A few moments after checking into the maternity ward of Ippokrateio General Hospital in northern Greece, Suad Iessa hoists herself onto an examination table. She’s nine months pregnant and is about to get her first ultrasound. Back in Syria, Suad would have had many more by this point, but the 25-year-old refugee spent the first six months of her pregnancy on the run from war and the past three in a refugee camp with limited access to prenatal care.
Suad turns her face away in embarrassment as the male ultrasound technician pulls aside her gown to run the wand across her exposed belly. He glances at the computer screen, then pauses. He calls in a colleague. They speak in rapid-fire Greek, gesturing at the screen and then at Suad. “There’s a problem,” one of the technicians says. He steps out of the room to summon the ward’s senior doctor, and Suad’s eyes fill with tears. She doesn’t speak the language, but she understands enough to know that something is very wrong.
When Dr. Efstratios Assimakopoulos, director of the hospital’s second university obstetrics-gynecology clinic, moves the wand over her abdomen, he mutters an expletive in Greek and summons Suad’s husband, Thaer Sannaa, into the cramped exam room. “It’s a very bad situation,” he says in English. The baby is O.K., he continues, but Suad’s placenta is in the wrong place—it has penetrated the uterine wall and attached itself to her bladder. She will have to have a cesarean section, followed by another surgery. The doctors could try to save her uterus, but there would be a chance that she would hemorrhage to deat