth of my daughter Rafif, brought a new hope into my life.

The tranquility I felt each time I looked at her innocent face diminished the pain I had suffered while delivering her.

I believe that one day, the pain Syria is suffering will also be over.

Just like the birth of my daughter, a new era worthy of all our sacrifices will be born.

Samar al-Ahmad is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor who lives in Eastern Ghouta and works in humanitarian aid provision. She is married with one daughter.

Read the Arabic version of this article here

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