Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sweat, Dirt, and Love

The room Glen and are staying in while here with Midwives for Haiti is a small room that, on our arrival, had a twin bed and a single mosquito net canopy above it. Acknowledging that Glen and I are two people- husband and wife, it was offered that another twin size bed be carried into the room and placed beside the existing twin bed. The first night we arrived, this is what was done. Glen and Steve moved an entire bed from one room to the other, all so that we would have a comfortable place to sleep, together. I joked to Glen that having a bed big enough to share was the least of my concerns. I came to Haiti to work, not to make love or to cuddle. And besides, the idea of being pressed up against a hot, sticky body was not appealing to me.

I thought about this as we drove through the streets of Hinche. Riding on a moto or in the back of a jeep through the unforgiving, unpaved dirt roads, you see the rickety, tattered shacks that are the homes to the people in this town. I found myself wondering about the lives of the men and women and families that live there. I thought of my own relationship and life with my husband and wondered if those personal, intimate moments in life could possibly be the same here? Does the woman and her husband lay in bed and discuss their life? Do they hope and dream and plan for the future? Do they make love to purposely make a baby? Or is the prospect of adding another baby scary? Is it a burden...is it another mouth to feed? What does that life look like from within those dilapidated walls? A home that is not even a glorified shack. A home made of wood scraps, branches, dirt, metal, or if you have more than most, cement. Do they lay beside each other in the hot darkness...cloaked in sweat, dirt, and love? Does he whisper to her that she is the most beautiful thing in the world and that he loves her? Do they lay against each other and make love in their one-room windowless hut as their other kids or family members sleep just feet away? Do they have any idea how different life is for so many people...

It is simple to look at Haiti this way, to compare it to what we have back home, and inaccurately conclude that families must feel this way. But the reality is, we are all the same in basic ways, are we not? We put stake in the future by way of hope, we work hard to survive but also to improve and rise above from where we are, and we all make plans for the future. Why would Haitians be any different? Our life's treasures are not what we own, nor what we hold of monetary value and possession, but the family we create, the relationships we form, and the lessons we pass on to these people and in turn, the world. I suppose even in a country as Haiti, where access to the seemingly simple, basic necessities of life are not guaranteed, where pregnancy and birth carry the very real potential of death, the magnificent reprieve is that of Life and Love.

Today was our first day of work. Glen went to the hospital to help the Haitian OBs and midwives wherever needed, and I went on a mobile clinic to a town about an hour outside of Hinche. The mobile clinic goes to this particular location once a month. This enables the women and babies in this particular area to have access to quality care once a month, when before Midwives For Haiti came here, most went without. Without transportation and expendable money to be used on a 'tap-tap,' women simply could not reach a doctor or midwife.

The new Midwives for Haiti Landcruiser, which we donated toward. 

We arrived to find that the house and church which was to be used as the mobile clinic site was locked up, with no way to access it. Women and babies had already lined up, waiting on our arrival and anticipating to be seen. Something so trivial as having no access to the building was not going to make us skip a beat. These women and babies needed to be seen. A couple midwives walked around the property and found a wooden picnic bench. This would be where the women would sit and wait for their turn to be seen. There was a permanent, cement table placed in the center of the shaded veranda, where the midwives would then make a makeshift pharmacy and urine dipping station. Meanwhile, someone set up the portable exam table that we had brought along with us. A backpack strapped to my back, a doppler on my waistband, stethoscope around my neck, I placed my measuring tape, doppler gel, and blood pressure cuff on the exam table to make my "exam room." A basic set up with minimal supplies, out in the middle of nowhere Haiti, and we were equipped to save a life by way of preventative care, education, and screening.

Keri and I. She's an American doula.

This is where we hosted our clinic.

My 'exam room.'

The morning proved to be uneventful. I went from woman to woman sitting on the wooden bench and took each woman's blood pressure. I was honestly astounded by the beauty of each reading...105/60, 110/60...I'm not sure I had seen such great (normal!) blood pressures during our last trip. I made it a point to tell each of these women how great their blood pressure was, how their baby palpated head down, how wonderfully and completely normal they were measuring. Throughout the late morning patients, a young boy would come up to me, eagerly searching for conversation in his broken English. "Allo, what is your name," he asked me? "My name is Tara," I told him.
"How old are you?" He answered that he was 15. "How old are YOU," he asked me? I smiled at that. "I'm 30." I thought about it more and laughed. "Ha! I'm twice your age...15x2!" He laughed with me at that. I was puzzled at his presence. "Why are you here? Obviously you are not pregnant." (He laughed at this.) He responded saying, "I am here to be a guest!" Okaaaay. I wondered why in the world a 15 year old boy would come here to hang out...to watch pregnant women and busy midwives meander around in the hot sun, as if it were entertaining? Very puzzling to me, but I shrugged and went about my business, smiling at the oddity.

