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Lebanon: Both sweet and bitter moments- My time as a midwife in a pandemic
MSF midwife Wafaa Sharif looks back on the professional and personal challenges her maternity team have faced due to COVID-19.
"We live moments that are priceless"
From the first days of a woman’s pregnancy, through to when her baby arrives, it’s my job to dedicate my life to two people: The mother and her newborn, accompanying them to the end of the delivery.
My role with MSF as a midwife has taught me a lot, as I work to ensure a safe delivery for both mother and baby.
I’ve learned how to resuscitate a newborn after evaluating their initial condition, as well as the correct way to compress their chest and induce breathing for that first cry – that most beautiful moment that a mother waits to experience for nine months.
I started working with MSF five years ago, in the maternity ward and in operating theatres by the side of mothers. I hear them scream, and then how all of a sudden their pain turns to happiness when they hear the sound of their newborn.
In this room, we live moments that are priceless and we feel what these women in labour feel – the good and the bad.
Speaking with our eyes
With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, life changed a lot, and we found ourselves communicating with our eyes. The mask hid our ability to express ourselves, but it protected us on the other. Our eyes spoke to the mothers and reassured them.
Weakness at this stage was not an option
At that time, I had just started working as a supervisor at the maternity ward in Burj al-Barajneh – one of the poorest regions in South Beirut – where women live in very small houses.
Even the smaller families are made up of five or seven people, meaning that self-isolation was not an option. That’s why we had to check up on mothers almost daily.
The healthcare centre consists of clinics dedicated to obstetrics, in addition to special departments family planning, and social and psychological counselling for women. There is also a special clinic for chronic diseases for pregnant women.
My responsibility here is not only limited to protecting pregnant women, but also protecting the patients and a team of more than ten women working on the frontlines – all of whom are exposed to COVID-19.
Each of them has a great responsibility towards herself, her patients, colleagues and family. All following the preventive guidelines to fight COVID-19 with the utmost care and commitment.
However, COVID-19 did not stop us from working. Like other MSF staff, I commit to a humanitarian message above all. I’ve worked hard and with passion day and night during this pandemic.
Despite all the fatigue and exhaustion, I was always keen to reassure pregnant women, to raise their spirits and to motivate them to follow all preventive measures, too.
I can’t deny that we faced many sweet and bitter moments during this year, but one incident affected me the most.
We were following the pregnancy of a woman from the beginning until birth, but in the last month of her pregnancy she tested positive for COVID-19. Despite this, she overcame all the difficult stages, she gave birth to a child who was healthy.
But, unfortunately, she died soon after birth.
She suffered from a blood clot that is known to be possible in the post-COVID-19 stage. We were all affected as a team, despite knowing that we fulfilled all our medical and humanitarian duties.
When we take off our medical robes after working for long hours, we remember that we are humans with fears
But we did not grow weak; weakness at this stage was not an option. The most important thing we achieved next was gaining people's confidence, both in us and in our work.
This confidence was then demonstrated when we saw a large increase in the number of women seeking refuge in our treatment centre, especially Lebanese women with limited income and Syrian refugees, as MSF services are free of charge.
For my family
We work on the frontlines; we’re not scared of or grow tired of it. We are humanitarian workers.
But at the end of day, when we take off our medical robes after working for long hours, we remember that we are humans with fears.
My fears outside the clinic have revolved around my family: my father, mother, and grandmother who is 80 years old. I was very careful not to transmit the disease to them in case I contract it.
This pandemic did not only affect our professional lives, it flipped all aspects of lives upside down. I personally stopped all my regular gathering with family over meals, so I ate alone to respect physical distancing.
I also let go of the happy moments I spent with my grandmother, who used to always wrap her arms around me.
Despite the difficulties we have faced, I will not stop fulfilling my humanitarian mission. At the beginning of my career, I chose to serve people and stand up for them, and I will commit to doing this until the end.
We promise you that we will never give up.
I call on people to not underestimate this pandemic even after receiving the vaccine. Prevention is better than a thousand cures.