Friday, January 28, 2011


Pregnant women come waddling into the maternity center.

They are weighed.

Some of our ladies struggle to gain weight.  It's hard to look them in the face, with worry in our eyes, and say..."We know it's hard, but if there is any way you can eat must."

We take their temperature and blood pressure.

Pulses are high.  Lots of our women are poorly hydrated.  Dehydration causes many issues in pregnancy.  We beg them to drink every chance they get.  I always think about how hard it must be to be pregnant in this country.  The heat.  Lack of water.  Lack of food.  No comfortable place to lay your head.  Tons of walking.  We beg them to drink water, knowing many of our ladies don't have access to clean water or the money to buy it.  The more they drink, the more they have to use the bathroom.  It wouldn't surprise me if none of our ladies have toilets in their homes.  I'm reminded every week that nothing is easy here.  Nothing.

For the pregnant women who are due for exams, Tara plays with their pee does lab work.

All of our ladies are anemic.  Most are severely anemic.
Protein is expensive. We see poverty's effects in the lab each week.
It shows up in blood work and urine analysis.

The ladies eat a high protein meal together.

They drink high calorie/protein shakes and get their prenatal vitamins for the week.

We have girls that are young...who should be giggling with their sisters at home or braiding each other's hair.  Instead...they are alone and pregnant.  High risk pregnancies.  Too young with bodies that are not ready to birth a baby.

We see older women.  Lucille Pierre is 52.  This is her twelfth pregnancy.  And yet she's happy she is about to have a new baby.  She loves her husband and family.  She's one of the sweetest parts of our program.  Pure joy.  She's my favorite.  Shh.  Don't tell anyone.  Can you imagine being pregnant at 52?  I'm trying.  No.  Nope.  I can't.

The women come to class where they learn about a variety of topics.  Fetal development.  Nutrition.  Breastfeeding.  The importance of drinking water and taking vitamins.  Sex education.

And sometimes Beth gets up there and shares with them through passionate tears that God desires to use them...these change Haiti.  He wants to use them to raise Godly children who will one day change their country.  She reminds them that they are important.  They can influence others.  They can share knowledge.  God can use them to change their communities.  "You are not powerless.  You are not a victim.  You are important.  You...You...YOU can bring about change in your country."  I'm usually a snotty mess when Beth finishes.

We see 15 year old girls who are about to be mothers.
Enisse recently moved into the Harbor House.  She'll need a lot of prayer as she transitions into this new home and makes new friends.  You can follow along with what is going on at the Harbor House at Tara's blog.

The ladies who are due for exams are seen by talented midwives who love, respect, and care for them.

When they are due for an appointment on Thursdays each woman gets individual attention.

Isn't Beth hot beautiful?

We are given glimpses into these women's stories.  "My dad made me marry this guy.  He made me.  Then the man got me pregnant and left me."  The heartbreak never ends. 

We pray.  We ask God to do the impossible.  Sometimes we flat out beg Him.
A lot of other things go on every Thursday.  Woman stuff.  We do things that should not be talked about on a blog and throw around words that would make you blush.  They make me blush.

Women helping and loving other's an intimate, complex, personal thing we do at Heartline.  No men are allowed.  Every week I marvel at this maternity center.  This building filled with vulnerable women...all of us...the Haitian women and the "blans."  Insecure.  Unsure.  Trying to learn how to be women and take care of each other and ourselves.  Striving to be honest.  Wanting to respect one another.  To learn from each other.  To be a friend.  To love.  To help lighten the load. To never judge.  To be slow to speak.  Quick to listen.  To extend grace.  To pour out truth.  To encourage.  To be firm.  To stand firm.  To laugh.  Weep.  Pray.

