Sunday, March 23, 2014

Shirley's Baby & Haitian Heroism

Working in Haiti,  I'm often praised for doing good work, or told how thankful Haitian people must be for the program I work with.  The longer I work here and get to know Haitian people, though, I find myself profoundly humbled by their everyday heroism.  I am  inspired by them, and the tremendous courage it takes to live each day here, doing your best.    
One of our translators, Shirley, is a single mom who learned great  English while living in the US as a kid.  When her parents died, she was deported back to Haiti-- may never have been legal, it seems.  She works hard to support her children: a boy who is 8, a daughter who is 4, and now, an unexpected new daughter.
Shirley found this baby girl in the garbage lot, outside her apartment in Port au Prince last fall.   She tells it very matter-of-factly, that one night she went out to empty her trash, and heard a baby crying in the dark.   Knowing the sound of a newborn cry quite well  (she sees babies born every work day with us in maternity),  she located this little baby in the debris  and took her home.    The infant` was only hours old, and still attached to the placenta.  She cleaned her up, cut her cord, dressed her, got her some formula, and adopted her.   The baby is now 7 months old and walking!  She will eventually go to a good school, just like her siblings.  
Most Sunday nights, Shirley rides a tap-tap, (an open bus or truck with people sitting on benches) from Port-au-Prince to Hinche,  2.5 hour ride, to do this job translating Creole/English for volunteers who are teaching at the hospital.  During the work week, she stays in Hinche with a friend, and others look after her kids,  so she can earn a living.   She arrives on time, pays attention, and helps Midwives for Haiti in any way she can, all day long.  Last week she found my forgotten water bottle at the hospital and saved it in a cabinet for me.   On  Friday evening she takes the tap-tap home.   For Haitian economics, this is a pretty decent gig; it enables her kids to have food, clothes, and go to school.  Quite often she also goes back with cute clothes and shoes for her kids, formula for the baby, and some extra money...we love Shirley and try to help her.   She's one of my heroes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

You Might Be in Haiti If.....

You Might Be in Haiti If:

You Make a mental note to not go anywhere, ever, without Kleenex or toilet paper in your pocket.

The colors are so clear and intense that the entire day feels like being stuck in an issue of National Geographic.

You wear a size 10 and are the fattest woman in town.  You are also the hottest woman in town and all women wish they were as fat as you.

You are exposed to TB and Hepatitis in less than five minutes.

You see a truck going down the road with seven bleating goats tied upside down!

You start a mental list entitled "Things I Have Seen On a Motorcycle in Haiti" and it includes A Family of Four, a live pig,  and a goat.

If you are cuddling a little kid at a feeding center whom you realize is soaked in pee....and then you realize that's okay.

Your favorite perfume is "Eau de DEET".

"You order "rum and coke " and you get a bottle of rum and a bottle of coke.
Compiled by many of the Volunteers for Midwives for Haiti!
You Might Be Working for Midwives for Haiti IF:

A set of clean "sea foam green" scrubs, size small, is not only a Hot Commodity that you can trade for beers or favors at the house, but Very Nice Business Attire for the day.  Every day.

You get a blood pressure of 220/130 on a clinic patient who thinks you are crazy for being VERY concerned. She also tells you that taking her diuretic is not convenient because it makes her pee all the time when she rides the Tap Tap. 

Everyone is reminded to start their day with 1000mcg of misoprostol in their pocket.

You have to step over a stray brown dog in the doorway of Labor and Delivery.
All of the dogs look the same and you think they must have come from the original Adam and Eve of dogs.

Colleagues come in from the hospital  night shift report a set of twins (one breech),  and one eclamptic mama, with the comment " but a lot of the night was quiet" ....

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Opening Talk, Midwives for Haiti, Class 7

Tonight, the easiest blog I ever posted, because I wrote it a week ago.  I have spoken to the students at the opening of several classes, but tisone was special, as I delivered it in Creole, thanks to the translation help of Gladias, our Haitian college student who lives with us.  I believe so deeply in the potential of these Haitian students to help their country-- it was a joy to welcome them to this program.

am so happy to talk to you today on the first day of your class.

I have been coming to Hinche since March of 2009.  

I feel very fortunate to have been able to join Nadene and Steve with the

beginning of Class 2, and Class 3, and maybe some others.  

This is my tenth visit to Haiti, so I forget some things. 

Over these 5 years, I have seen this Midwives for Haiti Program grow and

develop very much.

As you probably know, originally it was just a group of students under a mango

tree at Pandiassou, with Nadene and some other midwives that she recruited! 

Now you have books in Creole, and Haitian teachers, and a beautiful compound,

and good teaching tools, to make a great learning environment.

We are very happy to see all this progress!   

I was thinking of this progress, and I asked myself, is it really still helpful for the

Americans to visit here?  

We have so many good Haitian midwives now, and Nadene and Dr. Steve have

selected some of the best ones, to be your instructors and teachers.  

