Wednesday, July 31, 2013

transition and whimsicality

 MN Twins Baseball on Tuesday

I have experienced a slllooow descent into the down-below world of midwifery. For many midwives and nurses, it is a decision they make quickly and there are not a lot of "should I do this" wrestling questions for them. 

For me, it was a very slow process of dipping a toe in the weirdwife world and helping administratively for a time before I ever considered putting gloves on and getting in there.

Because of this slow and steady progression and the deliberately paced movement toward this work, I am hyper aware that I should not write in detail about things beginning with v and ending in ina or beginning with p and ending in centa. I am cognizant that my deep and growing love for things related to the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth are conversations best kept to the midwifery crowd. I get that the word 'crowning' is too much gore for some.

Hear me out though, because today I want to talk briefly about transition.

During the first stage of labor transition is very easy to identify. This is the part of labor that most typically happens as a woman goes from 7 to 10 cm and gets ready for the second stage (pushing the kid out). Most women show clear signs of total discomfort and changed behavior during transition.

A UK website describes it like this:
Contractions will be incredibly intense and you may have very little time to rest between each one. You may feel faint, sick, wobbly, hot and sweaty or cold and chilly.
Don't be surprised if you completely zone out during this phase and become unaware of your surroundings. (It's also traditionally the point where some mums lose the plot, decide they really can't be bothered anymore and try to walk out.)
Things to do during transition
  • Take it one contraction at a time - don't worry about the next ones
  • Change position - you might find a more comfortable one
  • Don't push - puff and blow instead
  • Get rid of any distractions - be that the radio or your partner
  • Whatever helps you through - yelling, moaning, telling your partner to "go away" - even listening to James Blunt - are all totally acceptable at this point
(Courtesy Mumsnet)

As I drove a midwife friend to the Port au Prince airport recently, she listened while I lamented about the packing and planning and utter stress of getting ready to head to America, "Well it is called transition!" she said.

As I look at the list of things describing transition in labor, I realize that transition in life is chillingly similar. I do indeed feel wobbly, cold, then hot and sweaty. I have been found zoned out. (i.e. left my phone on a shelf at Target, told my friend a story about Isaac that she had been present for and seen herself just a short time before I told the story, we cancelled plans that involve leaving with the kids because so many plans are overwhelming, etc., etc. - we are zoning out here and there) I have "lost the plot" and, I'm not gonna lie, I've considered doing something about my partner. Especially after he unpacked three bags that I had packed to perfection and weighed in at a precisely 50lbs - he said, "I thought I was helping!". It has been helpful to yell, moan, and tell Troy to go away. 

The kids are also in transition. They are hyper little freaks about strawberries and grapes and unlimited jars of pickles, yes, that is true. They are mainly very happy with all the excitement. They are joy and wonder at everything new they experience and see. But, when we are away from all other people, and it is just our family and we are in the safe place of feeling whatever we need to feel, there have been tears, frustration, and a lot of wailing. Hope and Lydia have both asked to "stop going so much places". This is a tiring adjustment. Transition is uncomfortable for them too. 

Yesterday someone was chatting with me and said, "When I was thinking about what I would do for my career, I chose to have a stable life for my kids." I listened carefully as he went on and described his path. I heard him and I knew that he was saying, "Dang woman - your life is unstable!" It is true. By comparison to some lifestyles, this is instability

I decided not to take his comment personally. It isn't personal. It is a choice. We made it and we recognize it can been seen as unconventional. I don't love the pain of transition for myself or my kids but I don't know that I want stability to be my most important value, either. 

I think there must be a nicer word for instability. Maybe we are unstable, but also, maybe we are just "excelling in whimsicality".  

We assume transition will take a month or two, we will find our groove just in time to prepare to go home again. It is what it is. More than anything, we are grateful to our support-team for allowing us to come work on our midwifery and dentistry education and to be right by Paige's side while she makes her new life in Texas. We truly couldn't imagine asking her to figure this out on her own and we appreciate that those of you that help us live in Haiti are willing to also help us be there for Paige right now. We love and appreciate each of you and thank you for this gift.  

I need to wrap this up. The small people have just woken up, the twenty-third pound of strawberries is about to be polished off ...Yes, they have eaten three+ pounds of strawberries since we arrived. I think it is kind of gross  - but also very impressive. 

