Little glimmers of hope

Shepherding life into the world following catastrophe

Beersheba-based midwives and doctors talk of helping women give birth following Hamas’s murderous invasion on October 7 — regardless of race, nationality and religion.

Illustrative: A newborn baby in an Israeli hospital. Photo: Chen Leopold/Flash90
Illustrative: A newborn baby in an Israeli hospital. Photo: Chen Leopold/Flash90

(Times of Israel) – Midwives are used to dealing with a range of emotions as they help bring new life into the world. But nothing prepared them for the mingling of the joyous high of childbirth with the deep horror and sorrow they and the women they attended felt on October 7 and the days following Hamas’s murderous invasion of Israel.

“When the missile sirens went off in our area, we were confused and in shock. We didn’t know what was going on,” said Smadar Buzaglo, a midwife who works at Shamir (Assaf Harofeh) Medical Centre in central Israel.

In Israel, uncomplicated deliveries are dealt with by professional midwives. Obstetrician-gynecologists monitor women’s labour, perform cesarean sections and attend high-risk births.

They too found themselves doing their jobs in unprecedented circumstances when on the morning of Saturday, October 7 — Simchat Torah — thousands of Hamas terrorists breached the border with Gaza by land, sea and air. They attacked and destroyed more than 20 Israeli towns, kibbutzim, and IDF bases under cover of a non-stop barrage of rockets aimed at cities and smaller communities throughout the country.

The terrorists savagely tortured, raped, and murdered 1,200 Israelis — from infants to nonagenarians — in their homes, on the roads and at an outdoor music festival. It was the most murderous single day for world Jewry since the Holocaust.

Dozens of people are still missing, and 240 Israelis and foreign nationals were taken hostage to Gaza and have yet to be released, let alone visited by the Red Cross.

Two midwives and one OB-GYN physician who spoke with The Times of Israel shared that it wasn’t easy in the aftermath of the mass slaughter to stay focused and keep their patients calm.

“I couldn’t stop my tears as I attended births. As new life was coming into the world, we were hearing on the news that soldiers were dying and more and more people had been taken hostage. It was joy mixed with a lot of pain,” Buzaglo recounted, the memory provoking tears again.

The following are the stories of Dr Rachel Rappaport and midwives Galit Nachmias and Smadar Buzaglo from the initial days of Israel’s national trauma.

Dr. Rachel Rappaport: ‘Halls filled with beds and babies’

A first-year OB-GYN resident at Soroka Medical Centre in Beersheva, Dr Rachel Rappaport was at home with her family on Saturday morning, October 7, when the missile sirens went off. It was obvious that something unusual was going on, but as a religiously observant Jew, she did not fully access media until the evening. That’s when she learned the incomprehensible news of what had happened.

The next morning, she took the train from her home in Kiryat Gat to work a 26-hour shift. Eerily, there was only one other person in her train car.

Dr Rachel Rappaport, is a first-year resident in obstetrics and gynecology at Soroka Medical Centre. Photo: supplied

When she arrived for the usual staff meeting where cases are handed over between the night and morning shifts, she immediately noticed that fewer people than normal were there.

“The feeling overall was super-heavy, very grim. People were crying all over. You could feel it throughout the whole hospital. There was an atmosphere of grief that was palpable in the air,” she recalled.

Soroka has one of the busiest maternity services in the country with upwards of 50 births per day. In addition to the Jewish residents of southern Israel, it also serves the Negev region’s Bedouin population. With so many of its patients and staff living in the south — including near Gaza — there is hardly anyone who does not directly or indirectly know someone injured, killed or kidnapped by the Hamas terrorists.

Rappaport was taking care of the women in the high-risk pregnancy ward the night between October 8 and 9. The ward has windows overlooking the hospital’s helipad.

“Helicopters were landing and taking off [bringing in the wounded] non-stop. There was no break from hearing the whizzing of their blades,” she said.

According to Rappaport, the atmosphere at the hospital — the largest in the country’s south and a level-1 trauma centre — was tumultuous as it dealt with the mass casualty event.

