Monday, March 19, 2012
A Conference for the Medical Community on Beastfeeding
I knew it was an important event because the women in the kitchen killed six chickens for the lunch and offered to iron my clothes. We moved all the beds and slowly turned the postpartum room into a conference room, set up every chair we could fine and then with a prayer and a song, began the conference on breastfeeding in North Haiti.
When I had first thought of working in Haiti, I had thought most of all about the births and did not understand how much I would be called to attend to the problem of under five deaths in Haiti and the world. You see, each year, nine million children under the age of five, die throughout the world. I have shared with you some of my experiences with malnutrition and the death of young children and I hope I have shared my optomism that this can be helped by the protection and promotion of breastfeeding.
The conference was attended by doctors, nurses, midwives and traditional birth attendents with no way to distinguish one from the other. I opened the conference by giving everyone a gold ribbon tied into a bow to wear. This is the symbol UNICEF and the World Health Organization chose to represent the call for increased breastfeeding world wide as a key strategy in reducing under five deaths.
One bow is for the mom and one for the baby. The knot represents the community/family/father whose support makes breastfeeding possible. One ribbon stands for six months of exclusive breastfeeding and two years with appropriate supplemental foods. The other ribbon stands for the spacing of children three years apart to ensure good nutrition and health for both the mother and children.
It had been my goal to host such a conference for the medical community and I set out to make sure I did this before my time in Haiti came to a close. It was little overwhelming and a bit scarey but days such as these unfold as they will. The presentations were professional and well thought out. The audience was appreciative and eager. The food was magnificent. People left smiling and hopeful.
In time, the beds returned to the postpartum room and the moms with their starving babies, infections, superstitions and fears fill them. And I, take a deep breath and begin again confident that this Monday morning there are many more voices in Haiti carrying this message forward. My thanks to everyone who came and presented and to all the wonderful women who fixed food with so much love and grace and for the medical community of Haiti who found their way to our gate. On many days, life is better than our wildest dreams and expectations.
We ended the day with a walk up the mountain to the place where people gather to sing and pray and watch the sunset over the bay. The young boys, of the village, give each other bucket showers and later use the buckets for drums. I walk back to the place that has been my home here in Haiti, tired but grateful