03/02/2016 22:08 EST | Updated 03/03/2017 00:12 EST

Syrian parents welcome newborn in Toronto, hope for 'dignity and freedom' for their 11 kids

A Syrian mother who gave birth to one baby while fleeing the conflict roiling her home country is thanking health workers in Canada who helped her safely deliver another, who was born not long after the family's arrival in Toronto.

Ali Hammoud and his wife Saadh already had ten children, but with the arrival of baby Azhar in January, the family now includes four girls and seven boys.

The new baby is believed to be one of the first children born to the 25,000 Syrian refugees who arrived under the current Liberal government. 

"I had this number of children because it's common to have a large family," the father of 11 told CBC News through a translator.

Manavi Handa is a midwife and an assistant professor at Ryerson who has been working with families out of a budget hotel in Toronto. The hotel has been home to hundreds of new Syrian refugee families.  

Handa cares for pregnant refugees and since Syrian refugees first started arriving in large numbers back in December, she has seen about two dozen pregnant women.

One of her patients was Saadh Hammoud, who was already in an advanced stage of pregnancy when she arrived in Toronto.

The baby was a premature delivery and was transferred to Toronto's Sick Kids hospital.  

Not sure baby would survive

Doctors at Sick Kids weren't sure the baby would survive, says Handa.  

"I remember thinking, wow, this family has come from a war, they have ten healthy children," Handa says. 

"It would be such a sad part of the story if they come to a very highly-resourced country and ending up having a child that is not OK."

But baby girl Azhar, who was born on Jan. 15, did make it.  She now lives with the rest of her large family in a spacious house in Mississauga, Ont. 

"I felt good when I had the baby" says Saadh. "I give thanks for all the assistance I received in the hospital.  I felt safe."

Handa, the midwife, credits Canada's health-care system and wonders if the outcome would have been different had the family not been allowed into the country.

Long journey

The Hammoud family escaped the war in Syria in 2013. When they arrived in Lebanon, they were sent to a refugee camp. They lived in "a miserable place" says Ali.  While fleeing their homeland, Ali's wife, Saadh gave birth to one of her sons.

Handa says she asked Saadh how much that baby weighed at birth. 

She said Saadh told her she didn't know, and that the "whole town was running. It was the middle of the war, he was kind of born on the side of the road."

Now the Hammoud family is trying to settle into their new Canadian life. Ali would like to start taking English classes, but there's a waiting list.  He also wishes his parents were allowed to come to Canada with his family, but their refugee application was turned down, he says.

Still the Hammoud family is grateful for the new life they've been given.  "I hope my children will have what we couldn't have," says Ali.  "I want them to have dignity and freedom.  We didn't have that in Syria, or in Lebanon."