The delivery room opened a couple days before I arrived in the camp, and I am lucky enough to get to witness a delivery there during my first week.
“I have seven children, this baby will be the eighth,” says Fatima as I help her onto the delivery bed. She grips my hand tightly as her contractions rise and fall. She closes her eyes and moans. The midwife injects a vial of Pitocin into Fatima’s arm to speed the labor process. The contractions come more and more quickly and Fatima moans more loudly with each one.
“Why me,” she begins to mutter. “Oh God, why me? Why in this place?”
“Don’t moan.” says the doctor, who has just entered the room. “Pray to God!” He squirts some green gel on her abdomen, quickly running a battery operated fetal heart monitor over her. The heart sounds strong.
Fatima begins to recite the Shahada. “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” The words come out in a bit of a screech as her pain increases. Her grip tightens on my hand.
“Again!” shouts the doctor.
She recites it again and again as the minutes drag on.
“Ah, the head is close,” exclaims the doctor. He prays a prayer for the baby as it prepares to enter the world. With a huge push and groan from Fatima the baby crowns.
“Quick,” says the doctor to me. “Put your hands around the head.”
Fatima shrieks out another prayer and the baby is born. Relief floods her face.
The midwife and I work together to clean up the baby and Fatima. Fatima has a plastic grocery bag with a few articles of baby clothes in it and we dress her new little boy and then wrap him up in a blanket. She names him Abdul Rahman.
After she rests for a few hours, the doctor tells Fatima she can go home. No sisters or mother or aunts accompany her on the dusty path back to her tent full of seven children. Any female relatives who might have helped her are far away, still in Syria.
The midwife turns to me.
“It’s a hard place for babies,” she says.
I nod silently. “Yes,” I think, “yes it is.”
After just a couple of days at this clinic, I start to notice a pattern. While many women come for regular prenatal check-ups and ultrasounds, those who aren’t pregnant often complain of the same issue—abdominal and lower back pain, and frequent, burning urination.
“They all have UTIs,” explain the doctors. This diagnosis is never confirmed by urinalysis, but the doctors are fairly certain of it nonetheless. They write prescription after prescription for antibiotics.
I bring a little notebook with me to the clinic each day to keep track of how many UTI cases are seen by the doctors. I find that aside from prenatal visits, UTI’s are the most common reason women come to the clinic.
I ask the doctors why they think so many women have the same complaint. They say that the women aren’t drinking enough water. The extreme heat makes the women sweat and lose a lot of their water to evaporation. When I start asking the women more about their water drinking and toilet habits, I find that their main complaint is the state of the bathrooms. The community bathrooms are rectangular concrete block structures made up of six stalls. These six stalls are shared by 50 to 60 people. The patients tell me that the bathrooms are so filthy that they try to avoid using them more than twice a day. Women also tell me that they fear going to the bathrooms alone and won’t go unless they have another female to accompany them. Rumors abound about men who hide out in the bathrooms waiting to rape unsuspecting women.