Three months into their year long training, we caught up with Imene, Judith, and Vadley, all students in our current 8th Class of skilled birth attendants.
This trio studied together at the same four year nursing program in Port-au-Prince. All three women were called to midwifery during their nursing training and upon graduating, each worked for a year in various parts of the country before applying for the advanced obstetrics training offered for free by Saj Fanm Pou Ayiti (Midwives For Haiti) in Hinche. Imene says, “We don’t have children yet. It makes studying easier!”
Six years ago, when the earthquake struck, half of their classmates were killed when one of the classrooms collapsed. All three happened to be elsewhere that day. Judith was skipping class to do her homework and Imen was at the other university building that day (it remained intact). It’s not something they want to talk much about (a deep silence settled on the conversation when the earthquake was mentioned) but after speaking with them at length, we got the sense that they were working twice as hard to make their luck and blessing mean even more.
MFH: Tell me how you’re feeling about the program and how you decided to become a midwife.
Imene: I studied nursing in Port au Prince and liked I like working in maternity, taking care of moms and babies. I am enjoying being a student again. There is no age to stop studying. It’s a pleasure for me to learn more. Saj Fanm Pou Ayiti is a good program. Finishing this is a big dream of mine. I knew I wanted to do this work after a particular case I helped with. I found a woman at the hospital and she was 7cm dilated. I discovered she was a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) so I followed her, I was concerned about uterine rupture. But she progressed quickly and had a vaginal birth. It was the first VBAC I’d seen.
MFH: Tell me about your family. Do you know what your own birth was like?
Imene: I have 6 siblings. I’m the 2nd born. My mother gave birth with the matwon (traditional birth attendant). I was almost born in the garden! (laughing)
MFH: How did you know you wanted to be a midwife?
Judith: In 2011, I was doing the nightshift for my clinical nursing training in maternity. I loved it! I especially liked catching the babies. With more knowledge, you can do much more. My cousin died while giving birth. She was at home with a matwon, there was bleeding before the birth and after. The matwon tried many things and she thought it was a sign of a “bad spirit.” The baby lived but my cousin died and left two children behind.
MFH: What did your mother tell you about her own births?
Judith: My mother has 6 children, I’m the 5th child. My mother told me about birth. She said, ‘I just close my eyes, there is not much pain, and then the baby comes out.’ There were no complications with any of my mother’s births. (Smiling)
MFH: How do you feel about the volunteers who come to Saj Fanm Pou Ayiti to help teach?
Judith: It’s really helpful. We collaborate and we learn. After graduation, I’m willing to work anywhere. We will save many moms and babies.
MFH: Tell me when you knew you wanted to be a midwife.
Vadley: At first I thought I’d be a psychiatric nurse. But then I knew I wanted to be a midwife in my third year of nursing school. They sent me to maternity and it (the work) was so beautiful, I fell in love with it. There was one case in particular. In 2012, I got to the hospital and found a girl in labor, she was 14 and she was in pain. She had said “F*&@!” to the doctor so he pushed her away and out of the hospital. She was in the yard so I went out, and against the doctors orders, I put on gloves and examined her. I stimulated (patted) her abdomen and checked her every 15-20 minutes. A new doctor came and we got a table and the baby was born. The baby was fine and the young mom had no lacerations!
MFH: What is your hope as a midwife?
Vadley: I’d like mothers to get more education to be healthier.
MFH: What about your mother’s births?
Vadley: After working with laboring moms and seeing how much pain they had, I called my mom and said, why did you give birth 4 times? (laughing) My mom said she was in labor with me all day. She gave birth to me in the hospital. But now, I want to have children. (laughing)
As we spoke together and shared stories, a young girl say quietly listening. The daughter of the owner of the house, she lives with these student midwives and they take care of her as her stepmother (a graduate of MFH) works as a midwife in Port au Prince during the week and returns on weekends. Meodjina is 15 years old and in her fourth year of secondary school. After hearing all the stories of these nurses and midwifery students, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said, “A doctor.” I asked what kind. “An obstetrician!” We all laughed and encouraged her.
Haiti is full of strong, smart women and rising stars.