Friday, June 14, 2013

Birth on the right side of the river - August 2010

A woman came into the birth center in Jacmel in August of 2010.  It was her fifth pregnancy and she said she was having contractions.  She walked, laid on her side, rested and drank water throughout the day but the contractions never got stronger and it became clear she as not yet in active labor.

When I said she could go back home and come back when the contractions were strong and regular, she said please could she stay.  She said she would sweep, go get water. She would do anything but please she did not want to go into labor on the other side of the river where she lived.  A woman in her village had just died because they could not get her across the river.  She did not have family or friends in the town so I let her stay.  She swept and swept and one day had a peaceful delivery and a healthy baby.  When she left, I thought how now will she get that baby and herself back across that river.  I was imagining a shallow river that one might wade through; not easy in labor but maybe with a baby.  I was not sure.

A week later, someone was going to take me and some other volunteers to see a waterfall and we piled into a car for the trip.  When we got to the river it was high and moving fast.  People were walking across the river with children on their heads.  The water was up to most peoples chests or chins.  It was the only way to get to medical care or even a larger market.  The river was full of passengers walking across the river.  There were no bridges or even ferries.  I thought of the mother who swept the floors so she would not have to risk being in labor in the middle of the night with a river to cross.  I imagined her walking with the baby high above her head.

W did not cross the river in the car and we never saw the waterfall but I came to see that I take the bridges in my community for granted.  We cross them many times a day and never think what our lives would be like without them.  Most of Haiti's rivers do not have bridges, leaving small rural villages cut off from commerce, schooling and medical help.  Many women stay with friends and family and wait for to go into labor closer to emergency medical help but others can not.

The question, in many countries, with rural populations, is if all women should be forced to live in town and wait for labor near a hospital.  These waits often mean leaving family for long periods of time to live in a strange city without any support.  In Alaska women are flown out near their due dates to wait in motels. It is paid for by the government but often family cannot come and the women are isolated and alone.

Of course, building roads and bridges and providing emergency transport would save many babies in Haiti and when those things do not exist some will make it to a family members house and others, like the mother in this story will beg a volunteer who has never seen such a river filled with women and children, to let her wait on the safe side of the river.

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