Yesterday was one of those days. As Tara recently wrote, it's been kind of discouraging lately at Heartline. There have been several complicated deliveries right in a row. Most ended in c-sections. Some were stressful emergencies. It seems as though adrenaline and heartache have been constant companions as of late.
I've recently started to officially study to become a midwife. It's interesting that in the beginning of both books I've read, the first chapter is all about the women a midwife should not accept as patients. The midwifery books do a wonderful job of detailing which women make healthy patients and which ones are too risky to try and deliver at home without emergency, medical equipment and specialists available.
When I read the descriptions of "who not to deliver" in the medical books it's glaringly obvious how high risk every single pregnancy is that we deal with at Heartline. Our patients are malnourished, severely anemic, some have STD's, and most battle dehydration every single day. The majority of our ladies do not have anyone supporting them. No husband. No boyfriend. No family that cares. High risk. Each one of them is dealing with a high risk pregnancy.
We've had a few scares recently, some c-sections, and other complicated births but I'm trying to remember that it's probably a miracle that countless women end up birthing beautifully under the care of our midwives. All the odds are against our midwives and our pregnant ladies. Yet most of our women have uneventful births under the watchful care of Heartline's skilled midwives who know and love the ladies they are serving. According to the text books I've been reading, what we usually see at Heartline is nothing short of miraculous. Ladies with high risk pregnancies delivering vaginally with very little drama. That's the norm at Heartline. No matter how disappointing the last few births have been, I had to stop and thank God for that truth this afternoon as I sat reading through a midwifery book.
Yesterday Agathe and I sat talking with a 16 year old mom named Fedline. We were getting onto Fedline for feeding her newborn baby bean sauce. Argh. Later Tara asked Fedline why she had cotton in both of her ears. We listened to the Haitian women explain to us that after your baby is born things get in your ears that normally would not. You have to protect your ears from the wind. We also learned that after a vaginal birth lots of women sit in boiling hot water. Some get third degree burns. "Why would you do any of that? Like what's the reason?" We asked that very simple question. The answer? None of them knew why women do those things or tell women to do those things after they have a baby. People just say that. So you just do what people say. Fedline had cotton in both ears and had no idea why. We quickly asked her if she had boiled her lady parts. No. She hadn't. Thank God.
Then a woman brought her baby girl in to be seen. Her baby does not have a vaginal opening. Can these women ever catch a break?
Later in the day a three day old baby was brought in that belongs to a woman who was in our program. She was so non-compliant during her prenatal care that the midwives wisely refused to deliver her baby. This woman delivered her son in another hospital in Port-au-Prince. Yesterday this mother sent her newborn baby to Heartline with the grandmother. The baby looked like it was about to die. We don't think he's eaten in three days. He had fever, a swollen head, an abnormal chest, and his blood sugar was out of whack. Tara took the grandmother and the baby straight to the hospital.
Seeing an innocent baby on the brink of death who is suffering right in front of your eyes is horrible. I was about to say "it's almost too much." It's not almost too much. It's too much. Plain and simple. It's too much. Tears will come at some point during the day. You can bet on it.
Agathe leading Friday Bible Study
The room was quite. I was sitting in a corner breathing deeply, hating the day, phone in hand, waiting to get a text update from Tara about the baby in-transit to the hospital. Up until about a week ago, I could honestly say I've never felt angry at the women we serve at Heartline.
I've been heartbroken. Sad. I've grieved with them. I've cried my mascara straight off my face for them. Their lives are hard. Most of them try their very best. They are eager to learn the truth about women's health and keeping their babies alive. They want to be good mothers. It is a blessing to be in this with them.
Yesterday was the second time I've been flat-out mad. I was frustrated at Fedline for giving her brand new baby bean sauce. I was mad that so much superstition and old-wives tales keep women in bondage and kills babies. I was angry that women boil their vaginas. What the heck?? I was mad that the baby brought in was suffering and starving to death. All signs pointed to the fact that this mother was being a lazy jerk. Not at all typical for the Haitian mothers who are a part of Heartline.
I sat there trying to calm down, take it all in, praying for Tara...that she and Winnie would be able to get this baby into the actual hospital. That's never a guarantee here. Finally I broke the silence...
Agathe and her girls. photo credit: Joanna Howard
"Agathe...how do some of these women sit in these classes for months....how do they come here every week...how do they hear us teach and teach and teach and teach about breastfeeding and truth...and then do these stupid, stupid, things."
Agathe let me get angry and raise my voice. Then she calmly said...
Before the day was out I knew the crying would come.
When I was by myself I cried. I told God what I thought about sick babies, superstitions, and teenage mothers. I cried out all the anger and frustration. Part of being angry is not even knowing what I'm angry about. Am I frustrated at God or these ladies or Haiti or injustice or stupidity or sin or selfishness? It makes me tired trying to sort through my thoughts and emotions. So oftentimes I leave my thoughts unsorted and simply cry.
I fell asleep last night asking God to make me wake up eager to teach (even though I don't feel like the women are always listening) and eager to pray (even though it doesn't feel like God listens sometimes either). I'm sure...when I'm not so frustrated God will show me my own sin and depravity in each of these women's stories. I'm sure He'll remind me of his grace and how He loves us even when we're selfish, stupid stinkers.