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Girls & Women

This is what it's like to give birth under fire

Having a baby in real life is not like having a baby in the movies - just ask your mother what a breeze giving birth to you was. But even in movies, giving birth is all drama. Rushing to the hospital, yelling fruitlessly at stalled traffic, making it to the hospital just in time for the star to give birth without breaking a sweat and smudging the make-up someone spent hours painstakingly applying. The nurse comes in with a perfect bundle swathed in pink or blue cloth, everyone rejoices, cue credit roll.

In real life, giving birth is far grittier, but even then most cannot compare to the stress and trauma of delivering a baby in a conflict zone.

Every two seconds, a baby is born in a conflict zone. So let’s revise that description now.

In Syria 64% of public hospitals have been destroyed or damaged and the whole health system has been disrupted; for many mothers, there may not be a hospital to rush to. Mothers in labor are yelling to be heard over the sound of gunfire in South Sudan. No one in Afghanistan is worried about not breaking a sweat, they’re too busy focusing on safely bringing life into the world as nearby buildings collapse. In a conflict zone, the nurse doesn’t come in with a bundle of joy, because there likely is no nurse.

Human-Male-White-Newborn-Baby-Crying.jpgImage: Wikimedia Commons - Evan-Amos

In countries like Syria, South Sudan, and Afghanistan, medical resources and access were limited to begin with. When bombs started falling and militias started forming, medical resources were strained and reduced to the point of being nearly non-existent. The pressures and dangers of these situations are absorbed by pregnant women, placing additional stress on their health.

1 in 5 women of a child-bearing age in a conflict zone is pregnant. Unfortunately, the situations these women live in mean that it is difficult to access healthcare providers - if they exist - to support pregnancies, deliver babies, and administer postpartum care. It might simply be too far or too dangerous to travel for medical support or for medical support to go to mothers.

Baby & Mother .jpgImage: Gates Foundation

Even when medical resources are available, the existing conditions might stretch those resources to their extremes. A Syrian doctor, faced with no other options, learned to perform a C-section from the internet in order to operate under fire. In other instances, otherwise essential resources could be rendered useless. Mothers and healthcare providers fleeing conflict in South Sudan have no use for refrigerated drugs that prevent postpartum hemorrhaging - because there may be no coolers.

But even in these dire situations, improvements can be made.

Drugs like misoprostol prevent postpartum hemorrhaging, a common cause of maternal deaths in developing countries, do not need to be refrigerated. With training and kits that contain the basic necessities for delivery, women could give birth more safely and successfully in conflict. The United Nations Population Fund recently re-launched its campaign Safe Birth, Even Here to reduce maternal mortality in humanitarian settings. The campaign aims to bring more awareness to the issue and to provide clean delivery kits.These simple delivery kits contain just the essentials - soap, a sterile blade, ligatures, gloves, and a plastic sheet - but greatly increase the sanitation and chances of safe delivery.

Each day, more than 500 women die in conflict zones and humanitarian emergencies during childbirth or while pregnant, but they don’t have to. With basic supplies and knowledge, communities can begin to address the void in care that expecting mothers in conflict zones face. When you’re having a baby, there are too many things to worry about. There’s no conflict and crisis edition of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but women should be able to expect to have the basics. They can and should have one less thing to worry about when bringing new life into the world.