Martha's Story: Part 1

Written by Martha Taylor in 2012

In Haiti, I fall asleep on my back-- something I have never been able to do back home. Somehow it helps me beat the heat. Overall, I am doing surprisingly well tolerating the heat and other discomforts. I’m sharing a bunk room with the two Haitian staff midwives. Marie and Maudelin. Though our communication is limited (but getting better all the time) I enjoy their company.  Our bunk room is upstairs with several other bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, a living room and two wonderful porches. We often nap on the two couches in the living room and sometimes some of the others that live here drag mattresses out to the porch to sleep. I haven’t tried that yet.

My plans to eat lite and lose some weight here have been thwarted by the talent of our in-house chefs. They make delicious fresh meals three times a day. Often they use ingredients straight from the garden. Today we had a chicken for lunch that was running around in our yard this morning (sorry vegetarians). Our meals are usually rice, beans, vegetables, meat (sometimes) covered in some sort of yummy sauce. For breakfast we had an amazing pumpkin soup. And so far we have had fresh squeezed passion fruit juice with all of our meals!

I spend much of my time with the new clinic director, Mary. She took over the clinic from another midwife in May. She is a CNM from Oregon and a complete delight. She is always willing to answer my questions.  She and Santo (the house manager) met me at the airport Saturday morning. They had no trouble finding me as I was the only white passenger on the plane! Mary and I spent most of the day Saturday sitting in the courtyard of a hotel in Cap Haitian (the town where the airport is) having orientation while Santo ran errands. The ride through Cap Haitian and into Morne Rouge (where the birth center is) was beautiful.  The city was bustling with activity. People working at shops by the road, carving and welding furniture and selling goods. I especially enjoyed the women carrying clusters of sneakers on their heads to sell.

After we arrived at the birth center I spent most of the day sleeping. I needed it and was grateful to be arriving at a quiet birth center. But this didn’t last long. Mary woke me up at 6:30 am Sunday morning whispering “Go get your scrubs….one just birthed and two are close behind.” I washed up and ran down stairs where I assisted with two fast and beautiful births. A baby boy and a baby girl. Both women birthed squatting on birth stools (A first for me). The first sang here baby into the world. It was beautiful.  From the little Creole I could understand I got the sense that it was a song she was making up as she went along, about the pain of birth and the baby that was on the way.

 Mostly I am just watching things at this point, getting an idea of how things are done here with fewer resources. What we wash and use again. What we throw away.

We have great interpreters here. They are mostly younger men who leave the room or turn their heads for vaginal exams or births. Sometimes they just look down at their cellphones, texting while interpreting things like “Do you have any vaginal discharge?” or “Do your nipples hurt?” I love the interpreters. They are respectful and easy going.

It is very very hot here and I’m being courted by several rather persistent mosquitos, but other than that I am holding up well. I have purposefully avoided learning the word for “heat” in Creole. It is better if I don’t have the words to know how to complain about it.

This week the realities of the poverty of Haiti became more apparent as I went for walks around the area with the clinic director and the other volunteer. I found myself feeling so grateful for curbside trash pickup and abundant clean water in the U.S. The problems of Haiti are so complex. Sometimes I reach the point where I just want to lay in bed all day and cry….but then I find myself drying a slippery newborn baby and I remember to hold hope for Haiti.

I experienced the most active birth I have ever experienced this week. Imagine-- if you will-- a dancing naked Haitian woman grabbing me, wrapping my arms around her and having me gently bounce her belly while she moved around the room. Sort of like a labor conga line with small shuffling steps. Then when a particularly intense contraction would hit she would drop to the floor taking me with her. She was beating the heat by dumping cold water over her head as she danced.

Being in Haiti means I have to pay attention to everything, which is good, because recently I came to the conclusion that not paying attention to small details was the source of most of the pain in my life (stressing about forgotten school assignments and bills paid late). Here I must pay attention to how much water I use, what goes into my mouth, when there is electricity and when there is no electricity. I have to think ahead. If I go sit on the porch I have to make sure I take a flashlight or face the possibility of having to make the journey back to my room in the dark. Thank you, Haiti for teaching me to be present!

Yesterday, I received a high compliment from one of the interpreters. He said that I have been more diligent in my efforts to learn Haitian Creole than any other volunteer who has come here. I’m sure I drive the Haitian staff crazy, by announcing my every move in Creole. “I would like to eat food” “Would you like to eat with me?” “I am going to wash my hair today.” “I drank some water” “I am going to the porch to listen to my Creole lessons.” In addition to giving a detailed Creole play-by-play all day I usually sit on the porch with some of the Haitian staff in the evening and ask them innumerable questions about Haitian culture and their lives. I have learned so much from their first-hand accounts.