...And we are off, another day of transition; taking it one contraction at a time. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

cross-cultural spectacle(s)

We (read: American Airlines) changed one travel day with no over-night and only two easy flights into two travel days, three hotel rooms, and three flights.  Fishes and loaves travel. Or something. 

We marveled at orange juice, air-conditioning, hot water, moving sidewalks, automatic doors and sinks. We said things like "WOW, technology is AMAZING" while riding the space-age, cutting edge, just-released-technology. You've maybe not yet heard of it -  Escalators.  

We went to the bathroom on every airplane and in every airport a kagillion times. We ate dinner at 11:30 at night. We (read: Lydia) stopped to pout in front of fast moving crowds and fussed about who got to wheel the carry on. We made an older Haitian man laugh like the happiest hyena ever. He loved seeing the excitement and stayed near us on purpose for a while. More frequently than that, we repelled people as they quickly found ways around the weird, slow moving, slack-jawed, multi-colored family dressed in sweatshirts with hoods up in July. 

We zigged-and we zagged across four airports in 24 hours.... And we did it. 

Nou la. Lot bo dlo. 

The quotes coming from the mouths of these children have our rib-cages and our cheekbones hurting from laughter and over-use.  

For now, they have hugged and briefly seen Grandma and Grandpa Porter and the 8 day epic MN adventure has begun. There are many 'firsts' planned, and we can hardly wait! Tonight they are exhausted from all the escalators and tucked into their beds at Grandma and Grandpa Livesay's house. 

We're beyond grateful for this chance to laugh and make memories with these unique characters. 

"If God made us with eyes that swirl around, like in a cartoon, that is what would happen when I taste that amazing orange juice." 
-Isaac Livesay

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

of life and luxuries and hopes and dreams

Early in the morning we sat in a circle, our hands holding steaming-hot thick black coffee. Beth only makes it one way. The strong way. We groggily welcomed the morning, chatting together as the sun rose after a long night of labor-watch. 

It is a beautiful part of the day, even exhausted. I love the sounds of people beginning again and the moment that light breaks and a new day begins.  

We waited for our coffee to cool as Beth scrolled through updates on her computer. She read a headline aloud about the benefits of cold showers, "Well that's not worth reading" , she said. We bantered back and forth about how little cold water bothers us, we need no convincing of its benefits. 

Beth said, "I think the America luxury I most miss is a dishwasher." She hosts giant meals frequently, and the piles of dishes are quite a chore. We went on explain that many (most?) Americans put their dishes into a machine, and voila!, they come out an hour later clean and dry. That sounds sort of silly when you describe it for a Haitian friend.

Wini said, "Well, it's okay. I don't mind because I really like doing dishes."  Wini provides for a lot of people and carries great responsibility. Doing dishes is quiet reflection time for her.

Beth said, "I like laundry, that is my favorite household chore."  We sipped our coffee as we thought about our various love and loathing of  household chores.

Wini was quiet for a moment, then coyly said, "You love laundry because you have a machine."

We laughed. Sure enough, the chore we enjoy is made much easier because it comes with a machine to do the work for us.

Moments like that are good for me. It is important for me to be reminded that my reality is not the reality of my friends and neighbors, even if I do live in the same country. 

Of course I know these things. I know them and I unknow them over and over again.

I was reminded last Friday when the thirteen year old house-servant living right around the corner from the Maternity Center came to announce she is afraid she will lose her shelter, her "home", because of the baby growing inside her. She needs to tell her aunt, whom she works for; her mother is dead and cannot be told.  

Together, Haitians and Americans, we tried to encourage, pray, help a young girl feel and experience our concern and love. 

I cherish my friendships with my co-laborers and the chance to be schooled by them. They teach me and guide me and bridge gaps between cultures. Bluntly stated, they help me not be dumb. I care deeply for these Haitian sisters and my life is rich due to their influence.

I love the gift I've been given working in the field of women's health and midwifery in Haiti. There is no place on earth I'd rather be learning and serving women. 

I am cognizant of the gift it is to meet a woman at a critical intersection of her life, to walk with her through uncertainty, fear, doubt, and pain. The joy and trepidation, hopes and fears born anew with each baby are a constant reminder of how complicated life is and how connected we are. Rich and poor, all women with hopes and dreams for ourselves and our children. 

