Saturday, August 19, 2017

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Wonder-Girl, Sophia

Many months ago we began to share the history of a young woman named Sarah.  At that time a decision was made to be careful to keep Sarah's identity private while sharing her story.

Sarah knows that her history and her rising are both being shared on the internet. She is aware that we do not post pictures of her face on-line, but that her 7 month old daughter, Sophia, is the most photographed and instagrammed baby in all of Haiti.

We (staff of the Maternity Center) met Sarah in the fall of 2016 when she was 13 years old and 22 weeks pregnant.  

At the time we were told that while Sarah's mother was out in the country-side tending to a garden, Sarah was left alone at home. A man came to work in the shared yard between their home and the neighbor/land owner's home.  That man raped her. We were told that he was not someone Sarah or others in the shared yard could name or identify. We were told nobody knew who or where he was.

Sarah and her Mother told us that many weeks prior to coming to our Maternity Center, they did the official work of getting an examination at a specialty-non-government hospital to prove the assault had happened and begin the paperwork for filing a report with the police. That hospital agreed to allow Sarah to choose to get her prenatal care and deliver with us.

Because Troy and I live near Sarah and her mother, we interacted or at least waved and greeted one another daily for most of the last half of her pregnancy.  

Some trust was built between us all before the baby arrived.

In mid January, Sarah's Mom knocked on our gate one morning to say that Sarah was in labor.  Later that day beautiful Sophia was born at the Heartline Maternity Center.

The trauma and pain caused by a sexual assault is a huge thing to work through.

Giving birth to a baby that is a result of that assault is an entirely new trauma, especially for a thirteen year old.

It took a lot of time and grace and miraculous love for Sarah to decide to let down her guard enough to bond with and breastfeed Sophia.  She did that.  She became THE 2017 hopeful story for us all.

Had she not been able to do it, not a single one of us would have judged or been disappointed.  More than anything, her ability to serve and feed her newborn daughter blew our entire staff away. It still does seven and a half months later.

Since January things about the assault and the circumstances surrounding it have become more and less clear  --  at the same time -- more and less clear.


A metaphor for Haiti. Things are always more and less clear. 

Stories evolve and as more of it is being revealed we feel a sense of duty to help Sarah navigate a culture that is not predisposed to protect her or Sophia.



*   *   *



In March we celebrated Sarah's fourteenth birthday. We sang and took photos and tried to make it special. Sarah's Mom was invited to the party, but did not come. Around that time there were some things said and done in an effort to try and get Troy and I to move Sarah into our house. I won't go into the whole detailed story, but Sarah's Mom decided to make up a detailed story about losing their home in order to try and pressure us into inviting them to live with us.

We initially believed they were homeless. Within a few weeks several lies came to light and we sat down and talked about it.  They still live in the same house as always, and they never lost their home. 

On the surface it might seem like a great idea to just move her in, "Yes! Move S & S into your house! Do that!"  I probably cannot cover the nuances of the situation and the culture in one post, but the bottom line was that we knew that there were several lies being told and that the goal was to transfer responsibility for Sarah and Sophia over to us.  We know taking responsibility for children is no small thing, it is certainly not a short game either.  We have learned some hard lessons in our years here and decisions like that are not made under pressure.

(I wrote several more paragraphs about that ^ and decided to take them out of this post.)

In June Sarah's mom left to go south for the summer to work in their garden.  Sarah stayed with an aunt downtown for a time.  For whatever reason, that did not work out long term and Sarah is now back in our neighborhood and hanging out each day at the Maternity Center or our house. She has been helpful at the MC and jumps in to do the things she has learned how to help with over the months. During the day she plays with and feeds Sophie, watches TV, reads or rests. At night she sleeps in her own house down the street.

Sarah's Mom is supposed to return to Port au Prince this week.  In her Mom's absence we have started the process of getting Sarah registered to return to school this fall.  Sadly, when a young woman is a mother (whether raped or in a consensual relationships with a boyfriend) she must hide that fact from the school. 

There will not be anyone at school that will know Sarah is carrying the heavy responsibility of Sophia too.

Heartline Midwives worked with another young assault victim that had a baby boy with us in 2012.  That young woman also returned to school when her child was a year old and recently graduated at the top of her class in June 2017.  Nobody in her school, not teachers, faculty, or students, know she has a five year old. This is "system Ayiti". Somehow the onus of secrecy and shame is on the person that has been assaulted. It is justice denied.

This month we learned that the man that violated Sarah is in fact known. He has a name and they know it. We also know he lives about 8 miles from us. Not only that, we learned that he is requesting to see Sophia.  He is an adult, not a teenager.

This man's mother wants to take Sophia and has told Sarah as much.  She says she can raise Sophia for Sarah.

The people that own the land Sarah's little house sits on and share the same yard are telling Sarah that she should let Sophia know her dad.  (It seems that he is an acquaintance of theirs and they always knew who was responsible for Sarah's assault.) They recently told Sarah that Sophia is going to want to know who her father is and she should consider that. 

