Born in Haiti

1.27.10: The littlest survivors

CARE mother baby camp_main.jpg

Last week I wrote that 37,000 women were pregnant in Haiti; 10,000 due to deliver within a month. Since then, more than a hundred women have already had their babies. These births are about as far from the beautiful deliveries our readers are planning that I feel I should start off with a parental warning: The stories you are about to read contain graphic material and are not intended for immature audiences. They come to us via Loetitia Raymond, Care media officer who’s collecting women’s stories in Haiti.

Joane, 20 years old, gave birth to her first child on top of cardboard packing boxes under a cloth tarpaulin in two meters of space – none of it private. Joane lives in the middle of a camp set up in a city square, along with 6000 other earthquake survivors. There’s garbage everywhere and with no bathroom facilities set up yet, people are forced to urinate and defecate where they live, cook, sleep and where their children play. The stench of death is overpowering.
That’s where Joane’s baby was born with a crowd of people staring at her. Her mother delivered the baby and cut the cord with a non-sterile razor blade. No soap, no clean towel, no disinfectant, no doctor, not even minimal medical equipment in case of complications. Joane says, "There were people all around watching me. I would have rather been somewhere else, in a cleaner place without all those people looking at my body."
Afterward, her mother cleaned Joane up with water collected from a tank CARE had installed the day before. Joane and her mother were grateful for that water. As Joane says, “Otherwise I would have used water that comes out of the pipe at the end of the road."
Baby Sarah was born the morning of the catastrophe in a hospital that was partially destroyed. Miraculously, both she and her mother escaped uninjured. Sarah’s mother said, "Everything was shaking, my bed was moving. I was very afraid. Then people started to scream. I hugged Sarah tightly in my arms, I was sure we were going to die." They made it safely outside and were reunited with the rest of their family. Now, they live in camp and are grateful to be alive.
Saluka's baby was born last month in a hospital. Homeless now because of the earthquake, the newborn’s health is deteriorating fast. "His tummy hurts, he has diarrhea and a cold," his mother explains. When asked if he’s seen a doctor, the answer is obvious: “No.” It’s unlikely he’ll receive any medical evaluation any time soon because health workers are overwhelmed caring for trauma patients.
Marie-Michel Blanc, 32 years old, is expecting her 3rd child. She’s very worried about her upcoming delivery. She knows something’s wrong with this pregnancy. Her second childbirth didn't go well and she had an emergency C-section. That won’t be an option if there are complications this time. “"My stomach hurts and I don't know what is happening," Marie-Michel says in a worried tone. Loetitia (who is not a doctor), a trusted CARE worker, put her hands on Marie-Michel’s belly and pressed gently. Fairly certain Marie-Michel’s baby is breech, she advised Marie-Michel to find a midwife in camp who might know how to turn her baby. That’s her best hope right now.
What’s the good news? CARE is focusing their aid on women like Joane, Saluka, Marie-Michel and Sarah’s mother. They’ve set up clean water tanks and have handed out hygiene kits with soap, toilet paper, tooth brushes, toothpaste, laundry soap, sanitary napkins and other products to ensure better hygiene. While those might seem like small interventions when so much is needed, they’re actually life savers since infection, dehydration and disease are Haiti’s biggest obstacles now.
Sarah’s mother said, "Thanks to this, I will be able to wash Sarah and wash her diaper. I didn't have any laundry soap and her clothes weren't clean. This will change everything," she says. One thousand other women received hygiene kits that same day. That’s a lesson in gratitude for all of us.
Donate to CARE or Text "CARE" to 25383 to donate $10 to Haiti relief efforts.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.

Photo: Courtesy of Evelyn Hockstein/