Every week I am honored to serve with one of the most beautiful groups of women.  When we're all in one room talking, laughing, or bawling our mascara off, I still find myself wondering why God has been so gracious to include me in what He is doing through Heartline.  I find myself whispering to the Lord..."How did I get here?"  I really don't know, and I will never understand it, but I could not be more grateful for this undeserved gift.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Beautiful babies and mommies head to the maternity center.

photo credit:  Joanna Howard

Babies are weighed, oohed and ahhed over.  The moms are offered a high protein meal.
They sit outside with other women...eating...talking...with babies on their laps.

photo credit:  Joanna Howard

photo credit:  Joanna Howard

Then the women come to class where they learn about issues relating to child development, motherhood, being a woman, breastfeeding, and well...any number of topics that apply to women and children.
Today the topic was "Introducing Solids."  More importantly we were aiming to debunk the false knowledge these women have that goes something like this..."I only need to breastfeed for six months.  Then I can give my baby solid food and quit nursing."

Since it's been a whole 2 years since I had a six month old, I had to send a shout out to some of my mommy friends in the States and ask them to have a brainstorming session with me via email.  I am blessed to have a mommy-doctor friend who is more than willing to think through nutrition, breastfeeding, and medical issues in a third world country with me.  Third world medicine is tricky and oftentimes risky.  I also have crunchy, granola mom friends who I knew would know exactly how to make their own baby foods (including rice cereal).  They were extremely helpful as I prepared for this class.  I was bound and determine to only offer food options that could be bought on the street...fruits, veggies, and grains that are sold by machans in the marketplace.

Can I stop and say this is one of my favorite things about being a woman and a mom?  Brainstorming with other women and moms.  What a comfort to realize that we don't individually have to have all the answers.  We just have to be willing to ask questions, share our knowledge, what worked, what didn't, and be humble enough to listen and learn new things. 

Mentoring.  Friendships.  Women-to-women encouragement as we walk this oftentimes terrifying road called "motherhood."  These ingredients are extremely important in our programs at Heartline.  We want to see women empowered with knowledge and wisdom...not only for themselves, but so they can empower other women in their lives..their sisters, cousins, mothers, and friends.


It was kind of fun cooking and preparing all these "solids" to use in class.

The women were great.  Attentive.

Before we could talk about nutrition and introducing solids we had to tackle the root of why we oftentimes long to quit nursing our babies early.  No matter what side of the ring we find ourselves on when it comes to the topic of breastfeeding, I think we can all agree that in the States it is a luxury to get to choose to nurse or bottle feed.  In Haiti...these women don't enjoy that luxury.  Either they nurse their baby, or more likely than not, their baby will die. In Haiti breastfeeding = life.  For that reason we want to see our ladies nurse for a long time.  It will take a lot of perseverance and hard work on their part.  In a way our team at Heartline sees ourselves as the friends on the sidelines cheering as these women run this race.  When they get weary we encourage them.  We chant louder.  We clap.  We tell them what a beautiful job they are doing and to keep on going.

Although they know that the World Health Organizations suggests that all mothers (not just Haitian mothers or women living in third world country) breastfeed their babies until the age of two, there is still the temptation to quit early.  Why would they risk their child's life?  How could they do that?  It might be easy to judge them.  It's tempting to judge a Haitian mom who wants to leave her baby at home for a few hours (instead of having her baby with her all the time in order to nurse on demand.)  But then I remember that these women have to carry their babies in the the their arms.  No strollers.  No slings.  Being a mom in Haiti is hard work.  Harder than any of us with our bread-winning husbands, solid support groups, fancy educations, expensive breast pumps, and jogging strollers could ever imagine.

We talked about Philippians 2 and how Jesus is our example in all relationships, including the relationship between mom and baby.  He gave up everything to serve be intimately connected to be there every time we need Him.  In a room with a bunch of nursing moms it's a beautiful thing to think of scriptures that describe God's care for us as being as intimate and gentle as a nursing mom.  Looking at these ladies with their babies I was overcome by how much they have to give much they sacrifice to be good mothers.  I wonder if they are mocked because of the things they learn every Tuesday.  Being available to nurse their babies on demand means very little time alone for them, sore arms, and sore backs as they carry heavy babies up and down the streets of this busy, hot city.  I pray the Christ we read about today in Philippians will give these women the ability to serve their children selflessly in what seems like such an impossible task.

