Born in a snowstorm on New Year’s Day

Ayman, Sami and Tamar had to fight from their first day of life.

Their home was a freezing cold tented settlement in Lebanon; the thin canvas walls of their tent offering only meagre protection from the bitter chill of a harsh winter. It’s far from hospitals, doctors and midwives, and the kind of place where having a baby is a life-threatening experience.

Mothers are known to give birth on the floor of a tent or in makeshift rooms with no nurses or pain relief and sometimes without blankets or proper medical equipment.

These mums risk severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure and birth complications for their babies. Many die before they can even give their tiny loved ones a name.

When Ayman, Sami and Tamar were born their mum bled uncontrollably. She was rushed to hospital but Amena lost her own life giving her little ones the chance of a future.

In time, the babies left hospital but their battle to survive wasn’t over.

The smallest baby started to get sick and weak. Sami needed the unique nutrients provided by his mother’s milk so, without her, he had an especially tough fight on his hands.

He survived a week. Then 10 days. When he got to 15 days were were hopeful. But he began to go downhill.

After just 20 days, Sami lost his battle for life. Technically, he probably died of pneumonia, but really he was an innocent victim of human conflict.

Every minute of every day, five babies die in their first month of life — largely from preventable causes.

Simple interventions like high nutrient substitute milk can help to fulfil a child’s right to survive and develop in good health. No ordinary milk, it’s vital for babies whose mothers cannot breastfeed or who, like Ayman and Tamar, no longer have a mother at all.

Of course, keeping mothers and children alive through childbirth takes much more than this. UNICEF supports 21 Mobile Medical Units across Lebanon to provide health services to refugees. These medical teams visit camps and informal settlements all over the country, each one reaching about 80 people a day. The team includes a doctor, two nurses, a midwife, a vaccinator and hygienic medical equipment.

They vaccinate children against polio, measles and other childhood disease. They provide acute medication like antibiotics, special micronutrients to help prevent or treat malnutrition, and treatments for conditions that easily spread through refugee camps.

So how did Amena, the triplet’s mother, come to be living in a tent in a snowstorm?

She had fled to Lebanon in the wake of the crisis in Syria with nothing but the clothes on her back.

For three long years Amena and her then husband lived in a single room tent, hoping and longing for the chance to safely return home.

In winter the tents are freezing; in summer they’re scorching. There are very few comforts or belongings — shared cots, a little cooking equipment and hopefully enough blankets.

Not all of them have fuel stoves for warmth. It’s easy to imagine how bitterly cold it must be and how worried parents are for the lives and futures of their children.

And as the conflict continues to rage, it’s hard to see how they keep their health, their children warm and safe and their spirits up.

Babies Ayman and Tamar will never get to hear their mother tell them she loves them. But they can still have a fair chance in life; a chance to survive their precarious first months and to grow up strong and healthy.

All names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the family.

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