I lost my unborn child to a hospital airstrike

I lost my unborn child to a hospital airstrike in Syria
4 min read
11 Dec, 2019
Comment: For Dr Ikram Haboosh, Syria's brutal civil war forced her to make a life and death choice no woman should ever be faced with.
In 'double-tap' strikes, a second attack targeting first responders follows the first [Getty]
I run a maternal and paediatric hospital in Idlib, supported by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). There are four gynaecologists, four midwives and 19 nurses working full-time. 

All of us are women, and we work around the clock in the midst of ongoing violence and bombardment. When an attack happens nearby, we usually don't receive casualties from the shelling, but that doesn't mean we are protected from the fallout.

As women health workers in a maternity hospital, are we spared from these attacks? Of course not. 

Eight months ago, the area around my hospital came under heavy bombardment. When a hospital is targeted, people usually imagine horrendous destruction: Body parts, people trapped under rubble, injuries, and so on.

The people in Syria, or at least those who have experienced such aerial bombardment, know what I'm describing. The targeting of hospitals is hard to describe.

On the day of the attack, we immediately had to evacuate infants, young children, and expectant mothers. Our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) was full. Of our 14 incubators, only one was available. We were forced to take 13 premature babies out of incubators to evacuate them and save their lives.

While we were evacuating the hospital, the surgical department prepared to deliver babies via cesarean section, and we transferred some patients to a nearby hospital.

I had no other choice. If I didn't operate, my patient and her baby would never have survived

As the evacuation got underway, I was in the operating room finishing an emergency c-section. I had no other choice. If I didn't operate, my patient and her baby would never have survived. That moment - the stress, nerves and fatigue - began to take a toll on me. When I heard the first cry of her baby, I felt a sense of relief.

Attacks on civilian infrastructure are unlawful and a crime against humanity. We all know this on a rational level. However, when your own hospital comes under attack, it's an entirely different feeling. You can't just think about yourself. There are vulnerable patients and babies who depend on you for their survival and safety.

When first responders arrive at a hospital that has just been targeted, they don't consider the medical staff victims of the bombardment. They consider us their colleagues, working hand in hand to evacuate and save as many patients as possible. 

'I was determined to do whatever it takes to save
this newborn,' writes Dr Ikram Haboosh [SAMS]

We have been trained as first responders over the years, even though we never signed up for that job.

On that unforgettable day, ambulances were coming to the hospital to transfer premature infants and patients to nearby facilities.

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When I finished the surgery, I was told that the baby I had just delivered needed an incubator. The baby was too weak.

We had already evacuated the entire NICU in anticipation of a "double-tap" attack, a technique that has been used since the beginning of the conflict in Syria to target first responders and other health workers.

We immediately started looking for a hospital that had an available incubator. We first drove to Al-Ghadfeh Hospital, but they had no incubator available. Al-Salam Hospital in Ma'arat Al-Numan had one available, but it was an hour away. I monitored the newborn's condition during the drive, and fortunately, we made it in time.

I was in my first trimester of pregnancy when the attack happened. On that day, I lost my unborn child due to bleeding.

No one can possibly describe the overwhelming despair a mother feels when she loses her child, especially under such inhumane circumstances.

No woman should ever experience this, but it is all too common for those of us living in northwest Syria. That's why I was determined to do whatever it takes to save this newborn. I can't bear to see another mother suffer an unfathomable loss because of violence and displacement.

Attacks on civilian infrastructure are unlawful and a crime against humanity

A few days later, we reopened our hospital. The mother still hadn't seen her son because she was still recovering from her c-section.

We brought the child to meet his mother for the first time after 10 days in the incubator at al-Salam Hospital. He survived, despite everything.

Although I lost my own child that day, I was blessed with another. Had the hospital not been bombed, my unborn child might have survived too, and I would have a third child in my family today. 

Dr Ikram Haboosh is an OBGYN working at SAMS-supported Idlib National Hospital. She's the director of the OBGYN department at the hospital, where she supervises and trains midwives. 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.