A couple of weeks ago Sarah asked KJ (a Midwife at the MC) if she has to let the rapist see Sophia and shared what the neighbors are saying.  Sarah said she fears what people will tell Sophia when she is older and can understand.  She said everyone in our neighborhood knows about the assault and knows Sophia is the product of that attack. She wonders how she can deal with the heaviness of that when other people might not honor her and allow that to be something that **she** tells Sophie some day.

There is no happy "we solved this" ending for Sarah and Sophia.  Right now we await confirmation that Sarah can return to school.  Sarah is resisting the pressure of the neighbors and refusing to agree that the family of the rapist has a right to know Sophia.

Three donors have come forward to cover the cost of Sophia's daycare and the cost of school.  We are waiting to hear from the school, Sarah took tests two days this week in order to get correct placement into the right classes.

The story continues to be come more and less clear.  We are all taking it one day and one change at a time.

We know one thing:  

We want better for Sarah and everyone like her.



Friday, August 18, 2017

Unpredictable Sightings

The other day my friend KJ texted me to tell me that she had just seen one of the security guard's balls.

Because everything is random and weird here I wasn't totally shocked.

I just said, "Huh, lucky? you! What was the occasion?"

Turns out he had quite some swelling post hernia surgery and he thought she might be the one to comment on the swelling.

She informed him pregnant women were her specialty, not so much swollen balls.

A few days later I got a text from Troy.
He said, "Well, this is how my morning is going, I just saw ______'s (name of owner withheld) balls.

Sometimes life is like this. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Our Team - Changes & Updates

Operating a Birth Center slash Maternal Health Program cross culturally is an every-single-dang-day adventure.

"Adventure" is similar to "interesting" -- these words are powerful blanket words that mean many things - alllll the things even - you say them when you are being careful and a bit diplomatic. 

Communication cross culturally is SOMETHING ... Yet another powerful blanket word.

At least weekly someone (client or co-worker) will tell me something and inside my head I will be saying to my head, "What is the point what is the point what is the point please what is the ever-livin' point?"  

About ten minutes in, the point will come out sideways.  
It's like that here.  
The points are made indirectly.  
Practice your deep breathing and wait on it.  
Eventually it (the point) will appear in a cloud of glory. 

As the guests in this culture, the onus is on the foreigners to learn language and culture and work within the constraints of cultural norms whenever and however it might be possible.

Screaming at the top of our lungs in frustration needs to happen privately, into our own giant pillows.  

In order to create team unity, and foster mutual respect, we all need to keep it together no matter how much the situations around us might make us insane or sad or just totally broken and hurt.

The Maternity Center (and ME especially) are grateful to God for the group of nurses and midwives that have gathered and come here to serve Haitian mommas and babes. 

Our staff has expanded quite a bit in the last two years. 

We now have 24/7/365 coverage at the Maternity Center. 

The number of women we serve expanded after Together Rising gave us a large grant to build a second floor and add more women to the program.

We are in a bit of another transition this fall. 

We are asking for your prayers. Please pray that we continue to work well as a group/team. 

Our staff is family. That has become important to the flow of things here. Trusting the people you work with is so important when dealing with life and death and intensely emotional situations. 

GREAT communication among staff is equally critical.  We continually ask God to help us communicate well at all times.



OUR STAFF :


Meet Beth McHoul, founder and visionary of the Maternity Center as well as our Director of Education. 

Beth is currently in a life-transition - as she and her husband John set-up their home in Florida due to his changing health needs.

Going forward Beth will continue to serve at the H.M.C as a Midwife on a more part-time basis, covering the MC whenever she can be in Haiti. Her fingerprints and influence are all over our work and our Maternity Center. Her physical absence is something we are grieving right now. Prayers for Beth -and us- as we make these adjustments are appreciated. 

Beth is available to speak and share more about the work we do by phone, or in person, if logistics allow. If you have an interest in that, please contact Elizabeth Thompson, our Development Coordinator to request a meeting with Beth. Elizabeth can be reached at Elizabeth@heartlineministries.org 



Nirva J. is a nurse of many years, with more than a decade of Labor and Delivery experience. She has been with HMC five years and oversees the Saturday teen-girl program called "Youth in Action". Nirva is a hard-working single Mom of two and a valued senior member of the MC staff.




Beth Johnson - AKA - "KJ" - is a Midwife and serves as our Clinical Director.  KJ brings many years of experience in the Philippines, Texas, and Haiti to our team. She has been with the HMC for four years.  KJ makes things beautiful wherever she goes. She works closely with Dr. Jen in writing and updating our protocols and keeps us all up to speed.




Islande V. is a nurse with a tender bedside manner. She joined HMC in February of 2016 and is the nurse you'll most likely find at the MC if you drop in on a weekday. Islande is a detail oriented person and handles many administrative tasks at the MC.








Mica B. was a former client of the HMC and is now a trusted and valuable member of our staff. She graduated from Midwives for Haiti's school/program last September and has been on our staff full time for almost one year. Mica was a nurse before she had her baby with us. Now that she has the Midwifery skills she is the perfect addition to our staff. 






