These moments of connection arise as a surprise. I mostly feel somewhat detached in the labor ward; partly because of the stench and mess, partly because of the language, partly because of the overload of sensory stimulation. I might collapse under the weight of any one of these factors. Keeping myself detached helps me to survive the 6 hour shift. And yet, birth has an incredible power to force connection. I can’t help trying to reach deeper into the laboring woman, trying to find a place to see each other eye to eye. Sylvan saw me as someone who took the time to help her in her most desperate travail. She honored this connection by having me name her son. So, he is named Jackson.
Before I left my shift for the day, I threw together all my little sundries in a ziplock: 2 coconut almond bars, a pen, a packet of wipes, an opened travel pack of panty liners. I wanted to give something back to Sylvan, too, to honor her. I wanted to give her anything I had. She has nothing. She smiled when I gave her the gift and in Kreyol, I told her I was happy to meet her.
Yesterday we went to the Matron’s Graduation. You can see Dina’s new YouTube video about the Matron’s here. I was told by Genette that Nadene wanted me to speak at the graduation. Later, I was also told that the students had chosen me as their “Godmother.” This is an honorary title given to someone who will bless them with well wishes as they embark on their new lives. I felt honored and doubtful that it had anything to do with me particularly. I was curious how I had been chosen and I finally found out when we reached the graduation. They had simply said, “How about one of the volunteers?” Since I was already a speaker at the graduation, I was a shoe-in. During the ceremony, I got to sit next to the ex-Mayor of Hinche who was chosen as the Godfather. We were the dignitaries at the event along with a representative from the Ministry of Health.
It was a wonderful graduation, with lots of singing and short skits to represent the work of the matrons. The ceremony was very African in style: drumming, dress and presentation all reminded me of a time when I travelled to Cameroon and saw the officiating at the opening ceremony for a new road.
This graduation of the matrons is significant. This is the second class of traditional birth attendants who have gone through a 20-week course on birthing that includes cleanliness, safety and mostly, danger signs of pregnancy. They take their role very seriously. I couldn’t hold back the tears as they sang and danced their commitment to saving the lives of mothers and babies.
Today we went to Miss Genette’s mother’s house. Genette is the young, clinical director of the Midwives for Haiti program. She was inspired to become a midwife by watching her mother work as a matron. She started helping her mother at births at 17 years old. We visited where Genette grew up, saw her one-room school house and her church. She grew up andeyo, or in the countryside. It is so inspiring to see her humble beginnings and to realize how far she has come.
While we were there, Genette’s niece made me the godmother for her new baby, Leika. I was honored and welcomed into Genette’s family. I am grateful for community and family, here and at home.