Friday, October 18, 2013

A Haiti Birth Story

Note: some graphic descriptions, may not be suitable for children. 

"Madam Jason." I hear Anoud's voice calling my name along with a tap tap on my kitchen door. It's 7:05 p.m. on October 17 and it's been an interesting day so far. First of all it was a national holiday so all the kids were home from school, secondly, I had been surprised by my sister in law and two friends from Canada and to top it off Denise had been in labour with her fourth child since early this morning. 

 I open the door to Anoud's sheepish face. "Ki sa ou bezwen?" (What do you need?) I ask him kindly. "Denise gen problem." (Denise has a problem.) "Vini." (Come) I close my eyes for a moment to pray. These are the very words I've been dreading ever since she told me she was expecting another baby months ago. 

As I had worried about the what ifs, God had gently reminded me of the verse found in Psalm 55:22 Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. 

I cling to those words now as I make my way to Denise's room. I find her there, moaning in pain, hunkered down on a low stool. An elderly midwife, who I recognized from the last time Denise gave birth 4 years ago, is sitting beside her rubbing her hand. 

As I take in the scene, one thing strikes me. There are no supplies; no water, no scissor, no towels, no cloths, no rubber gloves, nothing. Since Denise is in too much pain to speak, I direct my questions to Anoud and the midwife. "What is the problem?" "The baby is not coming," The midwife responds, lifting her hands in exasperation. "It's taking too long. " 

Just then another contraction hits and Denise does her best to breathe through it. "Does she need to go to a hospital?" I ask. Anoud and the midwife both nod. I quickly run back inside to let Jason know. Where to take her though? Jason decides to call the hospital where we went when he had cholera like symptoms, but the Doctor there tells him they don't do deliveries. Jason than decides to put out a notice on the Haiti Social Network Site for Missionaries, Expats and NGO's. Meanwhile I grab a bottle of water and some crackers. 

Heading back to Denise's room I find chaos. Denise has nothing packed or ready for her baby and she now asks me to make a bag. Okay, let me think; diapers, baby clothes for a boy and a girl, a hat, receiving blankets, socks, baby powder. What about you Denise? Do you need anything? She looks at me blankly. Just wearing a loose robe now I decide she's going to need some clothes too, so I dig through piles of clean laundry to find somethings; Denise's niece, Dieuline, who is hovering nearby hands me a skirt and a blouse. Looking at them for a moment I shake my head. "Those are too small," I tell her, "Denise won't fit this after giving birth." Dieuline insists on the blouse however, so I quickly find one of Denise's maternity jean skirts and reluctantly take the blouse from her. 

Bags packed, Anoud and I help Denise down the stairs to the waiting vehicle and minutes later we're out in the dark in Haiti's capital city searching for a hospital. The first one we will try, Jason and I decide together, is the one closest to our home, even though I've been told in the past there are not always Doctor's there on duty. Sure enough when we arrive they tell us Denise can be brought in but there are no Doctor's on the premises and they are not sure when there might be one. 

 I reach for Jason's phone and check the networking sight. Sure enough, people are posting suggestions and I read them out loud. Two good options seem to be on Delmas 33. One is a public hospital there, and the second is a maternity hospital from Medicine sans Frontier (Doctor's without Borders). We decide to try the latter option first and thankfully find the building with the directions that were posted. 

The streets are busy and not very well lit so we take special care to cross safely, especially since at this point Denise can hardly walk at all. We rap on the black iron gate and after a few moments it opens a crack. At first they don't want us to enter, but when Jason insists the gate is reluctantly pushed open enough for us to pass through. As Denise leans on Anoud and me, she stops in the hospital courtyard and sinks to her knees with pain as she experiences another contraction. Although there are plenty of guards and bystanders, no one makes any move to help. Anoud and I wait helplessly beside her until the pain passes and she is able to rise once more. 

Leaning heavily on us we finally reach the hospital entrance. It is wide open and consists of a wooden desk. We are told to knock on the desk and a few moments later a nurse appears. She glances at us apathetically and then riddles Denise with questions about her name, age, phone number, prenatal visits, and symptoms; all the while seemingly oblivious to the fact that Denise is in too much pain to answer. 

 Anoud does his best to answer for her and when the paperwork is complete she motions us to escort Denise across the hall without a trace of interest or empathy. The nurses inside aren't any better as they barely acknowledge our presence before motioning Denise to lay up on a high exam table. Anoud, Jason, and I hoist her up. and then they wave at us to leave. "Go outside and wait," they tell us. Anoud and Jason head back outside, but as pains continues to wrack Denise's body and she is roundly ignored by the 6 nurses chatting at the station, I am hesitant to leave here side. 

They finally shoo me away like a pesky fly so I find a spot by the doorway where I can still keep an eye on Denise. Minutes tick by and my frustration rises as Denise's pain increases but no one pays the slightest bit of attention to her. Finally fed up, I head back to her side and hold her hand. Although I've always told myself I never wanted to see anyone give birth, as it is, in my opinion, gross and disgusting, I couldn't just let her lay there all by herself either. 