(Photo: FT Staff at the Heartline Maternity Center)

“... midwifery is the very stuff of drama. Every child is conceived either in love or lust, is born in pain, followed by joy or sometimes remorse. A midwife is in the thick of it, she sees it all.” 
― Jennifer Worth, The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Linking You

"For me, downward mobility means building relationships with my brothers and sisters—whoever they are. Especially when “relationship” means going down into the unfairness and guilt and shame. Even when it’s scary, and risky. Even when I’m afraid I’m doing it wrong.

That means I have to get used to being in the minority at a gathering. It means I confront my wrong assumptions about my brothers, and how I've gone along with ignoring them. It means praying awkwardly in a language that feels uncomfortable.  It means pushing past the ease of staying with my "own kind". It means dreaming that as my privilege and guilt and shame are said out loud, the person speaking will grab hold of my hand and whisper love."

Read the entire post: Who are my brothers and sisters? - Here

Monday, July 15, 2013

find our way home

One of the small things Heartline's Maternity Program does once a woman is finished delivering her baby and has had sufficient time to rest and recover in the post-partum area is to help her find her way home.  

Originally I would have thought this to be an insignificant part of the prenatal, labor and delivery and post-partum package. I have learned otherwise. No one turns down the ride. At times women will even have their husband or sister take a tap-tap (public transportation) to the Maternity Center in order to get into the ambulance with them and ride back home. 

For whatever reason - the ride home is something the ladies enjoy.  Bringing people home happens to be my very favorite assignment. I'm grateful to frequently be assigned this job. 

We are lucky to get to know the women when we meet with them each Thursday. Slowly, throughout the months of weekly interaction, we build trust and relationship. I don't overestimate the depth of these relationships. As much as I want to know each woman well, I recognize that socioeconomic status and life experiences are such that I am only allowed and able to understand exactly as much as I am allowed and able to understand. All of that to say, when invited to visit a woman's home, I am cognizant that I am being given a giant gift. I cherish the chance to be on turf that is not my own, to listen, to see, to seek to understand.

Today Manise and her newborn son Richard went home.  I walked in to get her 20 minutes later than promised, she stood dressed and ready to go. She was excited to get home to her family as her post-partum stay extended about four days longer than she had hoped due to some blood pressure issues. 

We drove further and further from where we had started; she asked me if I could ever find my way back to the Maternity Center.  At the time she asked I was still pretty confident I could. I told her "pa gen pwoblem". As we kept winding and turning and advancing deep into an unending chasm of narrow non-descript roads, I began taking notes. Without notes I feared cement wall after cement wall would swallow me into permanent disorientation.  Manise laughed when she saw I had lost my confidence.

After a brief time chatting with Manise and her husband I climbed back into the ambulance to follow these directions for the first half of my return drive:  left at Jesus, right at green gate, left at pre-school, right at God's beauty supply store, left at the solar light ... 

Manise found her way home today; so did I.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Britt & Paige ~ 1994 
I was touched (honored even) to be invited to share my story at Glennon Doyle Melton's blog, Momastery, on Friday. Glennon is someone that exhibits much grace, kindness, and vulnerability - qualities I admire. 

I wrote both of my oldest girls and gave Troy a chance to preview the post; all three of them gave the go ahead to put it out there. 

You can find my story of mercy, healing, and hope HERE.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

inverting categories

There is a Mom in the program(s) at Heartline that was working as a housekeeper
~a loved son~
in the house of a man that ended up raping her. She had to quit her job and leave there after the rape (obviously) and she later found out she was pregnant as a result. She is older and has two grown up children. She carried the baby to term and delivered him at Heartline in May. He is thriving, is so well loved, is clearly attached to her and vice versa. I told her today at the end of he
r six week postpartum check-up that she was an encouragement to me, that her love for her son was a bon (good) example of a Jesus kind of love ... She looked at me like I was a bit weird. I think she cannot truly comprehend that what I said is true, that she is teaching us all something - BUT - she is. Big props, love, grace, and mercy to this brave Mama that loves in spite of pain and hardship and unfair circumstances and injustice. She loves her son. What a gift she is giving those of us that are watching. 

