Midwives Create Safe Haven for Women and Babies in Southwestern Haiti

When she walks through the clinic doors of the Maison de Naissance clinic each morning, Imene Rigeur doesn’t know exactly what the day has in store. On any given shift, Rigeur’s work at the Haiti birthing clinic can range from patient intake in the waiting room, to counseling, consultations or delivering babies.

Each of the midwives, nurses and staff at Maison de Naissance have a host of stories about the mothers they’ve aided and the babies they’ve helped enter the world.

Rigeur recalled working the night shift on an evening that Maison de Naissance was surprised with five births. One of these – a young mother in her early twenties, hiding her pregnancy from her family – went into labor at only about 28 weeks along, and when the baby was delivered, it did not cry. Rigeur found a heartbeat, but the baby was not breathing. The nurse spent over 30 minutes using a manual resuscitator on the newborn.

Slowly, though, the baby’s color began to change, and a loud cry rang out. After an hour of recovery at the clinic, mother and child were sent to the general hospital in neighboring Les Cayes for follow up.

The presence of Rigeur and the other midwives at Maison de Naissance can mean the difference between life and death. Giving these trained professionals the tools they need to do their essential work is also key.

That’s why Direct Relief has provided midwife kits to the clinic since 2016. Each kit contains 59 items a midwife needs to perform a safe birth, including sterile gloves, sutures, infant resuscitator and medications like misoprostol, which is used to treat postpartum bleeding.

The clinic where Rigeur and other staff treat their patients sits within the area of Haiti hardest hit when category 4 Hurricane Matthew passed through in October, 2016. Direct Relief was the first to send help after the hurricane made landfall, delivering supplies via helicopter including two medical tents, two solar suitcases, hygiene kits, midwife kits, and prenatal vitamins, according to clinic director Rosena Baptiste. Direct Relief also funded repairs to Maison de Naissance.

Inside the clinic’s waiting area is a large board, which showcases a tally of the clinic’s monthly services. Maison de Naissance is the only facility of its kind in the town of Torbeck, and it’s not unheard of for a patient to travel 2 to 3 hours in order to reach the clinic, The journey doesn’t keep women away, no matter the distance. Staff recalled one woman traveling from Port-au-Prince for care after the 2010 earthquake. Another made the hours-long journey – on horseback – from the rural village of Le Petre.

Every month, the staff at Maison de Naissance care for as many as 2,500 patients between their facility and their community agents. Anywhere from 15 to 45 births take place each month, said Baptiste.

Baptiste is a midwife herself and has been with Maison de Naissance since its beginning in 2004. Her background as a midwife is important not just to run the clinic, but of practical necessity. One evening, in particular, having stayed late at the clinic for a meeting, Baptiste found herself assisting with a rush of five births that overwhelmed the usually quiet night shift. One of the births was particularly difficult, and Baptiste did not leave until 7 a.m. the next morning.

Many of the staff are from Torbeck, including midwife Medela Margarette. She said she’s very happy to be serving her community and knows they’re appreciative because they tell her so when she’s out on the street.

Margarette came to Maison de Naissance as a nurse, having previously worked in Port-au-Prince. After six years, she jumped at the chance to expand her medical knowledge and attended the midwife program at Midwives for Haiti, and has been working as a midwife for the five years since.

Occasionally mothers will come to Maison de Naissance to deliver and not have anything for their newborns. One of Margarette’s favorite parts of the midwife kits was that they included materials they could use to help these patients, including towels and baby clothes.

Margarette tells the story of one older woman who came into Maison de Naissance to give birth. There was no reason for them to suspect there would be any complications, however, as the woman was giving birth she started to hemorrhage. Margarette immediately made a hemogram and was able to treat the hemorrhage within ten minutes.

There is no questioning Maison de Naissance’s importance within the community it serves. Because it is not connected to the public health system, the clinic is the only free-standing maternal health clinic in Haiti with a permanent license to operate from the government, according to Jim Grant, Executive Director of the Global Birthing Home Foundation.

Grant said it is one of the few clinics in Haiti that carries the vaccination for RH disease, a condition that arises when a mother’s blood is not compatible with that of her fetus.

After seeing the devastation wrought on the area in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, plans by the Global Birthing Home Foundation are going forward to build a community center just down the road that can double as an emergency shelter in times of need.

In the meantime, the midwives of Maison de Naissance carry on their life-giving work, one shift at a time.

– Liam Storrings is a photojournalist for the nonprofit J/P HRO.