Labor Repose

Labor Repose
LaborPayne during her 6th homebirth (9th baby) at age 44

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Mwen renmen an Ayiti

I am very involved in my preparations for my return to Haiti next month. Last night I attended a fundraiser for Glory House Services, a local organization of Haitians helping Hatians as they resettle here in the Kansas City area. It is headed by Idalbert Joseph (pictured), a boundless bundle of energy and enthusiasm topped by an infectious smile. Mr. Joseph teaches English to his Haitian expatriots, and Haitian Creole to Americans. He has been a true ambassador for his homeland here in our area. Last night's fundraiser was to raise money for school teachers salaries for a school that Glory House supports. The primary schools in Haiti are almost all private and parents must pay to send their children to school. The school that Glory House supports is free of cost to parents except for uniforms and books. I met Mr. Joseph when preparing for my trip to Haiti last Fall. His group was so supportive of my efforts to build a local bridge between Kansas City and Haiti. For this upcoming trip, Idalbert has made himself my private tutor for learning Creole (Kreyol). He tells me I will be conversational in two or three lessons, and that Creole is very easy to learn. I remain skeptical, but I do have my high school French to help me out. Like every other Haitian I have become personally acquainted with, Idalbert thanks me frequently for my service to Haiti, and he tells me often that 'mwne renmen an Ayiti' (I love Haiti).

It is true, I do love Haiti, and I yearn to reach her shores again. I wish to see Dr. Delson and follow him on his rounds, taste his wife's excellent cooking, bring gifts to his children, and even see how the family of new kittens is faring. Just across the road from the maternity clinic is a small tent city named 'New Jerusalem' (according to the hand painted sign someone hung up). The children would run out when they saw us relief workers and follow us asking for something to eat. I'll be sure and bring enough granola bars and candies to last for the week, so that everytime they see me, I'll never be empty-handed. I hope to visit the Medicine Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders, France) Hospital just down the road, and Dr. Delson will take me to the small private Catholic hospital where he transfers patients run by European nuns. I hope to see Mose, and Innocent, our interpreters from before. My beloved George (our main interpreter) is here in the US (New Jersey) in college studying law. I will miss seeing him. He was the second Haitian, after Dr. Delson, who invited us into his home. George was so eager to show us the real Haiti, and not just what we saw in clinics and through our host organizations. I will also see my interpreter from my first trip to Haiti, Kickolito. He will meet me at the airport and I will bring him a gift of some sort. I would love to bring Kicko here to go to school. It is a private dream of mine. He wants to be an engineer. The Haitians are such a lovely people. I'm glad I will be making a trip to be with Haitian people and not through a mission organization this time. This will be Sr. Morningstar's (my spiritual mentor) ideal. When she goes to serve a people, she is determined to live as they do, eat what they eat, wear what they wear, and be as they are. This time I will have the opportunity to do the same.

Here is a list of items Dr. Delson has asked me to bring (and I added a few items). Please let me know if you have these items to donate or if you have leads where I can acquire them. Your assistance is much appreciated.

Sterile Gloves (8)
Chux pads
maternity pads
baby blankets

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dead Babies in the Heartland

In the past month, since I've last posted, I've attended a breastfeeding conference taught by Dawn Kersula, and an ICAN conference, featuring Poppy Daniels, Geradine Simkins, Pam England, and Henci Goer, among others. I have presented in Wichita at the Kansas Govenor's Public Health Conference on the subject of Lactation in the African-American Community and at the Doulas of Kansas City meeting on the topic of Birth Practices Among African-American Mothers. In the past month I have sat on several committe and board meetings discussing materal infant health, including the Kansas City Health Commission, the Women's, Infant's and Children's Health Committee, Kansas City Midwives meeting, Missouri Midwives Association Meeting, the Kansas Breastfeeding Committee, the Fetal Infant Mortality Review Board, and most recently, the Mother and Child Health Coalition, which yesterday, brought Tonya Lee Lewis (wife of Spike Lee, seen in photo) to town to talk about infant mortality in the African-American community. All this talk of Black folks, babies, breastfeeding, birth, and death has got me thinking...

