Every minute, 256 babies are born around the world. They are born at home, in tents, in hospitals, in maternity wards, in cars! And while we become intimately familiar with our own birthing space, rarely do we get the opportunity to see spaces beyond our own. Here, thanks to Midwives for Haiti and the incredible work of Photographer Cheryl Hanna-Truscott - we are taken on a tour of the maternity wards at Hospital St Therese in Hinche Haiti.
Midwives for Haiti has been working in Haiti since 2006, and through various programmatic arms, they have made a real difference. The jewel in their crown is the Nadene Brunk Eads School for Nurse-Midwifery, which has trained 184 Haitian nurses in advanced midwifery skills. Over 30% of all trained birth attendants (a phrase which encompasses obstetricians, labor nurses and midwives) working in Haiti today are graduates of their school. The percentage of women who deliver without a trained birth attendant has decreased from 75% to 51% (2017), which the World Health Organization says is the single most effective indicator of whether a woman will survive the childbearing year.
MFH also supports the maternity wards at Hospital St Therese, the large public hospital in Hinche. Additionally, they run 8 community clinics, (the latest incarnation of the mobile clinics shown in this exhibit) and provide intensive training and support to traditional birth attendant colleagues, who are known as matwons.
Through Cheryl Hanna-Truscott’s evocative photographs, we invite you into our world. It is a world of struggle, a world a joy, but most of all, it is a world filled with hope. Thank you for coming with us on this journey.
Our students are at the heart of everything we do. Access to skilled birth attendants is the most effective intervention in the fight against maternal mortality. Our program trains licensed nurses in the art of midwifery, emphasizing not only current evidence based care, but true connection with a woman. Our Head Teacher, Limone Clerveau is a gifted midwife herself, a true leader and role model for our students.
Before birth, babies are aquatic creatures, bathed for nine months in amniotic fluid, with just slightly less salinity than the Earth's oceans. Transitioning to breathing air is quite a miraculous process, which normally happens quickly, without intervention. However, when assistance is needed, our students know exactly what to do, thanks to repeated drills like this one.
Community and connection are essential elements of having a baby in Haiti. There is no substitute for support during this intense period in a woman's life. These babies are bathed in laughter and love before they are even born.
Sometimes babies need a bit of help to be born safely. The World Health Organization states that the optimal rate is between 10 and 15% of deliveries. Haiti's cesarean section rate is 1.7%, a figure so low that it is clear many women who need this potentially life saving surgery are not receiving it. Our midwives not only provide post surgical care but listen to women's feelings and emotions around this more complex form of birthing.
Mothers nourish. They literally feed their babies, placing themselves between their child and starvation. But they also nurture dreams, sustain hope, and protect the future, each child contributing to humanity in their singular way.
Hold on tight, little one! The ride has just begun! Midwives for Haiti staff caught over 2500 babies in 2020, and even in the midst of a pandemic, our infant mortality rate dropped from 6.9% to 5.7%.
Pre-eclampsia and other hypertensive disorders of pregnancy occur with alarming frequency in Haiti. Severe high blood pressure, along with other symptoms, cause seizures and death far too often in our community. This mother gave birth at home with undiagnosed pre-eclampsia and then fell into a coma; she and her husband travelled for hours to get to Ste Therese for lifesaving treatment. She was one of the lucky ones.
At Ste Therese Hospital, faith is the sister of hope, and the spiritual wellbeing of each mother is as important as her physical condition. Recovery can be difficult after a birth, and families are encouraged to utilize prayer and other sacred practices to provide support for the new mother.
Midwives for Haiti has trained over 600 matwons, and these relationships are priceless. When Covid hit, many women were too afraid to come to the hospital to give birth, so we doubled the amount of clean delivery kits distributed amongst the matwons, and provided them with personal protective equipment. They are such valuable front line workers!
This gentleman matwon is demonstrating the hand position for catching a baby. Unlike in many other countries, many of these traditional birth attendants are male. Matwons also provide rudimentary veterinary medicine, and are often asked to attend challenging animal births, as well as their human counterparts.
MFH is a registered 501c3, which relies solely on grants and donations for operating expenses. You can find out more about us and our programs at www.midwivesforhaiti.org. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We accept both clinical personnel and visual story-tellers as volunteers, if you wish to become more involved. More information can be found at Volunteer Program - Midwives For Haiti