 "Dlo," she whispers. I pass her my water bottle and she takes a drink. "Go outside," The nurses warn me again threateningly. "No," I counter. "You aren't helping her, so somebody has too." We have to do a procedure on someone else they motion to a woman on the next exam table, "You can't be here when we examine her." "I'll close my eyes." I reply, not willing to back down. Frowning, they angrily motion for me to leave and I finally give in. "Okay, I will wait by the door." 

They pull closed the curtains so I can't see Denise any longer, so after a few moments I head outside where Anoud, Jason, Dieuline, and the midwife are anxiously waiting for news. I shake my head, blinking back tears as I continue to hear Denise moan and cry. "Nothing yet." I tell them quietly. 

 A few minutes later I head back to the entrance of the room; just in time to see Denise dripping water and being led to a room further down the hall. Her water must have broke. That's a good sign. Her moans and cries escalate until suddenly I hear the squalling of a newborn. Craning my neck, I catch a glimpse of a nurse with a howling infant. Did she have her baby? 

As soon as a different nurse appears from the back room, I pepper her with questions. Was that Denise's baby? is Denise okay? Is her baby okay? If that was her baby what did she have? Sighing, with annoyance, she finally tells me that; yes, Denise is fine, she had her baby and the baby is fine. She doesn't know yet if it was a boy or girl. 

I run outside, choking back tears of joy and tell Anoud and the rest the wonderful news. Anoud and Dieuline wave their hands in the air all the while thanking Jesus. 

Back inside a moment later,  I pester the nurses again, until they finally give in and let me see the baby for myself. It's a girl! Quickly pulling out my camera I snap a picture so I can show Anoud. When the nurse takes her eye off me for a moment I make a quick dash to Denise's side. She is laying on a nearby bed with a happy smile on her face. "You have another girl," I whisper in her ear as I grasp her hand. "You both did great! We will talk more later." 

I head back out to the nurse's station, where they tell me Anoud can sleep outside the hospital tonight and we need to purchase juice, snacks and food for Denise. Leaving the bag of baby articles and clothes with Anoud, the rest of us head out into the dark night. By a street vendor, lit only by oil lanterns, we purchase juice and a Styrofoam container of spaghetti. Since I had already brought crackers and there were no other snacks to be found at this hour we head back to the gate. 

The gate gaurds don't allow us to take the spaghetti in, for whatever reason, so I pass the juice and crackers to Anoud and then bid him goodnight. We head on home where Anoud and Denise's children are anxiously waiting for any news about their mom and her baby. I quickly explain to them that their mom and baby sister are fine, and then pass the over to Dieuline who readies them for bed. 

The following morning Jason takes our visitors flying as I wait for a phone call to pick up Denise and her baby. Several hours later Anoud shows up with his cell phone. Frustrated, that now I don't have a way to contact Denise if she needs be picked up I decide to head to the hospital with Anoud and Justin at 11:30. 

The hospital had said she would be ready in the morning and it is nearing noon now. At the gate we are refused entry once again. Me, because I have a small child with me, and Anoud for who knows what reason. 

I wasn't about to leave my baby out on the street though, so not taking no for an answer I push past the armed guard, march past the multiple people waving me back and head for the nurse's station. What's the big deal?" I wonder. It's not like I'm going to let him lick the floor or something. I'll just hold him so he won't contact any germs! With sheer determination I am finally directed to where Denise is laying in a crowded room with her baby fast asleep beside her. 

She smiles brightly when she sees me. I wait as nurses complete her final checks and then watch as she valiantly tries to fit the blouse her niece had packed for her. "This blouse doesn't work," she sighs, sadly. "I brought another shirt along for you," I tell her. She gives me a relieved smile. 

Back at home her three kids are anxiously waiting to see their mom and new sister. Since Denise is still very weak I quickly ready a bath for her and prepare her a warm lunch of soup, cheese toast, banana pudding and fruit juice. Then I set up the pack and play in her room, adjust the mosquito net and make Denise's bed. 

Clean and happy with a full stomach she proceeds to rest quietly on her bed; the baby sleeps soundly in Dieuline's arms. 

What are you going to call her? I ask Anoud and Denise now. "We still have to think about it." Anoud says turning to Denise. "Well, I kind of liked the name Melissa, after my mother," Denise pipes up. "Melissa;" everyone nods in agreement; a good name. 

"Hi Melissa," I whisper to the sweet bundle. She opens her brown eyes and my heart melts. 

Studying her tiny features I marvel at God's goodness, every step of the way he provided. How great is our God!


  1. amazing birth story! you definitely have a book in you :) giving thanks for the bravery and grace God has blessed u with

  2. What a gorgeous little baby!
    Just curious - were you always the type to march past guards and such, or is it a skill you've acquired since living in Haiti?
    I was surprised to read about the apathy at the hospital - it's not what I would expect from Doctors without Borders.