Helping Vulnerable Syrian Mothers Bring Their Children Into The World
Being a refugee is tremendously difficult. You lost your home, your job, your car, your dignity and place within society.
You are often living in a foreign host nation that, at best, tolerates your presence, and at worse exploits you.
You or your husband try to find work in the informal sector, selling things on the side of the road, working in a factory, or doing manual labor.
Your next meal, the roof (or tarp) over your head, is not guaranteed beyond the next day.
Add to this already bleak life a pregnancy, and it can be a recipe for disaster.
Having a baby in most refugee host countries is not free.
Even if the UNHCR is willing to assist with the cost, in every case we know of the coverage is only 60-80% of the hospital costs.
That means most families still have to provide $600-$1,200 for the delivery at a minimum.
Often, due to the poor health and malnutrition of the mothers, the baby comes out sick and in need of a prolonged NICU stay just to survive. Add another $2,000+ to the hospital bill.
For a refugee that can maybe scrape together $400 dollars a month to cover food, rent and necessities, having to pay 2-3 months salary – or in some cases almost a year’s worth – is impossible.
Many borrow money from unscrupulous, exploitative local lenders or risk going to jail over unpaid debts.
In some cases, private lenders may pressure refugee women for sexual ‘favors’ to eliminate the debt.It is a vulnerable, risky situation for anybody to be in.
At times women will deliver at home and then put the baby in a dumpster or garbage dump to die, out of desperation to avoid these hardships.
That might sound shocking, but sadly it happens. The news reports it every so often, though in most cases it happens silently or people in the community hear about and share it on social media.
What If It Was Your Baby?
I wish I was exaggerating the above.
But we’ve helped with over a dozen births now this past year, and the stories above are typical for refugee women.
We never want to motivate people by guilt, nor should we be compelled to help in a situation out of guilt.
But, Jesus did tell us to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”
So, we should legitimately ask ourselves, what if that was my baby? What if that was my wife?
What if I was suffering in this same way?
Wouldn’t I be extremely thankful someone cared enough to help? Wouldn’t I want someone to help?
You would be. All of us would be.
But for many Syrian refugee women, there is nobody to help them.
There are few programs regionally, and none we know of in the refugee population areas we work in, that aim to primarily help women with the costs of pre-natal medical checks, vitamins and a safe, dignified in-hospital delivery.
We feel this is what Jesus would want us to do, as if we were in the same situation we would want someone to do this unto us.
How Do We Help Pregnant Refugees?
This program is very simple.
Pregnant refugee women come to us for an initial pre-natal check to determine basic health status and due date.
We then visit their homes to determine the level of need before committing to help.
People are people. Sometimes there are refugees who have enough money saved from their previous life in Syria that they can live fairly well off compared to other refugees and don’t truly need the help. But, they heard about the help and wanted to try and save money by appealing to us.
We do not generally help unless clear need is determined.
Once we determine the need, they go see a local OB physician we partner with and get an official ultrasound, definite due date, and clinical evaluation.
This doctor then stays as their primary care provider for future pre-natal checks done in his clinic.
We visit the refugee women or have them visit us at least monthly for an informal medical check, and provide them with high-quality pre-natal vitamins.
We also do general pregnancy health education for the mothers, many of whom have not finished the equivalence of middle school and are ignorant of how birth works.
For example, we have had multiple women state before that they were taught to not drink much water during pregnancy or the baby would drown!
I wish I was joking, but I am not. That is the level of knowledge in many cases, though not all.
When the due date arrives we help drive them to the hospital (few have access to a car themselves nor can they afford a taxi or ambulance).
Someone is there to support them during labor while the doctor they already saw for pre-natal checks delivers the baby. It is safe, in-hospital birth at a facility certified by the UN to provide care to refugees.
We pay the difference for their delivery costs after the UN determines the amount they can cover.
We have found that a normal vaginal birth is generally about $500-$700 after the UN covers their portion, and a C-section about twice that amount.
If the baby has to go to the NICU or the mother has complications – often the mothers are very anemic and lose blood, thus needing transfusions – we help with those costs as well.
Sometimes we even have to help find blood donors – or go give blood ourselves – as there is almost no blood bank resources in the entire country! Thus it is not uncommon to be driving donors to the hospital after getting the right blood type match.
After the mother and baby go home, we visit them for follow up on their health and wellness status.
We also provide milk and baby formula when needed, although in most cases we encourage them to breast feed when the mom is healthy enough to do so!
Many of the mothers become friends and acquaintances through this program, and we find it is a great open door for showing the love of Christ in a tangible way!
How You Can Get Involved
That is what we do for the pregnant refugee women, and why we do it.
You can get involved in one of three ways:
- Pray for the women and babies
- Sponsor/donate towards a birth fully or partially
- Volunteer your time to help with pre-natal checks/education
We are thankful for any and every amount of help people wish to give towards helping the refugees. All donated amounts go towards helping refugees. All of us involved are volunteers. We aren’t paid to do this, but do it because we love serving.