It might be weird, but I see God's love and faithfulness to these women and their children in things like breastmilk, avocados, bananas, congo beans, and carrots.  I find God here in the strangest of places.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Driving Towards the Beauty

When the noise...exhaust...sadness...impossibilities...heat...and trash filled streets get old, we've learned it's time to call up friends, load up the car, and head to the beach.

It's absolutely remarkable what clean air, a breath-taking view, and lots of wide open space can do for the soul.

We buried Hayden.  He was why not?

Little brother sat and did what little brother does best...quietly stare at rocks and pick out exactly the right ones to take home.  "Look..this one has fish nibbles.  I'm going to take it."  

They bought some necklaces from one of the vendors that walks up and down the beach begging you to look at their giant platter of jewelry.  Of course the boys wanted the most gaudy necklaces available.  I held up the Mr. T style neck bling and asked how much they cost.  $5 American.  Yes.  The boys were willing to part with their Christmas money to look like Pirate of the Caribbean characters.  I had one other question for the guy selling his wares.  "Are these voo-doo?"  Hey...I watched that Brady Bunch Hawaii special about eight times growing know...the one where Cindy wears that voo-doo necklace and then gets lost in a cave.  I don't like caves.  The guy selling the necklaces thought I was hilarious.  "Voo-doo?"  (laughing).  "No."  "These no voo-doo." 

We sat and listened to the patient boat men ask us time and time again to let them take us over to the next beach so we could snorkel.  "We have to stay here and watch our kids."  What a responsible parent Aaron is.  To this, boat man replies..."They can all come.  Put your kids and your wife in the boat.  We can all go." thanks.  I barely survived the car ride here with four kids.  That boat?  My four looney, loud children?  Since they can all swim, the temptation to throw them overboard would be too great for me.  I know my we stayed put.  The sweet, old boat man just laughed and calmly waited for us to change our minds.

We tried something new this time.  You can buy a coconut for $1.  A coconut expert peels the coconut.  Then  he whacks off the top with his giant and probably not so clean machete.  We all tried the milk.  Two out of the six of us liked it.

After the milk is gone, your $1 includes the same coconut pro chopping open your coconut and digging out the inside.  Our kids actually ate it.  This is just a theory, but I'm wondering if I used a machete during dinner prep every night if our kids would eat just about anything I made them.  That's a magical weapon for a boy.  They watched this guy work with complete awe and fascination.  I'm pretty sure they want to be coconut sellers when they grow up.  Dang machetes.

There was lots of playing and laughing with friends.

There was also lots of being adorable.  Isn't he the cutest?

It's a good thing he's so cute.  See all that red nail polish all over his foot?
Long story that resulted in one foot plus one toilet lid painted red, Aaron being interrupted in the middle of a prayer service, and me using finger nail polish remover to mop the bathroom floor.  Like I's a really, really good thing Hudson is so cute.

Really, really good thing.

We were also totally suckered into buying a beast of a live crab and letting a guy cook it for us right on the beach.  This is the before picture.

This is the after. 
Sometimes being suckered into something is a great thing.  
Like when it comes to crab...on the beach.  This was delish.

Aaron caught a puffer fish (they are poisonous) and saw an octopus and an eel.  Then he went back in the water.  I choose to pretend there's nothing alive in the water where I'm swimming.  Denial.  Aaron likes to face the hard cold truth.  How weird of him.

We came back refreshed and red.  When we parked the car, Dominique and Soso were there to greet us and help haul in our sleepy boys.  Dominique took one look at me and said, "You find little bit sun there?  You change you color."  Then Aaron (who is a total overachiever in the skin cancer department) came into the light of the kitchen.  Aaron was bright red.  Dominique said..."Wow.  You REALLY change YOU color."  I never thought of it before, but we white people have a strange power to change the color of our skin.   

Praise God for weekends and beauty that exists in the darndest of places.