Breastfeeding unites Palestinian women
By Monica Awad
East Jerusalem, occupied Palestinian territory, 26 March 2012 –For 26-year old Ansam, delivering a baby boy was a leap of faith. She and her husband Mohammed have been waiting for ten long years to give birth to a healthy child. Not that this is Ansam’s first child – she already had three others but only one survived, her beloved daughter Malak, who is now eight-year-old and sick.
This is why Ansam, while excited to start breastfeeding her newborn, is also extremely worried about the new baby’s health. The little boy has been kept in the neonatal intensive care unit since he was born and screened for a metabolic disorder known as ‘methylmalonic acidemia’, the same which cost the lives of two of her siblings. Transmitted from one generation to another, the disorder prevents the body from breaking down certain proteins and fats; as a result, children suffer from developmental delays, seizures and brain disease.
Resolute to breastfeed her child, Ansam had no choice but pump her milk and have the nurses bring it to feed the baby in the intensive care unit. “My little boy is not with me, and neither is my husband Mohammed”, the young mother says softly. “I wish my husband could be at my side because I am terrified of waiting for the results of the screening”, she adds.
Even though Israeli authorities granted Ansam a permit to leave the blockaded Gaza Strip, her husband was not granted one. He could not be by her side to share her joy and anguish as she gave birth in Jerusalem, where medical facilities are far more advanced than in the coastal enclave and physicians’ work not restrained by the blockade. “I have not given my baby boy a name yet as I want to choose one together with his father”, the new mother says.
Law leaves thousands of divided families in limbo
Three rooms down the pink corridor, 24 year-old Hind is breastfeeding her new-born baby girl, Jude. Even though she and Ansam are both Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory, the hospital ends up being the only place where they can meet due to heavy travel restrictions between the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the blockaded Gaza Strip.
The major referral hospital for Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, Al Makassed Charitable Hospital receives hundreds of women, most of whom with high risk pregnancies. Last year, 60 per cent of the deliveries at the maternity ward were high risk. UNICEF, in cooperation with the National Breastfeeding Committee and funding from the Swiss National Committee, chose Al Makassed as one of the six hospitals in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to be certified as “baby-friendly” and become centers of breastfeeding support. UNICEF helped train the hospitals’ physicians, nurses, midwives and nutritionists on exclusive breastfeeding, which is the perfect way to provide the best food for a baby’s first six months of life and to protect him from diseases.
“Our policy is to ensure full compliance with the ten steps for successful breastfeeding”, says Suleiman Turkman, Director of Nursing at the hospital. “We make sure staff members are fully prepared to help young mothers adopt the best practices so that their new-borns can have the best start in life”.
Even though Hind lives in East Jerusalem, she had also to give birth without her husband Ameer by her side, because he was born in the West Bank and is not authorized to access East Jerusalem. Since they married three years ago, Hind has been applying for a Jerusalem residency card that would give her Palestinian husband the right to live in East Jerusalem, an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory with the West Bank and Gaza. So far she has failed - she is only authorized to visit him in the West Bank, but not to live together with him under the same roof in Jerusalem*. A Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who wishes to reside in the city with a spouse from the remainder of the occupied Palestinian territory must apply for a permit from Israeli authorities; however the process has become virtually impossible.
“The only dream I have is to reunify our family”, says Hind while breastfeeding. I want my two-year old son, Mohammed, and my new-born daughter Jude to grow up with their father in our East Jerusalem house”, she says.