By Jill Roper on November 27th 2013
I was so excited getting to the actual compound that MamaBaby was housed in. What I encountered when I first walked in is called baptism by fire. It would be the theme for the rest of the journey. Life throws us many curves. Some we are prepared for and some we are not. I think my life experiences prepared me for this mission I was on.
Kelli and I walked into the clinic and on the right was the post-partum room. It housed 4 twin beds for use by Mama's who had just delivered their babies. Typically a Mama would stay four hours after the birth. If she birthed at dark we would keep her overnight. One such birth had occurred several hours before I had arrived.
The baby had a hard time at birth transitioning and had to be bagged for quite a while. When we walked in the baby was seizing. There was a quick discussion about the baby and his condition. Now remember, in the U.S. we have 911 to call. An ambulance with trained perimedics come and handle the crisis by transporting the person by ambulance. That is not the case in Haiti. There is no 911 and there are no ambulances. While I watched the situation unfold two Mama's arrived both in labor.
Morgan an American midwife had just arrived the day before and had been at the birth. Kelli assigned me one of the Mama's and Morgan took the other. My suitcases filled with all my supplies had been taken upstairs so I ran to get my instruments. I remember Kelli coming into the room and asking me if I would be okay and calmly said, "sure no problem" where inside I was calming myself down! The orientation would have to wait. In fact, I never did get the orientation. Morgan clued me in as we went along.
Morgan and I quickly became great partners. She is a young wife and Mom who will be traveling to South Sudan with her husband to work out in the bush training midwives. She helped me figure out the forms I needed to fill out and the proper protocol.
Birth in Haiti is nothing like birth in the United States. The current mantra is "Birth Without Fear" which sounds great in the states but is not realistic in Haiti. It has the highest maternal and infant mortality in the Northern Hemisphere. It isn't realistic to tell them not to fear when all around them they see death.
My first Mama was a young woman having her first baby. She came in beautifully dressed in a long flowing dress. Her labor was so hard for her. Typically a cousin or sister or mother would come with a laboring Mom but my first patient was all by herself. These Mama's are so brave in spite of the fear surrounding birth, and she was no exception. She would walk the first flight of stairs in the main room up and down, up and down. I was providing labor support for her by doing counter pressure and we ended up on the floor during the hardest part of her labor. I sang to her, rubbed her back and generally tried to walk with her through all the contractions.
Every four hours or so we would do a vaginal exam to make sure the labor was not stalled. She was only three centimeters but having one contraction on top of another. I assumed it would be a very long night but less than an hour later the baby arrived. My first baby born in Haiti. We would have three more labors back to back that first 24 hours. I loved every minute of it. I was thinking in my head, well this isn't so bad. All the Mama's had relatively smooth births. The first few babies didn't even have a cord wrapped around their necks. I was beginning to wonder what the big deal was in Haiti.
You know that saying, "what goes up, must come down?" My first four births were easy. That would not always be the case from that point on. I learned to celebrate the births that were "easy" deeply breathing a sigh of relief and thankfulness to God. When things did not go well I earnestly prayed to God for wisdom, strength and above all a clear head. I would need it in the coming weeks.