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Giving birth in Gaza amid shelling and power cuts

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    21 hours ago

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Image source, Jumana Emad

One month ago, Gaza resident Jumana Emad was in the final stages of pregnancy.

She was happily sharing pictures of her heavily pregnant belly, waiting to put her birthing plan into action.

She knew she was going to have a girl, her husband was excited, her hospital bag was packed and her four-year-old daughter Tulin couldn’t wait to meet her baby sister.

Then everything changed.


Hamas killed more than 1,400 people in Israel and took more than 200 people hostage in an attack on 7 October. Israel launched retaliatory air strikes on Gaza which – the Hamas-run health ministry says – have killed almost 7,000 people.

“I was scared,” Jumana told the BBC. “I was in labour among continuous shelling.”

The 25-year-old freelance journalist followed Israeli orders to leave her home in the north. She left Gaza City two days after Israeli strikes began and headed south.

Afraid and nine months pregnant, Jumana took her daughter to a relative’s house. She took only a single piece of clothing, a box of milk and a small bag for her daughter.

“The situation was tough,” she explained in a voice message.

Baby Talia

Image source, Jumana Emad

“We didn’t sleep at night. There was a lot of shelling and we had to go to another place. Pregnant women like me should be going out for walks but because of the war we are not able to go out even to buy food,” she explained in another message.

Jumana repeatedly spoke of power outages, internet interruptions and water shortages, in addition to her fear and anxiety over giving birth in such difficult circumstances.

On Friday 13 October, Jumana went into labour.

She had originally planned to go to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which is a big hospital, but she was told it was under immense pressure. Instead, Jumana went to Al-Awda Hospital in Nuseirat, a smaller hospital in the middle of the Gaza Strip.

But even getting there was hard. In pain and in labour Jumana struggled to find someone to take her. “Taxi drivers are afraid, and ambulances don’t have time for a woman about to give birth,” she explained.

She described the hours of labour as hard and terrifying. “There was intense shelling in a house next to the hospital, the sound was so loud that I thought the shelling had reached the hospital itself. Injured people kept arriving. I could hear screams from every direction. I was also thinking about my first daughter. I was worried about her because she was far away from me.

“All I thought about was I want to deliver my baby no matter what.”

Jumana described her feeling of shock when hours later that evening, she gave birth to a baby girl, who she decided to name Talia.

“Her crying meant we were all still alive,” she recalls.

There was no bed available for Jumana immediately after childbirth. In pain and bleeding, she had to wait until a bed was found and squeezed into a small room.

“I was lucky to have one, other women lay on couches and on the floor in the hospital corridor immediately after giving birth,” she says.

Jumana's daughters - Tulin (aged four) and baby Talia

Image source, Jumana Emad

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that there are about 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza with 5,500 of them expected to give birth in the next 30 days. It says hospitals are overwhelmed and are running out of medicine and basic supplies.

The day after she gave birth, Jumana sent a video of herself holding her baby daughter in a taxi, wrapped in a white blanket.

She had left the hospital to join her family but says even that was an ordeal.

“The lift stopped working due to a power issue,” she says. So Jumana, on the fourth floor of the hospital, in pain after giving birth and with her newborn in her arms, had to walk down several flights of stairs to get to the exit.

Once out of the hospital, she was faced with trying to get transport back to the place where she was staying.

“We spent an hour looking for a taxi, and none of the drivers agreed to take us. They were scared after a nearby shelling in the morning. In the end, we found one, but he asked for a higher fare and didn’t drop us off in front of the house.”

Jumana says childbirth in such hard circumstances has taken its toll. “I am worn out mentally. I no longer have the desire to do anything,” she admits.

But she tells me Baby Talia is doing well: “She is a mix of my features, her sister’s and her father’s.

“If it wasn’t for the war, I would have wanted to celebrate a beautiful event one week after the birth. I would have invited all my family members and held an Aqiqah [a traditional Islamic celebration] for her,” Jumana trails off.

She says she does not know what the future holds for her family but is grateful for their new arrival saying: “She is my hope in this life of war and death.”

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