I’m a homebody. Nothing makes me happier than a rainy day, a quiet house, and a good book. Cozy, comfortable, and familiar. And yet, in these moments of quiet, this little nagging voice peeps up and urges me to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone. It tells me that I’m not doing enough, that there are things to get done, that people need help, and that I can’t for a second take for granted how lucky I am to live in a place where I have whatever I need.
For the people of Haiti, this simply isn’t the case. Everything is a constant struggle— food, water, shelter, healthcare, education. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and ranks among the highest for maternal and infant mortality. This is in part because over 60% of women in Haiti give birth without a skilled attendant. Couple that with widespread food insecurity, and lack of access to prenatal care, and it is easy to understand why so many mothers and babies are dying. But I don’t really feel qualified to talk about the complex issues facing the people of Haiti. I have read a little (check out Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder), but I have so much more to learn.
So learn I will. I’m planning my first trip in February of 2017. I will be volunteering at MamaBaby Haiti, a birth center in the northern region of Haiti near Cap-Haitien. For three weeks, I will live and work alongside the Haitian midwives who provide free prenatal, birth, postpartum, and well-woman care to thousands of women every year. This is huge. Not only because MBH is literally saving lives every single day, but also because they are doing it with compassion and respect, which is more than often lacking within the hospital system.
“In North America things like well equipped hospitals are the norm. If a laboring Mama walks into any hospital pushing out a baby, that hospital has to let her deliver there regardless of her ability to pay. The hospitals in Haiti are not like that. You have to pay upfront before you are even allowed in. There is a guard at the entrance and he simply won’t let you get inside unless you pay. It’s a cruel system. Once in, you have to bring your own linens and yes, even your own food. If you are alone, you won’t eat. The hospitals are ill equipped to handle emergencies. The NICU is in my opinion just a nursery with oxygen and warming lights. Unless the Haitian government ends the massive system wide corruption, this will not change.”
– Excerpt from a status posted by Jill Roper, the volunteer coordinator at MBH
I’m nervous. The longest I’ve been away from my kids was ten days when I went to MANA last year and volunteered for the board before the conference. And my experience with international travel includes car trips across the border to Mexico. So, I’ll probably cry a lot while I’m in Haiti. But so what? I’ve always been in the camp of cry and then do the scary thing anyway. And I’m taking a travel buddy with me (thanks Jamie) to hopefully help keep me grounded and productive while I’m there.
I’ve talked to a lot of midwives who have worked in Haiti and other countries. The take away message has been to go with an servant’s heart, and open mind, and be ready to learn and work— a lot. From what I’ve heard, it’s not uncommon to have five or more births in a day at MBH, and on clinic days the midwives will often do 70 initial prenatal visits. This is way above and beyond the work load I am used to here in my community, even as a busy apprentice (although doing eight home visits a day in July in Phoenix isn’t the easiest thing). Somehow I know that my idea of what a difficult birth is, or what it feels like to be exhausted, will be completely obliterated and re-imagined during my time in Haiti. But I’m ready for the challenge. I’m ready to be stretched.
If you want to support my efforts to provide care to the women and babies of Haiti, there are a number of ways to help. One quick and easy thing to do is to donate to my trip fund, which you can do here. Or, if you have access to medical supplies, I have a list of items* I need to gather and bring with me in February. I will be accepting supply donations through January and then purchasing anything I still need.
* Sterile and non-sterile gauze 4x4s, medium sized nitrile (latex-free) gloves, cord clamps, cord bands or rings, insulin type needles, good quality sutures (2.0, 3.0, 4.0), newborn sized disposable diapers, alcohol pads, clorox wipes, liquid hand soap, white twin sized sheets, pens, reusable underpads, disposable underpads (chux pads), 30 gallon sized garbage bags, bath towels