On my first day at St. Therese Hospital I enter the postpartum room with Gladias, my interpreter. Although I am in a foreign country, I feel completely at home in maternity wards. I pick up my camera and get to work. I am there for only three hours when a pregnant woman in labor is carried – literally carried by two men holding on to her arms and legs - into the room having eclamptic seizures. She is laid on a bare, plastic-covered mattress while the Skilled Birth Attendants (SBAs), students, and infirmieres auxiliaires (licensed practical nurses) rush over to start an IV and administer magnesium sulfate. The young woman's mother remains at the bedside fanning her daughter's face in the tropical heat of the afternoon. Thankfully, this woman continued in active labor and a healthy baby was born several hours later. Eclampsia can be deadly.
The SBAs work very hard. A quiet interlude is a welcome respite from a pending emergency. It is not overdramatic to say that birth and death are constants here. Through it all, Excellente St. Rose, a janitor at St. Therese Hospital for the past 16 years, drifts amongst the rooms, cleaning as she goes, contributing to the upkeep and conversation within. Before the SBAs started working at St. Therese, the janitors caught babies. I asked Excellente how many babies she had delivered back in the days and she laughed, "… many, many!" Once, she delivered three around the same time.
Haiti has the highest maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rates in the Western Hemisphere. The lack of skilled childbirth attendants is the primary cause of needless suffering and deaths of these mothers and babies. Midwives for Haiti located in Hinche, the capital city of the Central Plateau, is an organization founded by Nadene Brunk, Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM), and her colleagues to address this need. After traveling to Haiti in 2003 as part of a medical team, Nadene witnessed first hand the lack of resources and skilled care for pregnant women. Determined to provide a long-term solution, she formed a small team of volunteer midwives and medical professionals and soon returned to Haiti. At the request of a Haitian community leader, she established a rigorous 12-month, culturally appropriate training program for Haitian nurses in Hinche. Graduates are empowered with the knowledge and experience to save the lives of mothers and babies. They are employed at St. Therese Hospital and other health centers throughout Haiti and provide prenatal and postnatal care in remote rural locations. Midwives For Haiti has graduated 95 Skilled Birth Attendants with another 30 students in Class 8 beginning their course in the summer of 2015.
Media attention to the needless and devastating deaths of women and infants, particularly those in developing countries, has recently increased largely driven by the United Nation's Millennium Developmental Goals #4 and #5. Since 2011, I have made three trips on behalf of Midwives for Haiti, recording what I have learned through my lens and writing. The spirit of the Haitian people and important work done through Midwives for Haiti are what compel me to return.