Sunday, April 14, 2013

Birth in Haiti

So, it took moving to Haiti for me to make a Canadian friend.  Sure, I've met Canadians, but not really been friends with any.

Canadians are great, EH?!

Hahaha... That's my favorite favourite (I'm feeling compelled to spell things Canadian-style) thing that she says in every conversation.  "Eh."  (Sounds like "hay" without the "h".)  Two little letters--one very small word.  And yet, I've never known anyone who uses it to convey so many things as she does.

Esther.  That's my friend's name.  It also happens to be one of my very favorite Bible characters.  What's not to love about beautiful, courageous Esther?

Poor Esther has been enduring months of relentless heckling on the streets of Haiti.  Why, you ask?  Because she is tall and white and, up until recently, she's had a very large pregnant belly.  She's been a good sport about the intrusive advice and often rude comments she received.  She's even developed some humorous retorts!

Esther's stint with local celebrity is not over yet.  Now, everyone is ooh-ing and aaah-ing over the baby in her arms!  Her son, Elijah, entered the world very early last Sunday morning, and it was my joy and honor honour to witness it. (Once you read the whole story, you'll see why it took me a week to write this post--it's a long one!)

Being present for someone ELSE'S labor labour and delivery is not at all like being present for your own labour and delivery, as you can guess.

When YOU are the one in labour, you're pretty much thinking only about the following:
  1. the pain
  2. understanding what doctors and nurses are telling you to do
  3. when the pain will end and your baby will appear
Esther's labor and delivery was a great deal more enjoyable for me!  My main purpose in being there was to capture everything with my camera.  My secondary purpose was to be there to support my friend and her husband.  I was able to do both of those things as well as observe everything that was going on.  It was an amazing experience!  I know for sure that there were a gazillion details about the births of my three babies that I missed.  But, I saw it all for this birth.

Esther called me at 7:30 pm Saturday to tell me she was in labor.  "Is it raining at your house?"she asked.  No, it wasn't.  "Well, it's going to be," she said ominously.  By the time her husband, Matt, showed up at our house to drop off their two kids for a spontaneous sleepover party, there was a 3-feet-deep stream flowing past our front door.

Great night to have a baby, eh?

When I arrived (soaking wet and rushing on adrenaline) at the Mama Baby Haiti midwifery clinic in a small village called Voudreil, Esther was dilated 8 cm, with contractions about 2 minutes apart.  It was about 8:00 pm and she was walking around, talking, and leaning on the bathroom sink for support during pains.  Matt got busy timing contractions on his phone.  Another friend, Susan, who is a Registered Nurse (God bless RNs everywhere), arrived at about the same time that I did.  I stared at Esther for a minute, marveling at her strength.  During my own labours, I had been under the delightful effects of an epidural by the time I had reached 6 cm dilated.

The delivery room was so very different from those I delivered in in America.  The room had a wood-frame bed with a mattress, a few chairs, a shelf of supplies, and one bare lightbulb.  It was clean and painted with cute little birds in bright colors.  I was quickly introduced to the two attending Haitian midwives, Maudline and Judith, and got to work taking pictures, encouraging Esther, and retrieving cold towels.

Even in the most luxurious hospitals, it's hard to get comfortable during labour.  Just about the time you settle in on one position, BAM! a contraction hits and gets you all out of sorts again.  Esther chose to move all around that clinic.  She tried sitting on a stool.  She paced the halls.  She even traipsed up the stairs once or twice.  She knealt on the floor and hunched over onto the bed for many contractions.  Indeed, this woman was anywhere EXCEPT reclining on the bed up until the very end of labour.  And, all the while, Susan plodded along behind her, rubbing her back, listening closely, and talking Esther through each stage.

After enduring three excrutiating contractions in a row while kneeling on the hard tile floor, Matt said, "Esther, would you like a towel or blanket for your knees?"

And, Esther replies all cordially, with the sweetest tone, "Why, yes, that would be lovely.  Thank you, Matt, for being so helpful."

Um, pardon?  I'd have been like, "Hellloooo! Yeah--that might help a wee bit! Thanks for finally noticing after three full contraction cycles."

"Well, I'm glad I'm good for something other than timing contractions," Matt muttered as he rolled up a blanket and wedged it under her knees.

Hours passed.  Labour progressed.  The rain stopped.

