Today was the day I had been looking forward to, the day we finally got to go see the maternity center. We had the privilege of meeting Beth McHoul, the founder of Heartline and its maternity center. We ate breakfast with her and listened as she imparted her wisdom. She and her husband John have been serving and ministering in Haiti for 27 years! Their ministry has grown from a small crèche, which cared for Haitian orphans awaiting adoption, to a whole host of ministries aimed at supporting and strengthening Haitian families.
The maternity center serves about 50 pregnant mothers at a time. As mothers get further along in their pregnancy and deliver, the vacant spot is filled by a pregnant mother in the early stages of pregnancy. Women are chosen for the program based on risk factors. It is most common for the very young teens and the older mothers to die in childbirth, so these women are prioritized for the program. Women come to the maternity center monthly at first for prenatal care, then more frequently toward the end of their pregnancy. At each visit they have their vital signs checked, and then they are given a nutritious meal to eat. They have a medical consultation with one of the midwives, and they are taught how to care for themselves during their pregnancy. Beth told us that preeclampsia is the number one pregnancy complication that they see, made worse by the fact that many Haitian women also have chronic high blood pressure as well. The maternity center is currently expanding their space, which will give them more room, particularly in their postpartum area. There are also long term plans to build another maternity center on the OK Ranch property.
After delivery, the women stay at the maternity center for several weeks, learning to breastfeed and bonding with their baby. Breastfeeding is counter-cultural here, so women often require an immense amount of support. They are encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, and then continue breastfeeding for “1000 days”. Women transition to the postpartum program after birth, where they come for weekly visits for 6 months to monitor their infant’s growth and development, and receive support for breastfeeding, parenting, and postpartum health needs. The maternity center also offers family planning services one day per week. Birth control is available and child spacing is encouraged.
I love that one of the goals of the maternity center is to prevent orphans. Being in Haiti this week and visiting the orphanages has been eye-opening and heartbreaking. I love that this program addresses that issue from the ground up, so to speak.
After looking around, we got to stock the shelves of the maternity center. Look at all of the donations our team was able to bring!
I felt so excited stocking all those shelves up, and so thankful for all of you. I am still in awe of how much all of you donated!
In the afternoon we visited an orphanage called FREM. When we walked in the gates, the children immediately came to greet us. All of them wanted to be picked up and held. I found myself wishing, as I often do at home, that I had more than two arms! These little ones captured my heart. The conditions of this orphanage were much worse than the previous one we had visited. The couple who ran the orphanage was caring and showed obvious concern for the children. However, there were about 25 kids with only 3 adults. They lacked resources. None of the children had diapers. They either wore no pants or their clothes were soaked through with urine. The toddlers and preschoolers appeared the least healthy of the bunch. The older kids and the one baby looked pretty vital.
I had the privilege of getting to use some of my medical skills while we were there, along with Kelly. There were a few children that had rashes that the house parents were worried about. One had ringworm on his scalp, which can be easily treated. The other had eczema, and we advised the house mom about how to take care of both of those issues. One little guy I had been told about prior to arrival. His growth has been really poor and he seems to fall ill often. I was able to give my input about him so that some of his issues could be better addressed by one of the local doctors at the hospital. All of the kids looked anemic, and several had pica. Our team had a great conversation later about how we can support the health needs of the children at FREM in the long-term. I am really excited to spend some time thinking, praying, and brainstorming about that.
The little ones just wanted to be held and loved. That wasn’t hard for us! One little guy crawled up in my lap. I thought he wanted to play and started doing some clapping games with him. He just looked at me. Then he put his head down on my chest and fell asleep in 2 minutes flat. He had his arms around me the whole time. I felt so humbled that he would trust me, a total stranger, to lay his head on while he slept. It was holy work. Lauren, who is 14, was an instant hit with the older girls. The girls noticed that Lauren’s nail polish was chipping, and pulled out the nail polish to give her a mani-pedi. Once her nails were painted, one of the girls got some water and washed Lauren’s feet. Another holy moment.
I was able to give each of the girls a new dress from the supply my friend Mary gave me. The girls loved them. The boys stood there and looked really sad that they did not receive a dress. It was so sad. We left some candy, hot wheels cars, chalk, and bubbles for later.
Saying goodbye was hard. Heartline helps to support FREM and 5 other Haitian orphanages though donations to the Heartline Foundation, and by providing food through Feed the Hunger. I can’t stop thinking about those little ones.
When I signed up to go to Haiti, I initially thought that I would get to do some work with the maternity center, and I had a real burden to help them. I love their mission and their way of doing things, and I still do after seeing it in action. But, I was surprised at how being at the orphanages spoke to me and pulled on my heart. I knew we were going to be visiting orphanages, but I had no idea that I would connect so strongly with that experience.