'Hardest decision,' says Syrian refugee who waited to land in Canada to give birth
‘I felt I was going to lose the visa. That's why I took the decision’
Ibtesam Alkarnake was pregnant and flying from Amman, Jordan to Fort McMurray, Alta., on Tuesday when her water broke. She didn't tell anyone — and in an interview with CBC News Sunday, she said it wasn't an easy choice.
"It was the hardest decision for the baby and for the whole family," Alkarnake said through a translator. "Because I felt I was going to lose the visa. That's why I took the decision."
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After arriving in Fort McMurray, Alkarnake was taken to a local hospital. Her son, Eyad, was born hours later. She and Eyad have since left the hospital and attended service with the rest of their family at the church that's sponsoring them.
The congregation welcomed the Muslim family with a round of applause and a video documenting their welcome. Alkarnake sat at the back of the church cradling Eyad.
Travel bans and mosque massacre
The Alkarnakes arrived in the midst of U.S. President Donald Trump's ban on people entering the United States who hold citizenships from Syria and six other majority-Muslim countries.
Days before they landed, six Muslims were killed in a mosque in Quebec.
Despite the recent turmoil, the Alkarnakes were welcomed by Canadians, many posting messages of welcome on social media.
Ibtesam's strength & determination is so incredible. Welcome to Alberta! We're glad you're home. <a href="https://twitter.com/fortcitychurch">@FortCityChurch</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WelcometoCanada?src=hash">#WelcometoCanada</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ymm?src=hash">#ymm</a> <a href="https://t.co/mwFJP2bbk6">https://t.co/mwFJP2bbk6</a>—@RachelNotley
Some saw the mother's determination to have her child in Canada and the church opening its doors as powerful sign that Canada remains a welcoming and open country to Muslims and immigrants.
"The Alkarnakes' story has touched a lot of people powerfully," Fort City Church pastor Doug Doyle told his congregation Sunday. "It's kind of a push back to the other news and what's happening right now."
Alkarnake and her refugee sponsors had expected her to give birth in late February or March.
When her water broke on Tuesday, she didn't tell her family or flight attendants at any point during the day-long journey because she feared her years of work through the refugee immigration process would face more delays.
The Alkarnake family fled their bombed-out home in Syria five years ago, and had lived much of the time since then in a camp in Mafraq, Jordan, with more than 100,000 other refugees.
'Didn't want to go into labour in the camp'
During the time in the camp, the family sat through a confusing and at times "frustrating" refugee process, father Medyan Alkarnake said.
When they finally got the all-clear to come to Canada, Ibtesam Alkarnake was in her eighth month of pregnancy and they jumped at the opportunity to leave.
"My wife didn't want to go into labour in the camp," Medyan Alkarnake said.
Despite the pain of labour, all she could think about was her family and all they endured fleeing their home.
"I sacrificed for the family," Ibtesam Alkarnake said, "I felt like the other decision was to postpone arrival into Canada and that's going to hurt my kids for school and their life in Canada."
Even safely on Canadian soil, Ibtesam Alkarnake waited until her family was in their townhouse to tell her sponsors that her water broke.
She was rushed to hospital and gave birth to the healthy baby boy early Wednesday morning weighing just over six pounds.
She and her husband said the family have been through a lot, seeing Syria change from a peaceful country to an unstable state.
"I hope to have the peace here in Canada," Ibtesam Alkarnake said. "I hope that I have stability."
The church has launched an online fundraising campaign to help support the family of six that has one more mouth to feed. It's calling on its members to donate whatever they can.
As for the family, they'll spend the next year learning English and adjusting to life in Canada.