Here’s my last story about my time in Haiti. Though I’m working furiously on my manuscript revisions, I wanted to be faithful to share about the time I spent there in full. The mamas, the babies, the midwives, the work is worth it. Plus, you all are worth it, too – you were so generous with donations and funds ♥
So, I slept for three hours, then worked straight through twenty-six.
The new day began with a heart-rending transport. The first-time mother who’d come in the day before with high blood pressure lost the battle to keep it down, so, with tears all around, we loaded her into the tap tap for the long and tiresome trip.
I understood enough Kreyol by then to understand she wanted me to pray for her because she was deathly afraid to give birth in the hospital, so I sat beside her as we lurched through the noisome streets, and I pinned her wildly flapping dress against her legs, and I stroked her arms, and I whispered my prayers into her ears.
It was hard to leave the young mother there at the wrought-iron gates of the hospital, especially knowing how frightened she was, but we did it as there was simply nothing else we could do.
We were silent on the drive home, Alex and Carmelle and I, crammed together into the cab of the truck, each lost in the secrecy of our thoughts.
I returned to MamaBaby to find the other first-time mom who’d arrived in the night prior had birthed her little one. I turned from praising her and admiring her child to mount the stairs to our sanctuary, and had just managed a shower and change of clothing when a fresh stream of mothers began to flow.
Five unbelievably strong women walked through the dust and the heat to rap upon our doors. They arrived in various stages of labor, but with the same haunting songs upon their lips,
“Why! Why!! Why!!!”
And in the space of that single, stiflingly warm night, in the wake of five breathtaking displays of strength, five most glorious babies were pressed into my hands.
After that night, I slept, and then the next fifteen days came and went as wave after wave of mothers and babies swirled around us, in an tempest of bewildering extremes.
We tended a great many first-time mothers, and each was such a wonderful victory. If a woman can accomplish the vaginal birth her first baby, especially in a nation like Haiti, the chances she’ll go on to birth the rest of her babies safely is dramatically increased.
But we tended a fair number of repeat mothers, too. One forty-four year-old woman came in one night and birthed her ninth baby!
The joy of birth was countered by the stories of the mothers themselves as we initiated care – stories told indirectly by their answers to the many questions we asked – answers for which we had no answers.
“Are you the victim of domestic abuse?”
“Are you often sad?”
“Are you happy about this pregnancy?”
And all we could do was scratch their responses on the pages of their charts as the fans whirred hypnotically from the corners of the room.
But the sorrow of those responses would then be displaced by the fun we had stumbling along in our halting Kreyol through the belly feelings and heartbeat hearings and, most fun of all, through the weighings of fat, happy babies on postpartum days.
We saw so many unusual things while we worked. One woman birthed a child with two little teeth in her mouth. Another birthed her baby from one side of a clearly bicornuate uterus. Still another woman – a twelve-fingered woman – birthed a tiny, twelve-fingered version of herself.
We bowed our heads in defeat as we transported six more women to the hospital before my trip came to an end – almost exclusively for high blood pressure – but twelve others stayed and, together, we received their babies with joy. The second to last birth I attended was an especially victorious VBAC!
And the love and deep sense of sisterhood that bubbled up among us – among the women we served, among those of us volunteering, among the midwives of MamaBaby – in spite of the challenges of language and culture – struck chords deep within my heart. For how can women labor together – literally entwined in one another’s arms – cheek pressed against cheek with tears and sweat-dampened strands of hair a-mingle – with sweet-pitched songs blending and rising to the heavens with the heat of the day and the mists of the morning – without forging profoundly beautiful bonds?
The time I spent in Haiti will be forever seared upon my heart, and I hope to go back there again one day ♥
The photographs of the mothers and children in this post are not of the mothers and children described within it.
Visit MamaBaby Haiti on line to learn more and to find out how you, too, can be a part of their wonderful work.
Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife
Most of these photographs are from MamaBaby’s Facebook page, the rest were taken by Kim.
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