And so the woman I wrote of last week, that desperately silent, utterly vulnerable soul and tiny son, even as she departed the premises, stowed herself away in my heart as I was caught up into the stream of women that flowed through my stay at MamaBaby.
Only a few hours after we’d tended to and erased the traces of that first arresting experience, the sing-song wail of a Haitian woman in labor echoed through the halls of our home and summoned us back to the birthing room. Toward bedtime, a wild rain began to fall and the slight but sinewy mother of three eased her fourth child into Emily’s sure hands.
We soon had the two of them tidied up and tucked away into the postpartum room, and we were in our own beds just a blink later, but, though I very rarely struggle to sleep, between the sticky heat and thoughts of the day’s two young mothers, I was still awake when a clatter at the gate sent Alourde tapping at my door.
I donned my apron and smoothed my disorderly hair and padded down the dark stairway to check on the waiting mother. She’d walked to us through the midnight streets, and so was damp with a fine mix of sweat and raindrops. I smiled my hello, still too freshly there to recall how to say, “Bonswa, madanm, m’ap rele Kim,” or to even hope to ask, “Touche vaginal?” before sliding my fingers into her secret places. Yet, we managed the wordless communion of woman with woman until I was able to discover the first-timer was a mere centimeter on her way toward motherhood. Alourde sent her back into the darkness with the admonishment to return when her contractions were “Fo anpil! Fo anpil anpil!”
I returned to my bunk and managed to drift off to sleep. I slept well until sunrise when that clattering at the gate – a racket I’d become well-accustomed to by the end of my stay – roused me. It was our first-timer again and, this time, she was a solid eight centimeters.
Four hours passed as she moaned and prayed and wailed her way through the beautifully simple birth of her child – beautifully simple in spite of the fact that the busiest day of MamaBaby’s week had dawned – the day the Ministry of Health visits to test potential clients for HIV and syphilis.
The courtyard began to fill with pregnant women soon after we’d admitted the laboring woman and, just about the time she started to feel an urge to push, we were booted from the birthing room as that’s the room the Ministry of Health prefers to work from. I was taken aback by the mandate to move, but all we could do was get scrambling into the postpartum room.
Around that time Noelzine, my interpreter, arrived, followed by nursing professor, Brenda Osterhus, and her five student nurses, Mackenzie, Caitlyn, Autumn, Rachel, and Ellie.
Noelzine, Mackenzie, and Caitlyn joined Emily and me in our make-shift birthing room and though, at first, the influx of bodies served to intensify the confusion, the tender hearts of the newcomers manifested in a willingness to serve and to soothe, and, little by little, as the young mother breathed and writhed and squeezed our hands, the rhythms of her labor wove us into its magical web.
With Emily at her knees and Mackenzie rubbing her back, with Caitlyn fanning her warm face and Noelzine whispering words of encouragement into her ears, the young woman wrapped her arms snugly around my neck and pressed earth’s newest little life into the light.
Then afternoon followed morning and night followed evening as woman after woman pounded upon our gates and rustled us from our beds and birthed baby after baby after glorious, bright-eyed baby.
Three first-time moms birthed through my third day, then another first-timer arrived with the sunshine on my fourth day. That mother, however, became my first Haitian transport.
Sadly, though we did everything in our power to bring it down, the young woman’s case of high blood pressure proved intractable and we were forced to submit to a wild ride through the bewildering streets of Cap Haitian stashed in the semi-enclosed bed of MamaBaby’s truck, or “tap tap,” until we arrived at the hospital’s locked gates.
When the armed guards at the gates were assured we’d arrived with sufficient funds to provide for her care, she was allowed entry. We, however, were turned away, and I spent the bone-jarring ride home struggling to process the fact that, for the first time in all my baby catching days, I’d just left a laboring woman on the doorsteps of a hospital.
Then, fairly the minute we returned to MamaBaby, another mother in labor arrived – also a first-timer, also with high blood pressure. But, as she was only barely into her labor, she was medicated, hydrated, and put to bed in the postpartum room.
Then a second mother appeared at our door, a second-time mom in well-established labor. She was officially admitted, but her baby was high and poorly positioned, and her painfully arduous travail called upon every last ounce of our skill and lasted until the glimmerings of predawn began to set the window panes a-glow.
We’d only just settled the exhausted mother and wee babe into the postpartum room, when a pair of fists again set our gates a jangling. Still another first-time mom! But she, too, thankfully, was in very early labor, so we bedded her down and retreated to rooms for a smidgen of rest.
I slept for three glorious hours, then worked through the next twenty-six.
The photographs of the mothers and babies in this post are not of the mothers and babies 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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