Haiti take #2 Cara Osborne
Foreigners who visit often say that they left a little bit of their heart in Haiti. That was definitely my experience and since my first trip, in March of this year, hardly a day has passed without at least a few minutes spent trying to get back. It took 5 months, too many conference calls to count, buckets of sweat and maybe even a few tears, but we made it and after a long two days of travel, when I hit the streets of Port au Prince I felt like I was bringing friends home to visit.
In March, I was a lone ranger—I was nimble and agile—my plans changed by the moment based on need. I learned a lot in a short amount of time. It was intense and I found myself wishing, over and over, that someone had seen what I had seen and done what I had done. I so wanted to share all of the thought s and feelings that I carried around with me for months after I returned, but the experience was inexplicable. Happily, I shared the journey this time around with my colleague and dear friend, Rhonda, and two fantastic FNPs in training, Carol and Rachel. In addition to our core group, Magalie, a Haitian-American nurse, traveled with us and provided translation and Ami and Maria, two home-birth midwives from San Fransisco took on the majority of the midwifery duties. Dina, a film maker, was there to make sure that our story would be told. I had not just a single compatriot but a posse; as the only member of the crew who had been to Haiti before, I became the defacto cruise director.
I’m a “do-er” by nature and though I have taken on leadership roles at various points, I am by no means a born leader. I have a hard time remembering to slow down and explain things; giving everyone else the opportunity to “do”. So, this stint as cruise director was a challenge. I may not have risen to it as gracefully as I had hoped, but everyone lived – and in the end, I am so thankful to have been stretched. It forced me to take a step back and in doing so my view of Haiti, of the Midwives for Haiti program and of midwifery in general, expanded dramatically. It was as though lens of my mind’s eye had been switched to panoramic.
There’s a lot of life happening in Haiti. The everyday joys and heartbreaks of human existence are happening, quite literally, right there in the streets. As an action-oriented girl, I tend to participate. I jump in to the waves and try my best to ride the through the highs and lows as if I’ve been there all along. I focus intently on the specific child that I’m playing with or adult that I’m speaking to– but rarely take notice of the interactions and conversations happening around me. This time around it was different. In order to make sure that my charges were safe and had what they needed, I had to be acutely aware of my surroundings and was able to see the whole ocean. I watched each member of the group lifted and dropped by waves of emotion as they took in the realities of people who had been living in tents for months, young earth quake victims struggling to adapt to missing limbs, starving children being fed by nuns because they were too weak to hold their own cups, and a laboring woman enduring hours of seizures that would have been an “emergency” in the US. It was immense, and frightening, and beautiful, and almost more than I could bear. Had I gone on doing my little bit, I might have missed the gift of seeing the change that happens when lots of little bits are being done all at once in one great big sea of humanity.
During my visit in March, the Midwives for Haiti training program was in transition. The lead teacher was leaving, the junior teacher was taking the lead and an American midwife with the patience of Job was struggling to learn the language and impart to the students the spirit of midwifery. The students were unsure of themselves and their place in the hospital—and frankly, the world. Frustration hung in the air and affected everyone. In contrast, during this visit the only palpable frustration was my own. I felt that I wasn’t doing enough. My time was short and I wanted to be with the Haitian students, but seeing to the needs of my American students was my primary responsibility. I had become very attached to the Haitian students during my trip in March. They told me their stories and I told them mine. They were under stress and we bonded quickly. When I left they asked me when I would return, and though I couldn’t say when, I promised them that I would. Now I was back and I barely had time to say hello. I was disappointed, whether or not they were. But here’s the good news– they didn’t need me to do anything. In the months since my last visit, the teachers Marthonie and Reina had morphed in to poised, self-possessed leaders who were clearly respected and revered by the students. The students had gone from a group of eager but clueless novices to proficient practitioners of midwifery who treat laboring women with kindness and compassion. So, rather than doing anything, I got to play the proud auntie going around telling everyone how wonderful they are. I was, and am, totally overwhelmed by the success. If I hadn’t had the wide angle lens, I might have missed the subtle, but crucial changes that assure me that this program is working! There’s still no running water, and there’s very little electricity, but they’re making midwives here folks and I got to see it!
For me, what it means to be a midwife is something that is ever evolving. It’s been years since it was just about catching babies— but I continue to be surprised by the applicability of midwifery skills to new situations. Haiti is a harsh place. It can make even the most seasoned veteran feel helpless and overwhelmed. Moving past those feelings and coming to a place where you know that you have something to contribute isn’t easy. In the same way that no two women labor the same, each of us who choose to walk alongside the Haitian people, as they do the best they can with what they have, deals with struggle differently. All good midwives know that one of our most unique skills is sitting patiently and doing nothing. That’s always been a tough one for me, but this trip brought home for me how important it is to fight the urge to do something, and instead stand in support as others walk their paths. In the big picture of this trip, I see seven new bits of heart that have been left in Haiti and I hope that I have been a good midwife to my fellow travelers.