Somewhere around 10:30, Maudline broke Esther's water. After that, the contractions started to change and eventually, instead of being like bumps on the road, they were like waves on the ocean--one rising and falling and crashing right into the next one.  We all knew then that it wouldn't be long before we'd see that baby emerge!

Then, sometime just before midnight, the power went out.

Thick, humid darkness swelled around us.  Crickets chirped.  Water gurgled in gutters and drains outside.

And, no one in that room even flinched.  No one gasped.  No one panicked.

We are accustomed to losing electrical power at inopportune times here in Haiti.  We keep calm and carry on.

A couple of us reached into pockets for phones and turned them on, bathing the room and Esther in their soft LCD glow.

A couple more contractions rose and fell before someone outside turned on a generator and the lights came back on.

By midnight, Esther was tired.  Well, we were all tired.  Esther was exhausted.

Energy and strength zapped, she succumbed to a reclining position on the bed.  Once or twice she whimpered, "I don't want to do this anymore!"  I felt all twisted up inside.  I remembered that feeling.

Watching someone in that kind of pain makes you feel like you've been punched in the gut.  It's something like despair that you feel... Knowing that there's no giving up and walking away.  No "oh, well, we'll try again some other day."  No way to undo what's been done.  The only choice is to push through.

At least twice, tears welled up in my eyes and I swallowed down a lump in my throat as I witnessed her agony--even photographed her white-knuckled grip on her husband's hand!

Our encouraging words for Esther became louder, more insistent, more urgent.  We counted out the seconds as she pushed, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10!!  Breath! Again!  1, 2, 3..."

Finally, we could see the crown of the baby's head!  Then...there was a little face!

That was when Esther stopped pushing.  Maudline told her to stop.  I watched as Maudline ever-so-slowly, ever-so-gently... eased one shoulder out....and then the other.  And, she did it that way to save Esther some pain and to save herself from having to do any stitching.

A moment later, there was a new human in the room.

The umbilical cord stretched out as Maudline set the baby down on Esther's chest.  I snapped pictures while everyone leaned in to examine...  There were ten fingers...ten toes...two tiny ears...a perfect little nose... And BOY parts!

A bulb syringe was used to clear the baby's mouth and nose, which was followed immediately by his first ever intake of oxygen into his lungs...and his first ever cry.  It was 12:30.

He was beautiful.  All I could think of was Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose."

Susan with Elijah

Father and Son

After we each got to hold him and welcome him, a bit of measuring took place.  I would describe the measurements as... less than scientific.  Let's say "good estimates." He was somewhere around 22 inches long.

 The scale provided his weight in kilograms...which I converted to pounds using a handy app on my phone.  He was over 10 pounds!  Esther was able to shower and change her clothes while we visited with Elijah and then the two of them settled in to sleep.

The drive home was strange.  It was the first time I'd been out driving at that time of night.  The road I travel multiple times per day looked completely foreign.  The only living creatures I encountered were some goats and dogs that were sitting in the middle of the road--trying to avoid the streams of water in the ditches, I think.

I got home somewhere around 2 am.  I was so very tired.  But, my brain was working overtime to process all that had happened.  It took at least 45 minutes to fall asleep.

The next morning, we piled our three kids and two of Matt's and Esther's into our truck and took them home to meet their new brother.  (Nope, no two-night hospital stay, no doctors doing hearing screenings or blood tests.  Just pack up your stuff and head home at daylight.  Matt and Esther were very thankful that someone had come in to their home while they were away to mop up all the rainwater that had come in.)

From left to right: Gabriela, Elijah, Niko, Matt and Esther

Gabriela was hesitantly enthralled.  Niko was highly entertained.

My girls were very curious, too!  This is Danielle checking him out.

He was so new in this picture, and yet so big!  Bondye bon, little one.  May He protect you and keep you!

Psalm 139:13-18
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous - how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!


  1. This is a really wonderful post. Blessings to you, to Elijah and to the whole family.

  2. Wow! What a special privilege to be a part of this new little guys' entrance into the world! What a wonderful treasure those pictures you took will be! When I was working as a nursery nurse I never got tired of being in the delivery room! And what a super hero Esther is! Ten pounds and no epidural!!! Good gravy that is some real pain! They are a beautiful family!! Thanks for all your posts! I am always checking in! ;)


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