A Newborn's Dangerous First Hours in Baghdad
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And last month, MORNING EDITION brought you the thoughts of Saleem Amer. Saleem is a member of NPR's Iraqi staff whose wife recently had a baby. In his commentary, Saleem describes the dangers of having a child in Baghdad; the troubles of finding a pediatrician and getting to the hospital. There are only two respectable delivery wards in Baghdad, one in a Shiite neighborhood, one in a Sunni area. Saleem Amer tells us now which he chose and why.
SALEEM AMER: So I took the risky option. I chose the clinic in the Sunni area. I'm a Shia, but it's close to my home and it's where my wife's doctor works.
I was worried about my wife just before the delivery. She was scheduled to have a cesarean, and there had been complications all week. She was just ready to have the baby and put an end to all the difficulties we'd endured throughout the pregnancy, and so was I.
I convinced myself that it was not that dangerous to have our son in a Sunni area, but then an old nurse asked us who would accompany my wife during the delivery. You see, in Baghdad the healthcare system is really bad right now, so you need to have a family member to help care for the patient. We had to bring clean water - the hospital does not have any. We brought blankets, an electric heater, flashlights. The hospital turns its generator off at midnight. And we brought drugs: antibiotics and painkillers. I told the nurse that we would all stay with her - me, my brother, her mother and mine. The nurse looked at us and said it's not safe for Shia men to spend the night here. She said Sunni militias come every night and kidnap all the Shia men.
I didn't know what to do. Could I dare stay for my son's birth? Before I knew it, my wife was wheeled into the O.R. My mother-in-law told my brother and I to leave before it got dark. To be honest, I preferred this option. That is, until my wife and my new baby boy, Yusef, were wheeled back into the room. Then I decided to stay. At dusk, mixed emotions of fear and happiness raced through my heart. Should I stay with my recovering wife and new baby, facing a possible death, or abandon them at their most vulnerable time?
So I decided to bribe the nurse. She erased our names from her registry of who was staying overnight in the hospital, so if the militia came, they would not know we were there. Throughout the night I stood watch at the window. If anybody drove through the hospital gate, we decided my mother would cover us with blankets and then we would hope for the best. I dozed off.
When I woke it was morning. I looked around. Everyone was asleep. I felt so happy that nothing happened, and then I took a long look at my baby. The most fearful night of my life was over, the night my son was born.
I'm happy to be the father of a beautiful child. I always find comfort looking at his face and tiny body. But our life is so complicated. How can I ensure he will have a peaceful life? Not rich, not unique, just peaceful? Am I asking too much? The slightest movement from my child drives away any worry I have about our uncertain future. And the future here means a month at most. A day in Iraq at war is like a year in peacetime.
MONTAGNE: Saleem Amer is a member of NPR's Iraqi staff. His son Yusef was born last month.
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