Written by Martha Taylor in 2012
Ask any midwife to tell you about her first “catch” and you can be certain she will light up and relay the story in vivid detail. Mine was a year ago! A beautiful baby girl born to the most loving parents you can imagine. It was one of those perfect home births. On the anniversary of my first “catch” I had another first, my first newborn death.
As the other volunteer and I sat with the Haitian staff waiting for our breakfast soup to cool, a mother knocked at the front gate. The groundskeeper rushed her inside and sent the interpreter to get us. She was in active labor and we needed to come fast! I rushed downstairs to admit her and was horrified to hear her pushing as we wheeled out her due date. This baby was below the age of viability, it would not live if it was born today. “Pa pouse, Manman!”(“Don’t push, Mama!”) We pleaded, hoping to slow things down long enough to collect our thoughts. My preceptor gloved up and an exam revealed that this baby was coming now! A tiny baby boy slid into this world and out nearly as fast. His little heart beat for about an hour, his only attempts at breathing futile gasps. The room was silent. The only sound came from my preceptor as she announced the baby’s slowing heart rate for me to document. When she felt that the heart had stopped she called me over for a second opinion. How strange to stand over a newborn with a stethoscope and hear nothing. We wrapped the baby in a homemade quilt sent by someone in the States and at mothers request placed him in a box that once held bags of IV fluid. In the two weeks since my arrival, our groundskeeper has buried 13 placentas under the banana trees. Thirteen swaddled babies have left this clinic to head home by foot, cars, tap-taps, and sometimes motorcycle taxis. When I attend a birth in the US, I wonder who this child will grow up to be. In Haiti, I wonder if this child will have the chance to grow up at all. But birth has a way of erasing sorrows, and one is never far away here! Our silent vigil was soon interrupted by the interpreter calling us downstairs to admit a mom who was laboring hard. I checked and found her to be six centimeters. “Why don’t you try to urinate again before the baby is born?” I walked with her to the bathroom and watched her closely as she went. Within seconds she yelped, fell forward off the toilet onto her knees. I fell onto my knees in front of her just in time to catch the baby who screamed her way into the world. “Happy Birthday, Baby!” I said, watching her blink her eyes and root for her mother’s milk.
Another sad and beautiful day in this sad and beautiful world!
Dreams transport me across blue water to America. In these dreams I search for grass-fed beef burgers and Johnny Cash theme restaurants. I awaken dazed. I pause and then I remember “This is Haiti.” So far from America yet so close. The interpreter was wearing a “Denver” t-shirt today. I think of the T-shirt’s journey, from China to some touristy shop in the 16th street mall and now here to Haiti. Like a moon rock, that landed here from the outer limits of space. I find myself in the home of a Haitian friend. Four rooms divided into smaller rooms by cardboard and curtains. Nine people live here. My friend’s brother greets me “Hello. So nice you are here. Do you like Michael Jackson?” he asks and then serenades me with “We Are the World.” I sit among Haitians like sardines in the back of a pickup truck taxi (“tap-tap”) the roads are bumpy. I’m the only white face as far as the eye can see. The tap-tap stops briefly. The woman next to me hands a melon to a friend waiting by the road and the tap-tap speeds off again. I hold onto my seat as we swerve around motorcycles and pedestrians. The smell of burning garbage fills the air. Later while walking we pass a group of men playing dominoes by the road. The loser has ears and cheeks covered in brightly colored plastic clothes pins. Teenage girls giggle, daring one another to ask to touch my white skin. People on the street yell out “Blan” (i.e. White). Though I know better than to engage them I fantasize about replying in perfect Creole “White person? Where? I’m a Haitian.” The ditches on the side of the road are filled with trash and I have to cover my eyes as a storm of dust blows through. I call a truce with the mosquitoes promising to spare them if they spare me in return. It appears to be working though some question my willingness to negotiate with terrorists. Another Haitian friend invites me to be the guest speaker at an English class he teaches. The students are so excited to practice with a native speaker and I’m excited to take a break from being a student of Creole for a while and speak my own language. We go over numbers, body parts and days of the week. I attempt to help them say my name and other words that contain the dreaded “th” sound. They thank me repeatedly and resound what I have heard almost every day here “I hope you will stay in Haiti.”