Marie’s contractions started early in the morning. She wished her mother or a midwife were with her, but her mother had trained her how to deliver alone. So many women do that in her country already. She instructed her husband to find cloth to wrap the child in and water to clean both her and the coming child.
Marie stood, squatted, groaned and paced as the child came closer to delivery. After hours of labor, she finally felt the urge to push. As the baby emerged, she began to bear down, gritting her teeth as she squatted on the ground over towels intended to catch the baby.
Several minutes of hard labor later, she put her newborn, a boy, on her breast as she finished the delivery process. She cut the umbilical cord, first tying it tight with a thread and then using a sharp rock. She finally cleaned the baby and herself, and gathered up the towels and garments to be hand-washed in a stream later. She brewed some tea and swaddled her newborn child. They lay together on mats on the dirt floor.
Together, Marie and her husband marveled at the gift she so laboriously brought into the world.
Marie is not a particular person, but a name used represent a composite description of a common childbirth experience in Haiti.
Hot. Painful. Sweaty. Lonely. Not all the details are the same, but this description of childbirth may be very much like Mary’s experience.
Can you believe that the King of All Glory submitted Himself to enter the world in such gritty circumstances? Jesus could have ridden down in a chariot of fire. Instead, he made his debut as a helpless infant born to a first-time mother in a barn in the Middle East.
Most women in the United States have a hard time even imagining what a grueling ordeal Mary might have experienced that first Christmas night. But childbirth like this is a part of life for women and children in Haiti and other developing nations. Medical complications can make dire circumstances even more dangerous. Hemorrhage, infection, water-borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, tetanus, poor education and lack of access to medical care endanger the lives of Haitian women giving birth. The infant mortality rate in Haiti is nine times higher than in the United States.
Those of us working in these nations can’t stand that. I work with a Christian humanitarian organization called LiveBeyond, which is dedicated to providing clean water, medical care, adequate nutrition to the poorest of the poor. It’s maternal health program provides nutritional support, maternal education, regular checkups and postpartum visits. In its first year, 2012, the program reduced deaths during the last weeks of pregnancy, childbirth and immediately afterward by 66 percent for the women and infants of Thomazeau, Haiti.
Other organizations are doing similar work throughout Haiti, including the Maternal and Child Survival Program in northern Haiti and Partners in Health in Mirebalais. Nonprofits in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are doing their part, as well. We are all devoted to saving the lives of women and children through education and medical care.
This Christmas season, you can also take part, by giving to an organization with maternal health programs, in honor of the birth of Jesus.
Devin Vanderpool is director of communications for LiveBeyond, which was founded by David and Laurie Vanderpool in 2005.
Hear the latest news from Haiti, read posts about faith and community development, and find transcriptions from the LiveBeyond podcast.