Illustrative: Wounded people arrive at Soroka Medical Centre in Beersheba, August 24, 2023. Photo: Flash90

The hospital’s maternity centre was likewise “pure chaos” as it had quickly moved all prenatal and postnatal mothers and newborns from the usual five departments into the space of only two.

“Only two wards are protected spaces. You’re trying to check on mothers who have just given birth, and the rooms are stuffed to capacity and the halls are filled with beds and babies,” Rappaport explained.

Rappaport said that as rocket sirens went off, she had to quickly stop internal examinations or detach women from monitors to move together with them to safety within 45 seconds.

“There was definitely a lot of stress in the air. I mean, these women are about to have a baby. This is supposed to be the most exciting moment of their life, but they’re also filled with anxiety,” she said.

She also noted that many of the women had kids at home and had to rush to figure out appropriate childcare solutions during a time of war. Some pregnant women were on bedrest in the hospital or labouring without their husbands, who had been called to military duty.

“The one light of working here is every time you see a birth, it gives you a little glimmer of hope,” Rappaport said.

Soroka Medical Centre midwife Galit Greener Nachmias holds a newborn baby. Photo: supplied

Galit Nachmias: ‘I won’t let my son’s death be in vain’

The night between October 6 and 7, was relatively quiet for midwife Galit Nachmias at Soroka Medical Centre. She didn’t have to rush from room to room and could spend considerable time with each patient.

Among them were two Palestinian women, one from Nablus and the other from Bethlehem.

“These women were alone, without their husbands. I speak some Arabic and was able to communicate with them. Both women had good births,” Nachmias reported.

“I remember thinking to myself that it will be people like us who will change the world. I will treat them well and it will be repaid to me and other Israelis. I was thinking optimistically that this way the world will be better,” she said.

At 6:30am on October 7, Nachmias was finishing up, bringing the last baby born during her shift to the nursery. A long-time employee of Soroka and a resident of the Yesha moshav near Gaza for 15 years, she wasn’t initially concerned by the rocket sirens.

“I just moved quickly to bring the baby into a protected area,” she recounted.

As Nachmias was heading out of the hospital to her car, her husband called and implored me not to get on the road. He told her the situation was unusual and that there was shooting in the streets.

“If I had not answered the phone, I wouldn’t have reached home because on the route I would have gone, the terrorists were cutting down anyone who passed by,” she said.

Not grasping the full nature or scope of the unfolding events, Nachmias stayed in Beersheva at her private clinic, where she leads prenatal classes and prepares couples for home births. She contacted the hospital and offered to come in to work more hours, but she was told to rest where she was so she could come in later if needed.

She did not yet know that her 20-year-old son Itai, a combat soldier in the IDF Multidimensional Unit, had gone out to fight the Hamas terrorists who had infiltrated a neighbouring community.

“Itai had come home the previous Wednesday, during the Sukkot holiday. He brought all his equipment and his personal weapon with him because he was supposed to head out to a special six-week course on Sunday,” Nachmias said.

“When a call came in around 8am asking everyone with a weapon to help defend the moshav against infiltrating terrorists, he quickly put on his uniform, grabbed his weapon, and went to be picked up by members of our civilian security team at the moshav’s gate,” she said.

Nachmias’s husband tried to convince Itai not to go, telling him he was not a member of the security team, unfamiliar with their procedures, and that it was not his responsibility to respond.

“But it didn’t help. Itai joined up with two guys from Yesha’s security team, and then the three of them met up with two guys from the team from the neighbouring moshav, Mivtachim,” Nachmias recounted.

IDF soldier Itai Nachmias, son of midwife Galit Greener Nachmias, fell defending Moshav Mivtachim against invading Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. Photo: supplied

Unfortunately, 20 terrorists were waiting for them in the centre of Mivtachim, next to the synagogue.

“There was a big battle and all four security team members and Itai were killed. The terrorists broke into the home of Mivtachim’s security coordinator’s home, stole the keys to his truck, threw all their dead and wounded into it, and sped back into Gaza,” Nachmias said.