The problems that plague my community are so endemic, so deeply entrenched, that I've lost faith in the current system of health/maternity care to fix them. Not many seem to be terribly bothered that the infant mortality rate of the African-American community is twice to three times of that of Caucasian Americans (something I discovered three years ago while researching my master's research project). There are those who see the problem, but feel powerless to know what to do about it. I sit on the local FIMR board with the obstetricians who run the county hospital that sees the bulk of city women on Medicaid, and while they are knowledgeable and wise, they are also weary worn from years in the trenches and too busy on the front lines of care to innovate (or better yet, prevent) problems from occurring. When I worked as a labor and delivery nurse in this same facility several years ago, even I became numb to the number of dead babies I saw on a routine basis.

Infant mortality is the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births prior to the first birthday. The major causes according to the Center for Disease Control are congenital malformations, prematurity and low birth weight, SIDS, and complications of pregnancy. March of Dimes has gotten involved on two of these: prematurity and low birth weight, because these are so often preventable and iatrogenic in nature (meaning hospital or provider caused). Inductions and non-medical cesareans are frequent causes of prematurity and low birth weight. These NICU-bound babies don't have to be. Healthcare providers and maternity care advocates need to take a much stronger stance against inductions and non-medical cesareans. Breastfeeding is also tied to mortality, when NICU babies, already compromised, don't get the immunological protection of their mother's milk. The CDC listed several NICU complications that lead to mortality (sepsis, necrotizing enterocolitis, respiratory distress syndrome) which might be positively impacted by the introduction of mother's milk. African-American babies die at greater rates because Black women are the least likely to breastfeed and the most likely to have the risky interventions (inductions and cesareans) that lead to infant morbidity and demise. Black women suffer more pregnancy complications, are more likely to have poorer health in general as well as preexisting conditions that complicate pregnancy. Black infants are more likely to die of SIDS.

Kansas fares even worse, boasting the highest infant mortality rate for Black infants in the nation. While the national average hovers between 6-7 deaths per 1,000 births (for all babies) and about 12 deaths per 1,000 for African-American babies, in Kansas the figure is around 7-8 for the state and a little over 19 (!) for African-American infants. Why is Kansas (my current state of residence) so bad? No one seems to know. However I happen to know that in Wyandotte County, the poorest county in this southeast part of Kansas, hospitals have closed and access to prenatal care is limited to one or two hospitals and no community clinics offer prenatal care. Public transportation is an issue in this county and the economic forcast is bleak at best. So the zip codes with the fewest resources have the poorest outcomes. I'm sure this scenario is repeated throughout the urban and rural counties across the state. Infant mortality in Kansas is so bad, that two years ago, the govenor convened the Blue Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality. This group has lit a fire under this issue, and has recently published a list of recommendations. These recommendations led to the formation of the Kansas Prematurity Panel, which I look forward to being a part of in the near future.

One of my nursing students asked me yesterday, how many committees, boards, and organizations I actually belong to. I told her I've never done an exact count, but there are a lot. I attend these meetings to learn, to discover answers, to find allies, to engage my community. Even though there are many professional organizations to which I claim membership, there is one more that I look forward to joining. I believe these folks understand the nature of the problem in much the same way I do. The International Center for Traditional Childbearing is devoted to a cultural approach to increasing lactation, and decreasing infant mortality. A local Missouri chapter is starting up later this month. Finally, a community-centric approach to the problem. I'm not belittling the wonderful efforts of so many outside of my community- thank God they have taken notice of the problem and have enough concern to act. I'm putting the heat onto myself and other African-American professionals and maternity care advocates to look for home grown solutions within our own communities. Almost daily I write out my ideas and vision for what good maternal infant health looks like in my community. Last night Idreamed about preconception care and how to create a model that was culture-specific. I'm still trying to find my place in all this. My journey toward midwifery is still in its infancy. There is so much work to be done.

This is a clarion call to all others who would join me, but especially to those of my own community who want to become part of a solution. We need radically new ideas, radical new models of care that are woman-centered and culture specific. To this end, a travel phase of my journey will begin. Next month, I'll return to Haiti to spend time with an obstetrician in private practice. Dr. Delson Merisier is making an earnest attempt to deliver quality maternity care in the face of terrible medical deprivation. I met him on my last trip to Haiti last Fall, and was impressed by his tireless efforts to care for the women in his community. I will be living with him and his wife and three children in his maternity clinic (their home was destroyed in the earthquake) for a week. On the return trip, I will stop in Florida to visit Jennie Joseph. She is the British midwife who pioneered the JJ Way prenatal care model to improve prematurity and low birth rates (the two leading causes of infant mortality). I am looking for other culturally specific pioneering models to learn from. I intend to take what I learn and put the best parts of it to work to improve maternal infant health in my own community.