Wednesday, August 22, 2012
First Shift at St. Therese
Ami and I worked in the hospital last night with 3 students: Suzette, Marie Rose and Sonis. I was surprised at my reaction this morning as we finished up our shift. I felt speechless and overwhelmed. In contrast to my ease with the orphanage and the flow of Haitian life, I felt despondent and discouraged at the familiar hospital scene. Three women gave birth in the wee hours of the morning after a slow start to our shift. With each one, I felt moments of regret; this shouldn’t be happening like this.
The first mother to give birth was a young, first timer who accidentally gave birth in the antepartum room. Antepartum, postpartum and post-op are large rooms with 12 beds, one woman to a bed. The rooms were completely full all night. The other two women who gave birth through the night had to stay in the labor ward because we had no empty beds. The young mother gave birth almost painlessly. Her sister told us that she was sleeping when the baby started coming. The mother looked no more than 17 years old, although the midwife claimed she was 22.
She gave birth in the antepartum room, without opportunity for privacy or modesty. We had to clean up the baby and mother without the simple luxury of a partition or sheet to separate her from the other 11 women in the room. Thankfully, the baby was gwo e asante (big and healthy). As the midwife in charge rubbed the baby to a hearty cry, the mother looked away, disconnected and masked. Her face gave no hint of what thoughts lay within. This is a familiar response to birth in Haiti. The mothers seem overwhelmed and disconnected to their babies. The only explanation that I proposed my first year here was that there is so much infant death. Still birth, infant death, children not reaching the age of 5. Giving birth risks her own life as well. With such odds, mothers bond tentatively and slowly, too familiar with the pain of loss.
It is also poverty. I have no idea what it may mean for a mother to have a child here. We so rarely witness joy as a reaction to birth. A baby means another mouth to feed, school and clothe. An already impoverished family may not see a new baby as a blessing. My first year here, I tried to emphasize each healthy birth. We encouraged the mother to speak to and touch her child. “This baby is so big and healthy,” we would exclaim. “Look, how beautiful, a girl, a boy.” Could we possible teach a mother how to bond?
The other two births this morning also produced healthy babies. One woman had been literally wailing for what seemed like hours. She had been coming to the hospital for the last 5 days; a long, early labor that was possibly indicative of a posterior baby. At the peak of her labor, the midwife on staff examined her and said she was 5 cms dilated. I was outside at the time, trying to nap sitting up in a chair. I finally went in to really understand why this woman was literally screaming. She seemed to be pushing with each contraction. I asked again how far dilated she was and why she was pushing at 5 cms. The staff midwife, a student from the prior class, seemed disinterested in the pushing effort in front of her. I told them I wanted to do an exam. Sure enough, the woman was completely dilated and the baby was minutes away from being born. I felt disturbed by the lack of competence and follow through that ultimately led to a chaotic rush to prepare for the birth. This shouldn’t be happening this way.
When the woman actually gave birth, meconium-stained amniotic fluid flooded the floor and the top of my sneaker. The baby needed to be suctioned with a DeLee, which the students had never seen used before. I was glad to show them a new skill. Sonis did a fine job suturing.
The third mom was rushed also; a general understanding of preparedness will be our teaching theme for the week. Ami and I walked home at 6:30am, grateful for the 3 healthy babies, but not without noting the small, taped up cardboard box on the counter all night that stood sentinel to the truth that neonatal mortality is a constant tragedy here in Haiti.
Watson is a 7 year old orphan boy at Maison Fortune. His nick name is Wa Wa. Here is the letter that he “sent” me yesterday: