By Beth McHoul -
The enemy of our souls always targets the little guys, the helpless ones, the tiniest. God in His wisdom created all breast milk good. Moms in fancy houses and moms in third world shanties can all feed their babies this liquid goodness. It is a gift. It is sterile, the perfect temperature, and is complete nutrition. So, why is breastfeeding such a hard sell? Why do moms who are resource poor disdain breastfeeding? Somehow they got the wrong message.
Every Wednesday morning we midwives and helpers pile into our ambulance, armed with gift packs, a guitar, and hope as we travel 4 miles to a government run hospital. The paint is old, the rooms overcrowded, the moms and babies are often two to a bed and the nurses don’t have modern, working equipment. The NICU sports a line of bassinets with too tiny, yellow colored, still, doll like babies. Their moms sit hopeful. We sigh. We pray.
We gather in the large postpartum ward and like singing minstrels we belt out a jingle each week with rhyming words admonishing moms to breastfeed their babies as soon as they are born. We clap, we dance around, and we make a scene. The nurses seem to like this and join in. It’s a little like church as we sing the praises of colostrum and mother’s milk. It’s a lot like church in that the enemy is lurking, attempting to harden hearts and block ears from such a worthy message. We pass out papers with the lyrics, we pass out gift packs and we attempt to get the new moms hooked on what we are singing about.
We go from bed to bed. Most often the baby is bundled and ready for the Alaskan winter. Mom sits by weary with the cares of her life, she might be eating, visiting, or just staring, trying to recover from her birth experience. Her life is hard whether she is a teen mom or a 40ish mom of six. Life isn’t easy and now she has another person to look after. Not much hope abounds in the weary, overcrowded, ghetto neighborhoods of Haiti.
Midwives, comrades and nurses, we spread out and visit each bed. Sometimes those beds hold a lone woman whose baby died. We cry with her, we pray with her. Other beds have twins. Still other beds hold two moms and two babies, strangers till they shared a hospital bed, blood and fluids mingling from one mom to the next. We try to engage each woman. We attempt to help her baby latch on to begin the process of receiving life-giving nutrition. Most times moms state they can’t put their baby to the breast till the milk comes in. That could be two, three or even four days after birth. Word has it, from grandmas and aunties that colostrum is bad and must be thrown away. This first milk is full of exactly what a baby needs. Throwing it away is like throwing natural vaccines and health down the sewer. So we strum the guitar, belt out the lyrics and try to beam the message across to the moms that baby needs this liquid gold and baby will thrive if given breast milk.
Moms light up when a baby who they thought couldn’t feed latches on and sucks heartily. We light up too! We feel like we are starting a little revolution that moms can join and their babies will be healthy. Lies are broken, superstitions are exposed, and light breaks through every time a mom who would not nurse puts her baby to the breast.
It’s deadly if they don’t: Diarrhea from bad water, foods babies can’t digest and fillers that rob their bodies take thousands of precious lives. If moms only knew. We are here to tell them.
After a few hours we pile back in our ambulance and drive the few miles back to our safe haven. Our maternity center looks more beautiful when we return. We check in with our postpartum mom who is in our bed with pretty sheets, in a clean nightgown with her almost 9 pounder at her breast. We sigh. Tears come as I think of the dozens of ladies we left in such bad conditions.
But superstition is never far away. The enemy is prowling and grandma is trying to buy off the devil. She states she must make a tea from boiled cockroaches and feed it to the baby to keep the newborn safe from evil spirits. Her daughter-in-law rises up in new mother indignation and threatens to call the police if grandma tries such a thing. Battle won. Mom listened in class every week of her pregnancy and she will have none of this! The maternal grandma tells us that she too is pregnant and has been for years. The baby just isn’t born yet.
These lovely grandmas, these matriarchs, these women who could be giving the new mom sage advice instead give wives- tales and fear based admonitions. It is their truth, their old ways, their paradigm.
So, week-by-week we bring the good news in prenatals and class at our Heartline program; in song and pamphlets at the local hospital. Jesus came to set us free from superstition and beliefs that strangle our souls and kill our babies. Like Herod of old, the enemy wants to kill the children. We say Jesus came to set them free and they shall be free indeed. Darkness flees when light comes in. Babies thrive when moms understand to breastfeed. When superstition is broken and God’s light pours in, a culture changes and grows. The difference is eternal.
Port au Prince, Haiti