Guerline L. joined our staff earlier this year, in February of 2017. She is also a graduate of Midwives for Haiti (she and Mica graduated together) and is yet another very tender and calm addition to our team. Guerline and her husband just welcomed their first child, baby Carla, to the world in late July. Guerline will return to work part-time in October and full-time in November after her Maternity leave is finished.


Stephanie D. recently finished nursing school and is hoping to pursue midwifery school in the future. She awaits her chance to officially sit for her nursing exam. Steph is waiting on a system that lacks organization and they need to OFFER the test so she can take it. Please pray she can get that done this year. She is the smiliest person on staff. Steph joined us in Feburary 2017 as well.


Today we welcomed a new Midwife to our staff for her first day with us. 

Jessica Williamson is an RN/CNM from Louisiana. She speaks southern and Kreyol and is excited to be back in Haiti, having lived here in the past. Jessica will check us out and vice versa for the next few months. We all assume that the trial period will prove we want to work together forever. 

Please pray for Jessica and her daughter Phoebe-Kate as they are settling into full-time life in Haiti (yet again). We are thrilled to welcome Jessica and believe she will be an awesome addition to our expat staff and our family.


Michaelle B, the clinic part-time administrative assistant, works Thursdays and Fridays to help keep some semblance of order on our two most chaotic program days.  She recently graduated from seminary and hopes to use some of her training to offer the women that are in our programs emotional and spiritual support. 







L to R - Clermitha, Gran R,  and Rosena


We are also **incredibly blessed** to have a housekeeping and cooking staff of three strong women with moxie all the way UP TO HERE.  

Rosena, Gran R. and Clermitha keep the place running smoothly by dealing with non stop questions at the front gate,  never ending linens that need laundering, as well as cooking for program days and the women recovering in post-partum. They also support the nursing/midwife staff in many other tangible ways each day.  

All three of these ladies are Moms, two of them are Grandmothers.  
They have LIVED LIFE and they KNOW THINGS. 

All in all our staff of twelve strong women includes five single moms and four grandmothers. That is just basically to say, nobody should mess with us. 

And me.  I'm here too.  
Hi - I'm Tara. I have been a Midwife officially for three years, I have worked at the H.M.C. in some capcity since mid-2008. I am honored and humbled and poop-my-pants-nervous to have taken on the role of Director about one year ago.

Please pray for us.  

We believe that the Moms and Babies served by HMC are being covered in prayer. We also believe it is KEY, I mean like GIANT ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT KEY, to our and their success and great outcomes.

Thank you so much for reading. For praying. For giving. For investing. 

With love,

HMC Staff

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Going Home

*Written by Tara Livesay, CPM, Heartline Maternity Center Director 
One of the most beautiful moments in the process of getting to know these strong ladies is the joy of being allowed an opportunity to take them home. It is my favorite assignment.
After spending months getting to know the women at the Maternity Center, it is a blessing to enter into their space and sit with them in their homes.  Sometimes we are rushed and we simply say a quick prayer and get back on the road. Other times we sit for a long while and get to meet the whole family.   
When we take the new momma home, we have overcome the inherent risk of pregnancy in Haiti, the large risks of giving birth, and we are past the initial days of learning breastfeeding. It is a joyous occasion, one worth celebration.
It used to be intimidating to me to wind deep into neighborhoods uncertain if I’d ever find my way out.  I remember averting the job of discharging and transporting in the beginning, leaving it to others whenever possible. Avoiding visiting their homes saved my heart from pain, their suffering and living situations are difficult to see. Truth be told, it’s much easier not to see it up close. 
Something changed once I recognized that sorrow and joy and pain and triumph all constantly dance together. They are a paradox far too intertwined to experience one without the other.  
While it might bring a measure of heaviness, I now know what an honor it is to be on their turf, to see and experience life sitting in their chairs, in their homes.
It can be culturally and socially awkward, but as we sit there all fidgety and unsure and we are willing to be a bit uncomfortable together and allow that awkwardness, it almost always builds relationship and trust.
I won’t ever fully comprehend the lives of these precious families – but they allow me to peek in, they allow me to see the paradox dancing, and that in and of itself is a gift.
Part of what we hope to do during our time with the women that pass through the Heartline Maternity Center programs is to offer them an unusual comfort and kindness. Bringing them home, instead of having them take crowded public transportation is one way we can love and comfort them.
The word comfort is from two Latin words that mean “with” and “strong.”  God is with these women and He makes them strong.  He is with us and He makes us strong.

Amy Carmichael said, “Comfort is not a soft, weakening commiseration; it is true, strengthening love.”  I hope that sort of comfort is what Haitian women are experiencing as they are brought home after giving birth.

Thank you for reaching out with love to comfort and strengthen families in Haiti. We are forever grateful for your support and partnership.
Tara
To learn more or consider a donation: http://heartlineministries.org