Recently I entered a room where a child had just been delivered and her surprise twin was on her way out. Six women were attending the delivering mother and children, and prayers and supplications filled the space. It felt like the Holy of Holies. A sacred place, one that I had no business being in. I had been summoned to drive an ambulance in case bad went to worse, and by the time I arrived the midwives, doctor, and nurses had realized the complication at hand was a second baby that no one was expecting. She was coming out foot first. I saw the foot and froze. In awe, I did not leave the room as quickly as I am accustomed to.
That delivery room can be a scary place for a man, albeit beautiful and amazing. It is usually difficult to know where to safely cast my gaze. I typically try to direct my glances at shoulder-height and above. When I did not, I saw that foot. I heard those prayers. I sensed the intensity. I was handed a roll of tape to tear into strips for holding down IV tubes. It was then that I knew I could not escape and would continue to be witness to the miracles happening in our birth center that night.
Once the second baby girl had been delivered, I watched all the women continue to shift from one role to another - duty to another - to the next move - and utter the next prayer. It was stunning. I was overcome with emotion and nearly cried. I realized that in this setting, surrounded by women hard at work in the beautiful business of delivering babies, I should probably keep my emotions in check and not be the bawling baby in the room.
This afternoon I was summoned to drive the ambulance again. This time, no emergency, no new miracles - merely the opportunity to drive Stephanie and her twin baby girls back to their home after a week and a day with us at Heartline for postpartum care. Being the first twins ever delivered at the Maternity Center, the first breech delivery, and having a miraculous birth story made them very popular around our place. Beyond all that, Stephanie is a sweet loving attentive mother and the twins are little beauties. All of the staff were sad to see them go. There were hugs and words of encouragement given as Stephanie left with me. They will be back in two days for a checkup, and then the day after that for child development class, but they will be missed in the meantime. The relationships and community formed at Heartline are real - and go deep.
We loaded Mama, Papa, and swaddled twins into the ambulance with their supplies. Babies have so much stuff. The father asked me if I would be their godfather…I awkwardly declined. I immediately regretted that decision but couldn't bring myself to awkwardly recant. Here, that relationship can carry with it a lot of baggage and expectations, and I selfishly said no. I'll never forget them or their birth. I should have said yes.
I drove them down a road in our area that I have passed ten thousand times but never entered. Throngs of homes and people lie down every alley in Port au Prince. A few 'blocks' in, I was told to stop. 'Kanpe la, nou gen tan rive.' I wedged the ambulance along an alley wall trying not to block other passing vehicles or crush the vendors stand beside me. While unloading the family and locking the truck doors, I realized a shoe shine business was nearly crushed by a front tire. The owner of the box and business eyed me warily, then picked up and relocated his business a few feet down the dusty path.
We never know what to expect when returning mothers and new babies to their homes. Some conditions are pleasantly surprising; others are painfully discouraging. One constant remains, however - the families and neighbors and communities excitedly welcome them home and there we get a glimpse into Haiti's truest beauty. This home consisted of bare cinder blocks stacked into incomplete walls, a business at street level, a story above with unfinished openings for doors and windows, and a lean-to church with half a roof attached to the side. At first I felt a sadness creeping in considering this home for newborn twin girls, my judgement and paradigms taking over. Fortunately, all that was washed away by the hospitality and joy in the home as I met the rest of the family that shares it. I immediately lost track of the familial connections and count of the people in that space.
I did not lose track or count when I was introduced to the father. The father of the father of the twins. Pastor of the church next door. Patriarch of the household. His eyes beamed as he insisted I stay to receive thanks and prayers of blessing for our ministry and he danced when I told him about being in the room when the girls were born and he laughed with me when I exclaimed how shocked everyone was to discover there was a second baby coming that night. Usually, when I meet a man here who introduces himself to me as a Pastor, I am skeptical at best. I have been taken for enough rides and had pockets emptied too many times to think that word always means what they think it means. This man was different. I sensed the sincerity of his heart and the joy in his spirit as we talked. He blessed me. We prayed together and posed for family pictures in the church and I walked out of that place thankful for this chance to be reminded of all that is right and good in this world, in this country, and in this ministry.
Troy Livesay, Midhusband