The retreat prevented an attack on the homes and unarmed residents of Yesha and Mivtachim. However, it took a day for the army to arrive and tell the residents they could leave their safe rooms.

Nachmias’s husband finally let his wife know around 2pm that Itai had left to fight the terrorists. Eventually, he reached someone who informed him that Itai had been killed. Ignoring all danger, he went out to find his son’s body.

“Then he called me, wailing with grief. My oldest son and his wife, who live in Beersheva, came to pick me up and we sped to the battle scene where Itai’s body lay,” Nachmias recounted.

Itai was buried on Wednesday, October 11. After the weeklong shiva mourning period, Nachmias went back to work. She speaks openly about what happened and her colleagues listen and support her.

Midwife Galit Greener Nachmias (far right) stands next to her son Itai, who fell defending Moshav Mivtachim against invading Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. This photo was taken at the wedding of the Nachmias family’s oldest son a week earlier. Photo: supplied

“It is important for me to talk, to memorialise my son so that he and everyone else who fell defending our home will not have died in vain,” Nachmias said.

Women who come to give birth at Soroka know her story, and she was concerned that some would not want her to take care of them because of her grief. On the contrary, women tell her that she gives them strength.

“I have huge sadness every hour of every day, but my job is to bring life into this world. If I allow evil to win, what will be left for us?” she said.

Smadar Buzaglo: ‘Labouring women refused to give birth October 7’

Rocket sirens sounding during the night shift of October 27-28 brought midwife Smadar Buzaglo back to the night of October 6-7 at Shamir (Assaf Harofeh) Medical Centre in Be’er Yaakov in central Israel.

“It was such a strong sense of déjà vu of that accursed day, that I felt compelled to post about it on social media. I got a huge response from people, especially fellow midwives, for whom it really resonated,” she said.

Midwife Smadar Buzaglo at work at Shamir (Assaf Harofeh) Medical Centre Photo: Talia Chen Krainin

Buzaglo recalled it was a slow night on October 6-7, and one of the women who arrived to deliver was from Lod.

“She and her husband were young Arabs expecting their first child and we were chatting quite a bit. We talked about how I am also originally from Lod, which when I was growing up was a city of real coexistence,” she said.

Buzaglo’s shift ended at 7am, but she was nervous about leaving the hospital with all the sirens going off and news reports that there were terrorist infiltrations. However, later in the morning, she headed to her home near Modiin.

“When I got home, they called a preparedness meeting of all the health and medical professionals in our community. I went although I had worked all night. I was running on adrenaline,” she recounted.

The next day, Buzaglo went to work to find pregnant women arriving “afraid, confused and sad.”

“They were more stressed and anxious than usual and coming whether or not they were having contractions. Some were showing up at the maternity admissions department repeatedly and instead of sending them home until they were further along with their labour, we allowed them to stay and try to progress so they would feel safe in the hospital with us,” she said.

Buzaglo noted that women’s labour did not progress while they watched distressing news reports on TV.

“They were stuck. The horrible news was making for bad energy. I told the women to turn off the TV. When they did, they became more focused and made good progress,” she said.

Midwife Smadar Buzaglo holds the foot of a newborn baby. Photo: Talia Chen Krainin

Buzaglo noticed that after October 7, some Jewish midwives became less comfortable working with Arab women. She asserted that she, however, remains fully professional and would never discriminate based on religion, nationality, race or sex.

Although babies generally call the shots as to when it’s time to make their appearance, Buzaglo encountered women who arrived at Shamir the weekend of October 6-7 and refused to give birth until October 8.

“They viewed October 7 as a cursed day. Just the fact that the Jewish period of mourning, the shiva, is related to the number seven, upset them,” she said.

Buzaglo — like all Israelis — did not know that the sirens that sounded at 6:30am on October 7 would change everyone’s lives. However, she said that now more than ever, women rely on midwives to help them give birth as safely and smoothly as possible.

“I tell them that I am there for them and that in turn gives me strength to keep doing my job,” she said.

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