I wondered  " Maybe it is not important for me to come here, it would be better to

 send the travel money to the Midwives for Haiti organization?" 

But I want to share with you the answer that I found to this question.

First, it is very important for me to come to Haiti, and work with you student

midwives, because this work nourishes my heart.  

I come here because I hope for this project to become a true collaboration

between Haitian people and Americans.  

We bring medical knowledge and supplies, financial support, and administrative


But you teach me many things too.

 I learn from the Haitian people about patience, and endurance, and about relying

always on God and each other, for help.  

So I come here not only to teach, but also to learn.

I also come here because I believe that being a midwife is a spiritual calling.

When we take this job, it is a responsibility to care for women and babies at their

most delicate time.

And if we have this responsibility, it is not only toward the women in our own

towns and countries.

We are responsible to help care for all women, and to help protect them as best

we can through their childbearing time. 

So even though I am an American midwife, I am a midwife first.  

And the women of Haiti need more midwives.  

So I come here to help you fill that need.

This week we begin with the most basic things about being a midwife.  

The things we discuss will be very simple, but they are also the most important.  

Just like the stones that we put down to build a house, these ides are the

foundation that will support everything else that you learn in the program.

You will learn many skills, and have a lot of knowledge about pregnancy and

birth and health care when you graduate.  

But if you fail to learn these first principles, you will not be a true midwife.

Love.  This is the guide that you must have in your heart when you do this

work.  You must have love guide you as you care for women and their babies.  

Love will cause you to speak kindly to all women, rich or poor, a pastor’s wife or

a prostitute..

When you are very tired and want to sleep, love will help you stay awake to help

a woman who is afraid and in pain. 

Love will help you get out of bed and report to  work on time, to help your sister

midwife, when she is done her work and needs to go home.

If you act out of love, you will not fail as a midwife.

Respect is the little sister of Love, and it is the other side of the coin that  you

must carry in your pocket always.

Respect will cause you to not only to speak kindly to a woman, but to guard her

health information, to protect the private things that you learn about her.  

Respect. will remind you clean your hands each time you touch  a

patient, even a baby, even when no one is looking.

Respect will have you tell your name to each woman when you begin to care for


Respect will remind you that even the poorest, the most beaten down women,

 are not donkeys, or goats, but human beings, created in God's image.

If you act out of Love and Respect, you will succeed as a midwife, and make all

of us very proud.

I hope to see you again, and wish you God's blessing on all your work.

Welcome to the Sisterhood of Midwives!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Plannin in Port au Prince

"Plannin" is the Haitian word for contraception, coming from "Family Planning".  Haitian women really, really want this-- they agree that a child should be loved, safe, have enough food, and be able to go to school.  Limiting family size makes this a lot more possible...we're not talking convenience here, but survival.  So, my favorite visit in Port au Prince is to hang out with Beth McHoul at the Heartline Ministries Women' s Program.  Fridays are Family Planning day, and I've given lots of Depo Provera shots to women while getting a good chat in with Beth, one of my real-life Hero Midwives.  (Not only has she run this amazing program over 24 years in Port au Prince, but she is running the Boston marathon next month.... inspired?--consider a donation to her Maternity Center!) 
Heartline currently provides free, safe family planning shots to 1,200 women in their neighborhood.  But they also had a new project for me when I came-- a box of 10 "Jadelle" sub-dermal implants they asked me to insert while also teaching their staff nurse & midwives the technique.  Jadelle is 2 small plastic rods that go just under the skin on the upper arm, and they will prevent pregnancy for 5 years.   We gathered sterile supplies and did a group counseling session on the breezy front porch for the ladies who had been selected to receive this very highly desired method....went over side effects, risks, benefits, what to expect. They were mostly worried that their arm would hurt when they did laundry-- that's the way many of them earn a living.  I reassured them they would only feel a little sore for a couple days.  One of the mamas is a teenager who nearly died during her very complicated pregnancy and postpartum, but she's alive and well, who still has no way to support herself, and lives with a friend.  She really doesn't want to get pregnant again.    

It went great!  No ladies felt pain due to the local anesthetic, implants went in correctly, and all the staff inserted at least one successfully.  Our only moment of drama was when Robbie, the rambunctious Mastif who guards the compound, got in the house and jumped on one of the exam tables.  This has never happened during any of my clinic days in the states.  At the end of the afternoon, we'd dispensed 40 woman-years of Planinn...and had a good time, too.   Haitian Working Vacation, had a good start!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Nice Hotel, Haitian style

