My Time at a Haitian Birth Center: Heartline Haiti Maternity Center
Access to healthy birth is a human right that every woman should have access to, but sadly many women don’t. Imagine you are pregnant and want the best care for you and baby but have very few safe birthing options. Imagine you are in active labor and must take a motorcycle taxi two hours through muddy mountain roads to get to a safe maternity center. Imagine being an abused teen girl who must hide her pregnancy and baby from the world. Imagine finally finding a safe place to receive prenatal care and give birth when your options were dismal. Imagine finding a safe community that provides loving care with dignity and respect and wants the very best for you and baby. Heartline Maternity Center is that place for so many women in Haiti.
In early 2017, I was able to spend a few lovely months, as an RN, with Heartline Maternity Center in Port-au Prince, Haiti, and saw firsthand the excellent work they do. Fortunately, I speak Haitian Creole, from living in Haiti previously, and was able to use my nursing and language skills with this great maternity center. Grab a cup of tea, a cozy blanket and curl up while I tell you about these female warriors and the women they serve.
Heartline Maternity Center works to fight the orphan crisis in Haiti by advocating for women and babies, thus promoting strong and healthy families. They have an amazing program where women come weekly for group education and prenatal care by excellent Haitian and American Midwives, as well as Haitian nurses. Every Friday morning, a line of women stand outside the gate and hope for their chance at being admitted into the prenatal program. They have heard from their friends and neighbors about this wonderful program and know it may be their only chance at safe care. If they don’t get a spot at Heartline, their options are unassisted home births, traditional birth attendants with few resources, private hospitals that require a lot of money, or public hospitals that are overcrowded with very few supplies and resources.
If given a number for the day, they meet with the midwives and see ultrasound images of their babies for the first time. If they are a good match for the program, the women will start coming back every Thursday for lunch, an education class, and prenatal visits. Priority is given to the higher risk women, the very young and the older moms. By the time they come back to the maternity center to deliver, the women hopefully have owned their care and education and have formed a trusting relationship with the staff. When delivering, the women have midwives and nurses to labor with them in a cozy home-like setting, much like The Minnesota Birth Center. The midwives and nurses guide them through the natural birth process with love and respect. After delivery, the moms and new babies stay in the beautiful postpartum area for an average of 4-7 days (until their baby’s stool transitions to the seedy, yellow breastfed color) while they establish breastfeeding and bonding. They are driven home upon discharge and the staff have the chance to welcome the new family to their home and often are greeted by excited family members. The care doesn’t stop there, though. The women are encouraged to continue coming to the maternity center with their babies for a weekly child development class for up to six months, as well as postpartum care.
When I was working with Heartline I was able to meet a wonderful young teen mom who epitomizes what they are all about. (This story is shared with her permission.) Sarah had delivered a precious baby girl, Sophia, a couple months prior to my arrival. Her life had taken a turn when she was sexually assaulted by a neighbor and became pregnant at the age of 13. This was a source of shame for her family and so much blame was put on Sarah. Luckily she found Heartline and received amazing love, care and education throughout her pregnancy and still to this day, almost a year postpartum. Because of the education she received, she was able to make wise choices to exclusively breastfeed her baby and was able to stand against many false cultural beliefs that were being pushed on her. Sarah has created a very strong bond with Sophia and has now been able to return to school, with the support of Heartline. She sadly has to hide the fact that she’s a mom from her school and classmates, but she has aspirations to be a midwife, and I know she will make a great one. She has been so well supported by the staff and midwives at the maternity center and because of it knows her value and worth. She is often found helping other young moms at the maternity center and is one of the wisest young women I have ever met. Heartline changed her story, and now she can change her daughter’s story.
During my time with Heartline, I saw the amazing staff walk with all kinds of women: young moms who were abused and expecting, moms who had lost previous babies and now had the care and education to safely deliver a healthy baby, moms who were newly diagnosed with HIV, moms who were full of joy for their new little one, moms who came hours on public transport to have care, moms with large families, and moms just starting their families….and all these women were loved and cared for so well. They all got crazy good education about pregnancy, delivery, and how to keep their babies healthy. The intent of the program is to teach and care for the women through one pregnancy and then they are able to go out and spread their knowledge to their communities. When you gain information that can save lives you don’t keep that to yourself, you spread it far and wide.
Women can change the world one conversation at a time. Midwives can change the world one healthy birth at a time.
~Written by Rachel Lamb, RN, Clinic Nurse and Birth Assistant at MBC: “Haiti is very special to me. I continue to be involved with the Haitian community in the Twin Cities, and I travel often to Haiti when I’m able. I love to tell stories about my time there, so feel free to ask me more about it when you see me at the Birth Center!”