“Every week, our mobile clinic visits a small village about 45 minutes into the hills from Petit Goave, west of Port-au-Prince. There is no proper road to the village; instead our 4x4s take us up a stony riverbed – which will be totally impassable once the rainy season starts.
“Nearing the end of our clinic last week, a man ran in saying that his wife’s water had broken hours ago and she was having heavy contractions in the river bed below. She had been trying to hike the three hours to the nearest hospital, but was not going to make it.
“Only stopping to make sure that we had the equipment we needed, two doctors from our team and I trekked down to where she was laboring, perched on a tiny river rock. Her only company was the local birth attendant, an old man who was sitting in silence as she contracted away. He had no medical supplies or equipment with him.
“Dr. Mario and I immediately strapped on gloves, lifted up her gown and felt the head crowning. At that moment the lady stood upright and screamed as she pushed her baby out. Unbelievable! Blood and fluids absolutely everywhere, baby breathing okay and mama trembling.
“With the infant safely placed on her mother’s stomach, I tied off the umbilical cord and cut it with my scalpel – et voila! Happy birthday, baby! Her parents were so moved that they decided on the spot to name the baby after us – Maria Cezanne Merline.
“I can honestly say it was a life changing experience for us all.”
More midwives = more healthy mothers and babies
Thankfully for this new family everything was okay, but in a country with a dramatic shortage of trained midwives, stories like this are all too common. They don’t always end so well. In Haiti, 630 women will die for every 100,000 births – the highest maternal death rate in the western hemisphere. In the UK the figure is just a fraction of this, with less than 10 maternal deaths per 100,000 births.
Before the earthquake there were far from enough qualified midwives in the country, and it is thought that many of these may have been injured or killed during the disaster. There are many traditional birth attendants, but they are all too often unskilled and lack even the most basic equipment.
Because of this, Merlin encourages all women to deliver their children in a safe setting – a hospital or a health center. This is vitally important, as any birth carries inherent risks. Currently in Haiti only 25 per cent of women do so, and our midwives work with communities to get more women to safe birthing places.
But we know that this isn’t always possible, so our midwives also train local birth attendants to recognize the danger signs of common pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, urging them to refer these women in particular to local health centers. We also give birth attendants clean delivery kits, so that when referral is not possible, they have the equipment they need to help women give birth.
Cezanne adds, “The proud mother brought her baby daughter back to our clinic for her first antenatal clinic this week. Both mother and baby are doing great, and I now have a beautiful new Haitian goddaughter.”