The neonatal ward of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Maternity Hospital in Khost is often full of twins. Hormones, easily accessible in local suks across Afghanistan, are used without prenatal care whenever a woman isn’t fullfilling her unspoken obligation to give birth nearly every year.
These hormones often result in twins, or triplets.
Born premature at 27 weeks (the norm is from 37-40 weeks) Bahmala’s yet unnamed baby girl lost her twin brother immediately after birth. Bahmala has lived in the neonatal ward for 37 days now, caring for her daughter, her only child. She cleans her tiny body, wrapping it in a traditional Afghan way, feeding her milk through her nose, and adoring her whenever possible.
This mother-baby bond is rare here. Many women have complications during child birth (about a child a day is stillborn at this hospital, even more in the surrounding districts). The fragile, old-faced, early-born survivors are brought to the neonatal ward.
For an Afghan woman the demands from home are strong. Mothers leave the ward to take care of the 10 or more children waiting at home. There are chores, and husbands to feed. Often, husbands bring their wives home before it’s safe.
MSF Pediatric Nurse Isabelle Arnound says she often hears women say they can’t stay at the hospital for just one baby when they have so many at home that need them.
Bahmala’s husband works in Dubai for years at a time. Without competing responsibilities at home she is able to stay in the hospital with her daughter until it is safe for both to leave.