The mild morning warmth quickly stretched into the blazing afternoon, and the steady stream of patients became just a few remaining. One of the last remaining patients got up on the exam table.

"Bonjou! My name is Tara, I'm a midwife. As I began to talk, I instinctively put my hands on her belly feeling as I spoke. Her soft, stretched, gravid belly reminds me of a momma who has carried 10 babies within her throughout her life.

"What baby is this for you?"
"It is my 4th."
It creeps into my mind...she is expecting her 4th baby, just like me. We are two women, in the same phase of life. She is like me. I am like her. Yet so far...

"How are you feeling?"
"OK", she responds, after my translator has translated what I have said to her.
"When are you due," I ask?
"April," she says.
"Is your baby active?"
"Do you have any complaints...headaches?"
"Yes," she says, I have had a headache for 3 weeks."
"Are you having any visual disturbances?"
"Yes, I have been seeing spots for 3 weeks," she tells me.
"What was her blood pressure," I ask Pleasure, my interpreter?

He rummages through the paperwork I've just been given by one of the midwives, who took her blood pressure a few moments ago, with an automatic cuff.
Pleasure points to a number, and even though I shouldn't be surprised, I am.

It says 210/110.

I quickly finish examining her...I note no edema, I measure her and she measures appropriately, I palpate and the baby is head down...and then I listen, hesitating in my mind because blood pressure like that makes me wonder if baby is even still alive. It is. I tell her that her blood pressure was very high and that I would like to take it again, myself, and manually this time. She sits up and I put the cuff on. When I hear the first beat and when I hear the last, I am yet again surprised. There is NO WAY her blood pressure is what I think it is. I have to take it again.

I take it again and get the same reading. I have never in my life, even in Haiti, seen a blood pressure this high. I switch arms and I repeat it yet again. It is indeed the same.

240/140. I type those numbers and I honestly cannot wrap my mind around it. If someone would have told me that there was a person with a blood pressure this high, I likely would not believe it. I looked her in the eye and I said to her, "You must go to the hospital." She stared back at me, expression unchanged. I knew she did not understand the severity of the situation. I am sure that is the venom of hypertension...it is silent. It does not hurt. It creeps up and up and up, unbeknownst to the invader, silently destructing and wearing down the body from the inside.

I sat down beside her and my translator translated quickly as I went. I looked her in the eyes, just inches from her face, and this time, I recognize those sweet eyes. They belong to that boy. The 15 year old who wants to be a doctor, who was half my age, who was talkative and silly. He belongs to her. She is his mother.

"You MUST go to the hospital, right away. Blood pressure this high can cause you to have a stroke, can cause you to lose the baby, and can kill you. I know it is far, I know nobody wants to go to the hospital...but it is better than dying. Do you understand?"

She looked at me and nodded, and I felt she truly understood. I said to the Haitian midwives, "She needs blood pressure medication right away. Do we have anything?" One midwife brings over some pills, and before she gives them to the woman, she asks her if she has had anything to eat today. The woman says yes, that she had a cracker this morning. A cracker. Nothing more.

I remember the snacks in my bag and I tell her that I have some peanuts in my bag. Would she like some? She eagerly says yes, yes please. I give her the peanuts, brought from Alaska, gifted to me from my dear friend Mary. She sits there like a silent ticking time-bomb, quietly and happily popping honey roasted peanuts into her mouth, and I wonder to myself if she and her baby will make it.

The writing on the tag says, "I do not give lectures or charity. When I give- I give myself." Walt Whitman

I wanted her, so badly, to ride back with us. I wanted to see her arrive to the hospital safely. But, she insisted that she go home to tell her husband where she was going and to get the items she would need for delivery (a sheet, a towel, a bucket, baby clothes). I wondered what all this truly mattered, if it meant further putting her life at risk. What does a baby outfit and a diaper do for a dead baby? My heart sank as we loaded up. I walked over to her, one last time and spoke with her, "I want to see you and your baby healthy. Please do not delay in getting to the hospital. I will be looking for you." She smiled, and we said goodbye- all of us headed down the rugged dirt road, cloaked in sweat and dirt, yet filled with love for this work.

I don't know if she made it to the hospital. I don't know if she will be ok. I don't know if I will ever see her again. But I hope...


  1. Again, your writing just captivates me. I look forward to following along on your journey. I do hope that you see her again. I will be praying for her. Tara, what a blessing you are to these women.

  2. You two are such amazing people:)