Mothers of Syria: Giving Birth in Turmoil

by Feby Ramadhani (Kopernik) & Sera Bonds (Circle of Health International)

Photo: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International

This week marks the fifth year of the armed-conflict in Syria, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. The war has forced more than 11 million people to flee from their homes.

Like many others, Kopernik is alarmed by the events in war-torn Syria, where mothers-to-be and their unborn children are feeling the terrible consequences of war. Azzah’s story from our partner, Circle of Health International, is a tragic illustration of a war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and pushed millions of others to flee, including mothers and mothers to be.

Flashback to one year ago…

Azzah* is a 27 year old woman who works as a teacher in Jableh, Syria, and she is six months pregnant with her first child. She’s one of more than 150,000 Syrian women who, according to UNHCR, are struggling to provide food and shelter for their families whilst facing harassment, humiliation and isolation.

Azzah’s relationship with her husband has never been healthy. Azzah is a victim of domestic violence and since the Syrian Army began enlisting men in their neighborhood the danger for her in her own home is increasing as her husband’s fuse grows shorter and shorter.

She knows it is only a matter of time before the recruiters come knocking on the door, and Azzah’s husband is taking his anxiety out on her. Fearing for the safety of her child, Azzah begins to plan her escape.

Unbeknownst to her husband and with the help of a good friend, Azzah secretly meets with other women who are planning to flee Jableh. Azzah and the women need money to flee, so Azzah begins to hide money in a slipper in the closet, telling her husband that the school has cut her pay.

Azzah knows this will be a difficult and long journey that requires planning, so she stays late into the night at school, meticulously mapping her route. Azzah has told her husband that she is participating in an after-school tutoring program. Finally, after one month of careful planning, Azzah is ready to escape and departs on a long and grueling journey to Europe. She is now seven months pregnant.

Syrians walk along the highway towards the Turkish-Greek border. Photo: Bulent Kilic / AFP / Getty Images

As many mothers know, the seventh month of pregnancy is when their baby becomes active, the baby starts to hear the outside world and starts to move to sound, pain and light. At the seventh month of pregnancy most mothers will begin to prepare for the birth, Azzah does not have this luxury. Instead, Azzah has been alternating between walking and being cramped into into a bus for two weeks to reach the Syrian-Turkish border. At the border Azzah has to use the money she hid in her slipper to pay people smugglers to take her across the border.

Azzah is no longer travelling alone, she is with a group, a new family, waiting for the smugglers to usher them across the Syrian-Turkey border. The smugglers arrive with two cars and tell the group to separate and to get into the trunk of each car. She now finds herself seven months pregnant cramped in the trunk of a car, with someone else, being thrown about and struggling for air, whilst praying that her, her unborn child and the new family she has met on this journey all make it across the border safely. Miraculously, they all made it to Turkey and breathe a sigh of relief as the trunks are open and fresh air enters their lungs. But the journey is not over yet.

Two weeks later…

It has now been two weeks since Azzah and her new family entered Turkey. They are now in the coastal Turkish city of Izmir. To get here, Azzah had to haggle and jump from smuggler to smuggler. The city Izmir is where smugglers charge 2,998.90 Turkish Lira (equal to 1,000 U.S. dollars) for a place on a flimsy, rubber dinghy used to transport as many as 40 people across the Aegean Sea to Greece. Azzah is only one of the tens of thousands of Syrians in Izmir, many of whom are waiting for their turn to cross the sea into Greece; Azzah must wait for her turn. Azzah is now eight months pregnant.

A drenched Syrian refugee rests after a huge rainstorm. Photo: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters

Winters in Turkey are wet, and Azzah’s clothes are almost always drenched. Her back aches from the weight of her in her belly. Finally, after one week of waiting it was her turn to cross. Azzah ran out of money long ago, but the rest of her group, her new family, is able to pull together just enough money for her to cross.

On a decent boat not exceeding the maximum capacity, passengers would reach the Greek island of Lesvos in less than one hour. Azzah’s journey will take 14 hours in a rubber dinghy crammed with far too many people.

A dinghy of Syrian refugees drifts in the Aegean sea between Turkey and Greece. Photo: Yannis Behrakis / Reuters

At the end of the six kilometer long journey, Azzah feels a sharp pain in her abdomen, as the dinghy comes crashing to the shore of Lesvos. The passengers quickly puncture the dinghy so that no one can force them back. Volunteers and lifeguards rush into the water to pull the refugees to safety. Azzah now knows she is in labor, and in Arabic she screams to the volunteers waiting for her on the beach. They understand.

Syrian refugees arrive on the shore of Lesvos. Photo: Achilleas Zavallis / AFP / Getty Images
A Syrian mother gave birth on the shore of Lesvos after arriving in a rubber boat. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

She is quickly wrapped in a blanket and taken to the women’s health clinic where a midwife trained by Circle of Health International is waiting to help.

It is all a blur for Azzah, she has made it Europe, her baby is delivered in safety. However, as is the case for many other Syrian refugees this not the end of her and her child’s journey.

*name has been changed to protect identity

Give Syrian Mothers a Chance

Photo Credits: Muhammad Muheisen / AP; Yannis Behrakis / Reuters; Bulent Kilic / AFP / Getty Images

We’re lending a hand together with our partner, Circle of Health International to connect JANMA clean birth kits with internally displaced mums-to-be in Syria.

Your support can transform the lives of Syrian mums-to-be. Help those who, unlike Azzah, are unable to escape the conflict and gain access to appropriate health care. With the JANMA Clean Birth Kits, internally displaced mums-to-be in Syria will have access to sterile equipment needed for a safe birth.

JANMA Clean Birth Kits contain six simple tools (recommended by the World Health Organization) that can prevent infections, mortality and morbidity at the time of childbirth.

Give generously. Because these mothers are not giving up, and neither should we.

Written & Edited by: Sera Bonds (Circle of Health International), Feby Ramadhani (Kopernik), Phil Murphy (Kopernik)

Kopernik is a Bali-based social enterprise that connects simple, life changing technologies to the last mile, the most remote parts of the developing world.

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