Pregnant women and the unborn among the many casualties in Gaza

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A one-and-a-half year old Palestinian girl lies on a table at a local morgue after she was killed by an Israeli airstrike while walking a block from her house with her mother in Gaza City on August 24, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Roberto Schmidt)

By: Ibtisam Mahdi

Published Thursday, September 4, 2014

The recurrence of suffering in Gaza does not take away from the tragedy of each case. When the few moments of pain that separate a mother from the joy of holding her baby in her arms end in martyrdom, or when a mother falls in a coma not knowing that the baby she’s been waiting for arrived into this world but she will not see them, you know that you are in Gaza.

Gaza – “The fetus is alive.” The scream of medic Mohammed Ghaith made the medical team at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah race against time before the oxygen ran out. The doctors decided to open the womb of a nine-month pregnant woman who had just died in an attempt to pull her unborn child out.The body of 25-year-old Nabila Eid al-Louh from the Heker al-Jameh area in the city of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza arrived with eight other martyrs from her family. The doctors rushed to perform the necessary tests on the fetus who turned out to be alive, so she was taken to the operating room to extract the fetus out of the uterus before it was too late.

This wasn’t the first story of its kind. During the war, operating rooms in all of Gaza’s hospitals were full of surgeons and obstetricians who worked hard to extract these unborn children alive from the wombs of their dead pregnant mothers, or in some cases, from injured mothers who had suffered serious wounds. But many of these babies did not make it. Nabila’s child died before he was transferred to the nursery section. The physical trauma that the mother sustained when her house collapsed on top of her was too severe.

Prior to this incident, there was another case of a stillborn baby at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. When the body of 26-year old Fatima Abu Jameh – who was nine-months pregnant – arrived, she was taken to the operating room where a cesarean section was performed on her to pull out the baby because tests had shown that he was still alive. However, injuries that the fetus had sustained from shrapnel led to his death while the doctors were trying to pull him out of his mother’s womb.

Other babies, however, were destined to live, such as Mohammed Mattar. Mohammed was born at the same moment that his mother died after Israeli missiles dismembered her. When the injured pregnant woman arrived, doctors at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza had no choice but to perform a C-section on her to save the fetus inside her womb. She died during the operation, but only after Mohammed had come out.

The head of the maternity ward at al-Shifa Hospital, Dr. Hassan Nouh, described the critical condition that Mohammed’s mother was in: “If this mother had been a little late, the fetus would have died inside her because she arrived with her limbs amputated and missile shrapnel had cut her stomach which endangered the baby’s life.” The doctor did not think he could save Mohammed because his mother was dying and there was shrapnel all over her stomach. “The baby did live,” he said “but the mother died immediately.”

In a house not far from the Mattar house, the mother of baby Iyad – who was born prematurely – does not know that she has delivered her child. After she suffered injuries to the head and back and her feet were blown off by shrapnel from two missiles, the doctors were able to deliver her baby. But at the time of publication of this article, she was still in a coma.

In this case, just like for Mohammed, saving the fetus inside the mother’s womb was no easy feat for those whose due date was supposed to be weeks away. The mother lied in the intensive care unit for long hours and underwent several surgeries before the doctors were able to perform a risky C-section once they realized that if the fetus stayed inside her while she was in this condition, it would die. Dr. Nouh performed this surgery as well. He said the woman was later taken to Egypt, however, “she still doesn’t know that she had a baby because she is unconscious.”

A Health Ministry spokesperson in Gaza, Ashraf al-Qudra, told Al-Akhbar that the ministry documented 700 miscarriages “constituting 25 percent of all pregnancies” and more than 50 women dying while in labor during the war. The reason behind the miscarriages, according to Qudra, is the fear that these pregnant woman endured during intense bombing and “while trying to flee dangerous areas. In addition, lack of proper nutrition at shelters also affected them.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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