My Story by Magdala Jude, Graduate SBA and Mobile Clinic SBA, Midwives For Haiti (MFH)
(The setting: Magdala sits at the kitchen table in the MFH volunteer/instructor home in Hinche, Haiti with Manno, the house manager and translator at her side. Hopefully, these words will capture Magdala’s spirit, enthusiasm and sincerity. I would hate for this beautiful story to be lost in translation.)
Can you tell us about your childhood and something about what you did before becoming a midwife?
I was born and grew up in Maissade, a small village outside of Hinche (where St. Therese, the public hospital is located. Here MFH students and graduates care for women needing maternity and gynecological services.) I grew up with my six sisters and seven brothers. I am the oldest and am now 48 years old.
As a child, I went to the local school in my village but I received my training to become a teacher in Port au Prince. Over the next years, I taught and also worked in the countryside surrounding Hinche giving nutritional education to the people. I received my nursing degree in Port au Prince and I can speak and read Creole and French. I also understand some English and Spanish.
I married my husband in 1996 and I have raised his first two children. We also have a 17 year old daughter and a 13 year old son. My husband is a pastor in Hinche, and he supervises the Whitney Clinic, a medical clinic in town. We also are raising 12 orphans in our home. I love all my children (pictured below).
How did you learn about Midwives For Haiti (MFH)?
I have wanted to be a midwife for many years but could not leave my family to study in Port au Prince. Manno (she touches the hand of our translator sitting at her side and grins) asked my husband to help translate for Nadene Brunk (founder of MFH). Around 2005, she first began organizing MFH. My husband asked Nadene to speak at several church gatherings, and it was then that he introduced me to Nadene. We asked if I could be in the second class of students. I told Nadene that I was already nursing at no pay at St Therese, the hospital, and wanted very much to be a midwife.
What motivated you to become a midwife?
There is a great need for midwives in Haiti (touching her hand to her heart). Too many women are dying in birth. My cousin died because of eclampsia (a high blood pressure complication of pregnancy which if left untreated can result in maternal as well as fetal death. It is one of the most common causes of pregnancy related mortality in Haiti). Her family would not take her to the hospital because they thought her sickness was caused by the devil. (Voodoo beliefs are still prevalent in Haitan society.)
Can you explain your typical day in the mobile clinic?
The pink jeep takes Philomene (another MFH graduate) and myself to one of several communities outside of Hinche. We visit each community once a month. The women have gathered before we arrive. First, we welcome them and explain that we are midwives and want to help them have healthy families and safe births for anyone who is new. Then, we give an educational talk. It can be about nutrition, cholera, hygiene, signs of pregnancy concerns, breastfeeding or family planning.
Clinic then begins. We make a chart on every woman including her name, age, religion, past medical and surgical history as well as information about her past pregnancies. We ask about her last menses and after examining her, help her determine her due date. We check her vital signs and size and presentation of her baby. If we find any problems, we encourage her to go to the hospital. The woman gets her vitamins and in her second and third trimesters, she gets deworming and anti-malarial treatment.
How do the women in the communities respond to your visits?
The women treat us in many different ways. Sometimes, they are worried or suspicious. Sometimes, they do not want to be pregnant. They are afraid or angry. We work hard to make them feel safe. We laugh and we welcome them. We hug them and ALWAYS first and most important, we love them. We keep coming back so they can learn to trust us.
Just at this morning’s clinic, a woman thought she was sick but found out that she was pregnant. She already had a small baby. She cried and felt overwhelmed. We gave her hugs and said that we would help her have a healthy second baby and then, we could help with advice on family planning. I know she felt our love and understanding.
Can you tell of a special memory from your work in the mobile clinics?
(Magdala pauses and reaches out to hold my hand) May I tell my own story for it is the reason I strongly wanted to be a midwife? (I nod and she continues.) When I had my first pregnancy, I had pre-eclampsia (early blood pressure concerns) so I had to have a cesarean section. As soon as I was pregnant with my second child, I prayed that I might have a vaginal birth. There were no doctors or midwives to deliver babies in Hinche. In my 7th month, my blood pressure was high again, so I had to travel several hours to Cap Haitien to be close to a hospital. I kept praying to have a vaginal delivery. The doctor told me I must come to the hospital for a second c/section. I cried and cried. I prayed to God. The doctor was not at the hospital the day I arrived, so I went to my relatives’ house. That night, my labor began. I walked to the hospital at 4am. I was having regular contractions. My cervix was dilating, but I was told that I must have the surgery. No one was there to give me an epidural. I had only local medication for the pain. (In the United States, IV and/or local anesthesia would be considered a completely unacceptable, inadequate means under which to perform such surgery. This anesthesia is typically used for dental work.) My surgery was difficult and long, because my bladder was scarred. It is a very bad memory. My son was born around 9am. My husband and family prayed to God to protect and help me. I had much pain recovering and could not breastfeed. I hope to help other women have a better experience. I want women to have loving care and support.
This interview will be posted and will be read by many of the people who are helping to support you as a midwife. Are there any last words you would like to share?
First, I would like to thank Nadene Brunk and Dr. Steve Eads for creating and believing in our midwifery training. Thank you all for realizing the importance of our work for the women of Haiti. God bless you and keep you and your families in good health. Please keep me and our women in your prayers. Thank you for listening to my story.
– Note: This interview was originally conducted several years ago, dates and ages have been changed. We are re-publishing this piece as part one of a Spotlight series on the Haitian women and men who are doing the hard work to improve maternal and infant health in rural Haiti.