Unnoticed: A Woman’s Trauma
By Nour Shawaf, Humanitarian Programme Coordinator, Oxfam in Lebanon
At 18:07 on August 4th 2020, I was stripped of my last drop of milk.
Liam, my 3-month-old son and I were now used to our daily routine. At six o’clock, it was our breastfeeding time again. I sat in our living room with my little baby latched onto my right breast, looking at the watch to see if it was time to switch to the other side.
It was very quiet that evening, this is all I can remember before our worlds turned upside down. Then a blood-red flash struck my eyes. I held Liam him tight and came closer to the window, feeling the ground shake underneath and within fractions of a second, I was thrown at the apartment door. Still leaning over Liam. He looked me straight in the face that moment. I held him with all the power left in me.
I do not remember the blast; I have no recollection of that moment. I do not want to remember. All I remember is the little one latching onto my breast, looking me in the eyes and watching my every move from that moment on.
Liam did not let go of me for three hours straight that night. I was exhausted and there was not a drop of milk coming out of my body. But despite experiencing trauma and fear I never imagined existed, I held on trying to breastfeed through the hours that followed the blast. But it was all gone and I was eaten up by guilt.
It took a while for me to realise that it was okay to talk about it, and that I shouldn’t feel guilty when I do. That each of us that day went through different types of trauma.
For a long time I felt I should be thankful that I didn’t lose a loved one, or suffer any major injuries. Others went through so much worse.
Writing about this day brings back so many memories of guilt. Guilt that I could not provide what was expected of me. As women, we are brought up to assume our role of a mother, a superwoman. We do not talk about the suffering we endure as a result, especially through traumatic experiences that impact our very being. Articles and testimonies of pregnant and breastfeeding women around the time of the Beirut blast continue to focus on the need to protect and care for family. Little or no records discusses the impact on women. Long entrenched social norms make it very hard for women to think of their own needs, or the psychological trauma this blast had on them.
Here I was, a new mom surviving an already difficult time of having a newborn, amidst a pandemic and an economic crisis, now facing another trauma punishing her and her baby. I could not care for myself; I simply did not have the time or the motive to think of my own wellbeing. Hundreds of women in Beirut experienced the same trauma of that day. Some have stronger support systems than others. But even then, our patriarchal systems force us into the gendered roles of being a mother, a wife, a caretaker, and a protector… before being individuals.
Women are constantly at the frontline when disaster strikes. We are the nurses, the aid workers, the doctors, the cleaners, the business owners, the teachers, the farmers, the directors, the managers, the engineers. We are also almost always expected to “save the day”.
But we cannot and should not be expected to always save the day.
Two-years on, reminders of the Beirut blast are still present in our daily lives and continue to destroy us on the inside. Patriarchy, on top of a ruling elite that has gotten away committing this crime, another example of the injustice women endure.