Maybe coming here so often has made me a wimp, or maybe just practical about surviving the experience repeatedly, but I'm liking the Nicer haitian places that cater to us out-of-towners.  Greg and I have often done an overnight in the Miami Airport Hotel. (Yes, the lobby is in concourse B!) But this time, we had a different idea.  We traveled all the way to Port au Prince in one long day with very little sleep...then got a taxi to one of the Nice Haitian hotels in PaP.  la Maison Hotel. 
How is it Nice? ,you may ask.
Oh, well!  it has Air Conditioning, hot water and wifi, and a TV!  
Now the funkiness, too.... It is made of concrete, and if you look behind the windows.  Yup, it is just a small concrete box, with a bed,  If there is a fire in the hall, we die.  Fireman Friends would not approve.  But we did!  We slept on clean sheets after a shower...we had great coffee for breakfast as well as fresh Watermelon Juice.  And we know we are secure...there is a mean-looking guard in the front courtyard with a shotgun.   We also know it's a popular place, as there is a nice Day Rate....$38 for 2.5 hours!  la Maison Hotel, Port au Prince Haiti...we recommend it!  Next stop, a workday in Port au Prince.  love from Haiti.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Minimal Preparation: Grace is Enough

Frannie Taylor drove me to this confession. Well, also Catherine Cox, and my sister Judy, Marissa, some nurses at the hospital, and a few others, who kept asking me, or sending me, what was needed for this Haiti trip.  I confess that you all offered to fill my suitcases with donations for Haiti, which are practical and needed, and that I was not organized enough to make any plan for this, not on this trip. I've got a lot of balls in the air, and am happy to have time to go at all. But there's good news, bad news: Suitcases full of donations will still be packed carefully, and I will take some. Suitcases also seem to “fill themselves” by this, my tenth trip. Things that need to get to Haiti are already sitting in my basement, have showed up on my doorstep through out the past months. So even without a grand scheme, my bags this trip will contain many pounds of cloth from the Pettys/Brandquist family to donate to the Haitian Artisans Co-op and sewing school. There is a bag full of kids' clothing that our Haitian student, Gladias, is sending to his neighborhood kids in Hinche, along with some nice dishes and blouses for his mom & sister. There will be gloves and hand sanitizer and toothpaste, and scrubs, and cash, and most of it just came to me because you: Friends, family, and Quaker Friends-- knew that it's needed. Thank you so much. And there's the marvelous liquidity of cash--- I will go out and buy what last things are needed, with funds you sent, and I'll pay for the trip with the same. Your generous and continued financial support of Midwives for Haiti, and Heartline ministries, does much good.

This “cargo” shipment, however, is becoming the most minor piece of my contributions to Haitian aid efforts. The most significant gift I now take to Haiti is the experience of 10 trips there, the ability to speak some adequate Creole, and 30+ years of midwifery knowledge. I am taking my husband , Greg, along, on his 3rd trip, and he is bringing an oh-so-valuable brain full of organizational skills, construction and business know-how, savvyness about internet visibility and non-profit success strategies. I'm packing my little bag that has been distilled to contain all I really need of physical comforts-- earplugs, flip flops, scrubs, Kindle, a church dress, sunscreen, and some wine. I will have the great joy of helping to teach and open up a new class of skilled birth attendants- the 7th class taught by Midwives for Haiti. To date over 70 midwives have been trained, and we are still the only program in Haiti producing these health care providers that save the lives of moms and babies. This is “orphan prevention” at its most basic.

So then, here I sit in the quiet embrace of my Quaker Meeting house in Lincoln , VA, on a sunny Saturday in March. I'm not in a worship service, but rather, waiting for my Haitian friend Gladias, who is participating in a scholarship application process in the next room. 5 years ago, I was recovering from breast cancer and felt it was time to pay closer attention to my “bucket list”-- how to make a difference in the world, while I'm still here?   I volunteered a one-week trip to Haiti to help train some midwives. Now, I speak some Creole, and a young Haitian guy is part of our family household, while we help him through college. I have a Haitian God-child, and am not afraid to ride a motorcycle down a dirt road without a helmet. I've learned that I love to eat goat, and cornmeal, rice, and okra..-- thank goodness! Most of all, I've learned that poverty/wealth and health/illness and life /death take many faces, and that we have no monopoly on grace or God's goodness, in America. The Haitians are richer that I am, in so many ways. But we all try to help each other and do something good, together. Training and supporting midwives has been a good start.

What a long, strange trip it's been: a journey of learning, humility, and (literally!) blood, sweat, and tears...some of them, tears of joy. If you want the long version, just back this blog up to March 2009, and start reading! We leave Thursday morning, March 13, and will be in Port au Prince that evening. Between then and now, I have so much to do that my head is spinning and I'm trying to not feel frantic. So here goes Trip 10. If you would like to travel along this time, I try to post most days, if the internet is working. I love that others care to follow. I am so grateful and ask yet more, to be held in prayer. For safety, for wisdom, for courage, kindness, and clarity. Safety and supplies for the moms who deliver at the hospital, and our midwives and doctors who help them. Grace and miracles for the moms who can't get to town and deliver in the road, but got vitamins from our mobile clinic Jeep. For us all to remember to Do it--, whatever we do--, in the Presence of God.

II Corintians 12: 9: ..“My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.”