Monday, March 26, 2007

The Joy and Sorrow of Becoming a Baghdad Parent

There are so many emotions that run through a father's mind when preparing for the birth of his first child: excitement, pride, happiness, anticipation, and sometimes fear. Saleem Amer experienced this roller coaster of emotions in the days leading up to the birth of his first son, but in a way that most people could never imagine. Amer, a member of NPR's Iraqi staff, tells his story of getting ready to be a father in a time of war and the obsticles that he and his family faced.

Saleem began by looking for a doctor for his wife, but this was not an easy task since there are only two respectable maternity wards in Baghdad. The first doctor that he was recommended to had been killed a month earlier, the second had fled the country, and the third was Sunni and would not accept Saleem and his wife because they are Shia. When he finally found a doctor, he had to make a decision on the clinic where his wife would deliver the baby. He decided on the riskier option of taking her to the Sunni clinic because it was closer to their house and her doctor was practicing there.

A nurse at the clinic asked Saleem who would be accompanying his wife during the delivery, since the clinic didn't have enough staff to help during the birth. Saleem informed her that he and his brother, along with his mother and mother-in-law would all be there during the delivery. The nurse warned Saleem that it would be extremely dangerous for he and his brother to stay because Sunni militias came in at night and kidnapped Shia men. Saleem didn't know what he was going to do; should he stay for the birth of his son and risk being killed, or leave his wife and his new baby?

The day his wife went into labor, they brought clean water, antibiotics and painkillers, flashlights, blankets, and a small electric heater to the clinic. The clinic turned off its generator at midnight and did not have any clean water. Overcoming all of these complications, his wife delivered a healthy, ten pound baby boy with black hair and blue eyes named Yousef. Saleem explained that he wanted to leave before dusk, but changed his mind and decided to take the risk when he saw his wife and son being wheeled into the room. They bribed the nurse to erase their names off the registry and in case anyone came during the night, he and his brother would cover themselves with blankets and hide. The morning finally came and everyone was safe and asleep. Saleem explained that, "The most fearful night of my life was over; the night my son was born."

So many emotions ran through Saleem Amer when he was finally able to have a moment of peace and look at his son:
Why did I bring a baby into such a violent war? Could I ensure that my son would have a peaceful life; not a rich or unique life, just a peaceful life?
The waves of happiness of a father looking into his son's eyes were overcome by feelings of uncertainty, fear, and regret.

The humanitarian price of war is often missing in the political, economic, and military dialogue surrounding the conflict. The everyday reality of innocent Iraqis is very similar to that of Saleem and his family. The hope for peace and security is like a distant dream to many, and is often overshadowed by fear, violence, and uncertainty. Saleem explains that, "A day in Iraq at war is like a year in peacetime." Go here to hear all the details in Saleem's own words.

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