In the last month of her pregnancy, May al-Masri was preparing dinner when a rocket landed outside her home in northern Gaza and killed her one-year-old son, Yasser.
Masri had felt the shock wave from the blast when the attack occurred last month, but was largely unscathed. Once the air had cleared, she ran out to find her husband seriously injured and her son’s body covered in blood.
With her husband in a West Bank hospital, and will likely be there for the next few months, Masri gave birth to a healthy boy a few weeks later. However, the trauma of the attack and the pain of her loss have made it difficult for the 20-year-old to bond with or breastfeed her newborn baby.
The escalation of violence in May in the protracted conflict between Israel and Palestine killed 256 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Yasser was one of 68 children killed in Gaza, according to authorities there.
While ruined buildings and signs of devastation can be seen along the small strip of land, it is the hidden impact of the war, the trauma, that outweighs the visible destruction.
“Trauma, stress and proximity to the explosions have led to many miscarriages during the war, as well as increased numbers of stillbirths,” says psychologist Helana Musleh, who works at al-Awda hospital in northern Gaza. , where Masri gave birth to her baby.
“Abnormal situations such as war can generate severe fear and depression that can affect the health of both the mother and the child. Hormonal changes can even prevent women from being able to breastfeed their children, ”says Musleh.
Scrolling through the images on his phone, Masri pulls out one of his favorites of Yasser sitting on the floor with a wide smile on his face. Tears roll down her cheeks as she caresses the screen with her fingers, her baby, Ahmad, resting on her lap, wrapped in a blanket. “I refuse to visit his grave,” he says. “I have deleted all the photos of the destruction of the explosion. I can’t look at it. “
Masri has moved in with his mother; his own house was too damaged to be habitable. She gave birth in a blurry way, without contractions, without producing milk for Ahmad, who is named after one of Masri’s uncles, who was also killed.
“Once again, it is women and children who are most affected by the latest escalation of violence in Gaza,” says Samah Kassab, ActionAid’s humanitarian programs officer who works with women like Masri. “We hear about new mothers who are unable to breastfeed or bond with their babies, and about children who get wet and cannot talk to their friends and family due to fear and anxiety.”
During 11 days of furious fighting, from May 10 to 21, 97 women gave birth at al-Awda hospital; 31 had caesarean sections. “Giving birth doesn’t stop during war, of course, but giving birth under a lot of stress can cause complications,” says hospital director Dr. Ahmad Ismail Mohanna, adding that the number of women experiencing difficulties in delivery is still high.
Wissam Maher Mater, 25, has yet to see her baby, who is now almost two weeks old.
“During the war, a rocket hit right outside my house, smashing our windows and doors,” says Mater. She fainted. “From that moment on, I couldn’t calm down any more, even after the war stopped. I wasn’t sure my baby would survive in my womb. “
After complications and a cesarean delivery, Mater’s son was rushed to the intensive care unit of the children’s hospital on the other side of town, as his lungs weren’t strong enough to allow him to breathe without help. Mater continues to recover herself in the hospital, miles away from her baby.
“I have not been able to see him or breastfeed him. I don’t even know my son, ”he says. The only guarantee of his well-being is a photo sent to him by the nurses who take care of him, a picture that Mater can barely take his eyes off.
Although there is an unstable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, many of those being treated at al-Awda hospital fear further escalation and violence, and worry for the future safety of their children.
“Even if I wanted to go and give my newborn son a better future, there is nowhere to go,” says Masri.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism