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Syria Crisis: "The MSF hospital was my only hope"
The trauma of fleeing conflict can have a disastrous effect on expectant mothers. The stress of caring for a family while seeking shelter has led many Syrian women to give birth prematurely.
The following is the story of Ahlam*, a 22-year-old mother from Dara’a, Syria. Both of her two children were born at the Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mother and child hospital in Irbid, Jordan. Here, she tells her story about some of the many challenges she has faced since she crossed the border to Jordan in 2012.
"Are we going to die now?"
‘’At the beginning of the revolution in Syria, none of my family members even thought about leaving the country for a safer place, but the escalation in the situation there pushed us to cross the border to Jordan in May 2012.
I can still remember the smell of fire in our neighborhood after the last airstrike which happened just the night we left. There were nights during which we were unable to close our eyes because of the continuous and unexpected bombings.
At that time, I was newly married and I had no children, but I can still hear the shouts of my little nephews and nieces saying: ‘’Are we going to die now?’’
Crossing to Jordan
We had a basement in my father’s house where all of my brothers, sisters and children used to hide. It was impossible to continue living in a basement and too scared to even go to the kitchen or the toilet.
We lived like this for months, then my uncle decided that it was time to cross the border to Jordan for the safety of the children and women.
My husband refused to leave at the beginning and said he had to stay to protect our home and other property.
So I crossed to Jordan with my mother, two cousins and some neighbours, leaving my husband behind and having no idea what awaited us across the border.
Zaatari refugee camp
It took us 12 long hours to get to the first reception point for Syrian refugees inside Jordan. Then we were moved to Zaatari refugee camp.
A few months later, we managed to smuggle ourselves out of the refugee camp. We simply wanted to live a normal life.
This happened on the same day that my husband joined us and crossed the border to Jordan.
We rented a very small apartment in Ajloun governorate in the north of Jordan. My husband tries to find work as a daily worker, earning what little he can so that we can afford to pay the rent.
In December 2013, I had my first baby, born at the MSF hospital in the city of Irbid which is about 35 km from where I lived.
Despite this long distance, the MSF hospital was the closest place where we could be received without a refugee registration card.
My neighbour in Ajloun who is also a Syrian refugee told me that MSF was providing free healthcare for pregnant Syrian women and so we headed all the way to Irbid with my husband the following day.
I visited MSF for several consultations a few weeks before my expected delivery date. I had a baby girl in early 2014.
Difficult second pregnancy
However, my second pregnancy was not as easy as the first one. I had complications which led to delivering a premature baby. The 17th of January 2015 was the last day in my sixth month pregnancy.
I had severe abdominal pain and bleeding. I knew that MSF hospital in Irbid was the only place which would take us, so my husband took the decision to drive us for one and a half hours from Ajloun and Irbid. It was very cold and snowy that evening and the heavy traffic caused extra delays.
I bled for one and a half hours on the way to the MSF hospital but I knew it was my only hope.
We arrived at the MSF hospital where doctors decided I needed a caesarean section to deliver the baby. I was admitted immediately to the operating room and my baby, who we named Abdullah, was born with a weight of only 5.3 lbs.
He was then transferred to the neonatal unit for care and observation, where he started to gain weight over the next month. MSF allows the mother to accompany the baby so she can breastfeed. I’m so happy to see my baby enjoying a chance of life.’’
*Mother’s name has been changed. Mother of baby Abdullah gave full consent to use the real name of the baby and his photo.
MSF in Jordan
Since the Irbid project started in October 2013, it has provided over 20,991 obstetrics/gynaecology consultations, 18,082 paediatric consultations, 3,089 deliveries and 389 neonatology admissions.
The project has become even more vital due to the increased pressure on Jordan’s health system and following the Jordanian authorities’ announcement in November 2014 that all Syrian refugees, whether registered or not, would have to pay for healthcare at Ministry of Health facilities.
MSF has recently upgraded its medical activities in Irbid, adopting higher standards for maternity and neonatology. The project can now manage complicated deliveries and a surgical team has been put in place to provide caesarean sections in an MSF operating theatre.