~         ~         ~

Another woman, named Madeline, was in the Prenatal program in 2011.  Her baby died around the 18th week of her pregnancy. There was a large mass in her uterus and the first few hospitals wouldn't help her because the baby had already died. They reserve their beds for babies they can save and count in their numbers. They sent Madeline to find help elsewhere. It was sad, we walked with her through the time and the subsequent surgery she needed.  She came again about 6 or 7 weeks ago, pregnant again. She was so happy to be expecting a child again. Last week, after Thursday's class, she called me to say she was bleeding. When she arrived Friday to be checked, no heartbeat could be found. Her 12 week-old baby appears to have died. We explained what we thought, and what we thought the weekend could bring for her. We talked about a plan and what to do next week to follow up, etc.  She listened and said, "I have my one older son. Then the second time I was pregnant and came here, I lost that baby, you know all about that. I was not married. So I got married. Now this baby is dying too because God is punishing me for not being married soon enough."  We looked at her, gently touched her leg as she laid on the exam bed, and said, "Oh Madeline, we don't know that. God has so much grace for us. So much grace."  She nodded unconvincingly and continued to quietly cry. 

~          ~          ~

Quoting Father Boyle: 

"... God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Setback or progress?...

Are you in the end, successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa's take: 'We are not called to be successful, but faithful.' This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward. You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle. God intends it to be, I think. For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden than they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever is sitting in front of you. Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day. If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God's business. I find it hard enough to just be faithful."

Maternal Health in Haiti

   GO HERE to buy a shirt, Heartline gets $7 of every t-shirt purchased!
(limited time fundraiser - July only)

It is because people like you love and care for Haiti, and specifically Haitian women, that we have been able to develop and grow the Prenatal Program over the last six years.  We do not get a chance to write personal thank you notes very often, but we feel more personal gratitude for your love and support than we can easily share.  Love and encouragement and support helps to empower a woman to breastfeed, bond with, love, and raise her child.  Our programs are highly relational and focus on education. Our hope and desire is to support Haitian families remaining together. To each and every person that gives, prays, supports, loves, spreads the word and does this with us - THANK YOU.

The partnership of people that vote with their dollars on the importance of love, on the importance of respect, and on the importance of quality Prenatal care and Maternal Health is crucial to everything we do at Heartline.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

in expectation

As we go about our full and unpredictable daily lives, as we are alerted to injustice, as we seek to tell the truth no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable, or unpopular it may be, as we do our best to love each other and others well while preparing for the next big transition for our family, the following words resonate deeply ...

"Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our lives. It seems that there is no such thing as a clear-cut pure joy, but that even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness.

In every satisfaction, there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is the fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness. In every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness...

But this intimate experience, in which every bit of life is touched by a bit of death, can point us beyond the limits of our existence. It can do so by making us look forward in expectation to the day when our hearts will be filled with perfect joy, a joy that no one shall take away from us."

Henri J.M. Nouwen
Making All Things New:An Invitation to the Spiritual Life
(posted in 2011 too)

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

advertising for two kids ...

PAIGE has a beautiful ABC photography/children's book for sale.  FIND IT HERE and do some other shopping at Haitian Creations while you're there! The strong and hard-working women creating the beautiful hand-made products thank you in advance for shopping.

ISAAC is writing daily at ~ ask him anything!

(i meant advertising ON THEIR BEHALF ... you understood that, yes?)

Monday, July 01, 2013

Links & Love

Monthly contribution at A Life Overseas went up today ... An edited and up-cycled post, shared again in hopes of setting the awkward free. 

Saturday, WHILE getting a haircut from me, Noah said, 
"I can't wait till we go to one of those stores of haircuts in America. 

You know those stores? 

It is like a place where you sit there and they wash and cut your hair for you all nice."  

Kids are great, aren't they?

Mamoune & 8lb 3oz son
Maternity Center Updates:
Mamoune and Guermose both had big baby boys at Heartline Maternity Center in the last several days. Edithe and Katiana both had to be transported due to stressed out babies in very unique positions in the last 36 hours. While we are SO grateful for the option of a C-Section, needing to transport is a bummer. We feel disappointed when we have to pass off a woman after she has invested so much and worked so hard. Both Edithe and Katiana will likely be released 36 to 48 hours post C-Section and will come to postpartum care at Heartline for a little TLC. When we have more news from them, we will share on the Heartline Maternity Center Facebook page. Thanks to each of you that support the ladies with your prayers.

A great nurse midwife named Shelly is here teaching, serving, and acting as a preceptor. She grew up in Africa and has amazing and exciting stories of pet monkeys and leopards eating her dogs. Our boys have found a friend. Our crazy June of 10 babies due didn't seem nearly as insane as we thought it might.  If you would like to pray for ladies due in July, click here.