My name is Pascale, I have been working as an emergency coordinator for MSF in Gaza since December 20th, 2023. This week, I sat down with some of our patients at the Emirati hospital in Rafah. In this MSF facility in the south of the Gaza Strip, women receive postpartum care. In addition to the exhaustion of childbirth, these women must contend with the constant stress of the bombings, the displacement, the living conditions in Rafah, and the uncertainty of what tomorrow holds.
These women are displaced. They survive in plastic tents that they set up with their families as best they could, where they could, in a city that is gaining in density every day from the constant influx of refugees fleeing air strikes and fighting all over Gaza. This is the middle of winter; days are cold, and some are rainy.
Three of these women particularly struck me.
Maha* is from northern Gaza. She went to a hospital when she felt labor was starting, but she couldn't be treated. All the delivery rooms were full. She knew something wasn't right, that she needed to be admitted; she had had a C-section before. But with no other option, she had to go back to her tent.
Her son died. She gave birth to him in the latrines closest to her tent.
When I entered our facility, Maha was sitting on her bed, after receiving postpartum care. She's the one who called me to talk to her. She needed to express her deep pain to all of us; she needed to cry out to us about the injustice she experienced. Without this war, she would not have lost her son.
Nour had a little girl, a very pretty one. After giving birth, Nour was happy but tired, half asleep, and a little pale. My colleagues gave her a hemoglobin test: she needed to take some iron and vitamin C supplements. Her mother-in-law had accompanied her, and told me that their family is from Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip. Her house, her street, are now reduced to rubble. I asked what her baby girl's name would be. Nour hasn't decided yet. But her mother-in-law would like her name to be Salam (Peace): it has never been more needed.
Reham had just given birth to a baby girl too. They are both fine. She wants to show me the face of the newborn and tells me with a smile that her name is Amal (Hope), because hope is what encourages Palestinians, despite the horrors they have lived through over the past ninety-one days to get up every morning. And it's the last thing Reham wants to lose.
*Patient names have been changed