On March 9, 2015, our fabulous midwife and instructor, Genette Thelusmond, was invited to New York City by the Clinton Foundation to present a speech on maternal health at the launch of No Ceilings: Not There Yet- A Data Driven Analysis of Gender Equality. Our Directors, Nadene Brunk and Dr. Steve Eads, along with fellow midwife, Magdala Jean, accompanied Genette. It was a fabulous honor and exciting event.
Genette shared the stage with Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Melinda Gates, and a dozen or so other amazing women and men– including the Honorable Presidents of Croatia and Liberia along with Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai via Skype- to bring 20 years of data “to life.”
Maternal health was the first data point explored. Over the past two decades, maternal mortality has decreased by 40% across the world. Chelsea Clinton said: “But we can’t mistake progress for success. Despite those gains, progress has been uneven, particularly among poor, rural, and marginalized women, including right here in the U.S.” Chelsea introduced Genette and said, “Many of the critical investments that have helped ensure that women and girls are leading longer, healthier lives have been made in skilled birth attendants and midwives. Midwives just like Genette Thelusmond of Midwives For Haiti, whose remarkable care has helped generations of Haitians be born safely, and to grow up healthy, and to themselves give birth to healthy children.”
Genette then spoke (along with a translator) about her training and work as a midwife in Haiti, the country with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the Western Hemisphere. Before an audience of 1,000+ and a live online worldwide stream, she said: “Too many children do not survive to take their first breaths or just as tragic their mothers do not live to hear their baby’s first cries. But I believe we can change this story. In fact, it already is changing. With every new midwife I help educate we have the chance to save and improve the lives of hundreds, even thousands, more mothers and children each year.”
See Genette’s speech here (the maternal health segment begins at 13:30).
Genette was one of our first students. She had already been a nurse for some time and had spent her childhood attending births with her mother, a traditional birth attendant, in the countryside. She says, “I saw firsthand how dangerous, because of lack of resources and training, childbirth could be for poor women.” She worked hard in her course and did extremely well. Her commitment and natural aptitude were obvious and we invited her to become an instructor to our future students. She also teaches traditional birth attendants like her mother in our Matròn Outreach Program. Genette is the epitome of a strong woman and wonderful, highly skilled midwife. Simply put, to know her is to love her. Also equally true- to know her is to be in awe of her.
Magdala (pictured right with Former President Clinton) was also one of our first students. Married to a pastor and mother to sixteen children (twelve are orphans), she has worked on the Mobile Prenatal Clinic since day one. Though she was not going to speak, we wanted Magdala to join us so that she could see how much we -and the world- value the work she does for the women and families in Haiti. Former President Bill Clinton thanked them both for their hard work to reduce maternal and infant mortality in Haiti.
To say that we are proud of these two women- and all of our graduates- is a profound understatement. Being included in this dialogue about gender equality, the progress and the work still to be done, was an extraordinary honor. We are humbled and grateful.