Thursday, April 1, 2010
Paradise for Babies
I was en route to Diquini hospital on my fourth day in Haiti when I passed a huge billboard that read: " Paradis Du Petites." There was a picture of a lovely Haitian mother holding her beautiful baby. Paradise for Little Ones. I assumed it was advertising a school or daycare center. But in truth, Haiti is not paradise for babies. The infant mortality rates are among the highest in the Western Hemisphere. (Maternity mortality rates are high as well.) I still wonder if that baby I saw on the first day with typhoid fever and a temp of 104 ever made it to the hospital. I understand the obstacles that keep families from going to the hospitals. First they need a way to get there. The hospitals are few and far between. Then they may wait many hours to be seen. If their child is then admitted, the family has to stay as well. Hospitals may not provide linen for the beds, or meals for the patients. Some may not give medication unless is is paid for first. Speaking of pay, financial burden is a big barrier as well. The hospital will insist on being paid and the family may not have the resources available. Babies with fevers and diarrhea are in a race against time. They may succumb to the dehydration before the fever breaks. Most of the babies I saw were on the downside of the disease process and were already afebrile. I was told that often if a mother sees her baby is ailing, she will emotionally detach from it. I was also told that if a hospitalized child appeared to be failing, the parents would leave the hospital and not return. I cannot judge how people find a way to cope in the face of such overwhelming challenges. I noticed that it took some work on my part to get the new mothers to warm toward their babies. Fortunately the grandmothers or aunts or female cousins were there to model bonding behavior. We often broke with hospital protocol and allowed the families to be with the laboring mothers. The Haitian doctors would shoo them out of the room, but when they left, we would let them right back in. I loved it when one of the midwives greeted each new baby with, "Welcome to the world, you are the hope of Haiti" and indeed they are.