Giving life amid overflowing misery

Last Updated 30 January 2010, 16:48 IST

The same irrevocable forces left Delva Venite naked a few feet away, in pain, waiting nearly a day for doctors to deal with the stillborn son inside her.

The women shared one of the better medical facilities here — a maternity tent outside General Hospital — but there were not enough beds or doctors. Flies were their roommates, bunching like crows on the intravenous drips, and as for the joy found in most maternity wards, that had been lost to the cracked earth. “The street where I live, it’s so dirty; there isn’t enough food or water,” Antoine said. “I’m scared to bring a baby into this awful situation.”

Pulling down her blue dress after giving birth, she added: “I need to find a way to survive.”

The pregnant are an especially vulnerable subset of victims of the quake that has left so many Haitians homeless and desolate.

The United Nations estimates that 15 per cent of the 63,000 pregnant women in the earthquake-affected areas are likely to have potentially life-threatening complications.
For the roughly 7,000 who will give birth in the next month, the risks are even greater.
Aid groups are doing what they can. CARE has been handing out hygienic birthing kits, and doctors from around the world have taken a special pride in delivering babies. Along with rescues, newborns have become beacons of uplift amid the darkness of death.

Infant mortality rate

Still, Haiti is a frightening nursery. Even before the quake, this small country had the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere; on average, according to UN reports, 670 Haitian women out of every 100,000 die in childbirth, compared with 11 in the US.

The troubles are especially visible in the tent cities all over the capital. Earlier this week on the grounds of a former military airfield, Venold Joseph, 29, devoured a tin of spaghetti, her first meal since having her baby there four days earlier.

In another tent camp, on a soccer field of a school near the downtown, one meal a day was as much as Mirline Civil, 17, could hope for. Her baby, born on Sunday, struggled, too. When she tried to breast-feed the little boy, named Maiderson, he failed to latch. She rocked him back and forth and asked: “Why are you crying so much?”  In three days of visits to General Hospital, which is operating mostly out of tents, mothers were desperate to avoid returning to their own patch of dirt.

The medical tent, though hotter than 100 degrees in the afternoon sun, was a step up. Here, nurses bring crackers and juice. Here, if something goes wrong, a medical team will help.

On Thursday, Venite’s pregnancy ended nine months after it started, with a small, still figure in a cardboard box on the dirty ground. It was only chance that kept someone from accidentally kicking it. And on Friday by 3 pm, two women had already had Caesarean sections; two others were waiting their turns. A resident said that all four women were at high risk for complications.

Antoine on Friday also found a place to live, in a neighbour’s yard. She had been sleeping in a sewage-drenched camp outside a flattened school in her neighbourhood of Bel-Air. Now, she and her new daughter, Kimberly, live just behind it, under a thin white sheet near a mostly empty set of cages with a few chickens and a litter of puppies.

“I don’t think I can live like this, just waiting for someone to bring me food,” she said. She shook her head, and stared away, as her day-old daughter tried to suck her thumb.

(Published 30 January 2010, 16:48 IST)

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