Written on Saturday, August 25
Yup, Hurricane Isaac brought us two births in the clinic! (YAY! My third and fourth births here! And I got to be a little more helpful and involved these times since I'm familiar with their process here now! Sooo great!!)
Well, it wasn't quite a hurricane, because Isaac was downgraded to a tropical storm at the last minute, but it was pretty crazy! We had been watching weather maps for a couple of days so we were well prepared with lots of food, water, and buckets for leaks. Melinda and I stacked up our mattresses and belongings on the bunkbed and tucked a tarp around it all, and we locked up the volunteer house for the weekend. (It has one of the less water-proof, less storm-proof tin roofs.) Sarah's house and the clinic are both solid cement, walls and ceiling/roof, which makes them a great place to hide out during a big storm. Luckily, we're also uphill from Jacmel and therefore not really at danger of flooding (other than local pooling and puddling of water in the yard, which wasn't even that bad).
Melinda and I "moved in" to the clinic on Thursday night in anticipation of the storm. We were woken a bit before 7am on Friday by... not a storm, but a client in labor! I heard that very particular type of hooting and hollering that I've come to recognize as the sound of a woman going into labor, which meant I'd better get up because I was sleeping in the birth room! I moved into the next room and slept for a couple more hours, as our client wasn't very far along. She didn't give birth until 2pm, so we had a lot of sitting around to do in the meantime. She was very vocal, so the transition to pushing (less hollering and more grunting) was pretty evident!
Meanwhile, maybe around noonish, another client arrived saying that she felt labor coming on! (Once again, I had to quickly move my stuff out of my second room - it was the second birth room. ha.) She was completely silent, which at first made me doubt that she was having real contractions... but it turns out that she's just a silent laborer! I nearly forgot about her until later that evening, she was so quiet in her room!
Ninotte convinced the woman's husband to come in and sit with her at some point (husbands are hard to convince to take any part in deliveries here), so he reluctantly joined in the fun. At first, he looked uncomfortable and out of his element, but eventually he seemed to warm up to the experience and got pretty into it! It was a fun transformation to see. :) He was sitting behind our client and supporting her, making sure her head came forward with the contractions, helping her stand or sit, doing whatever we needed him to. After he got more comfortable with the experience, he started blowing on his wife's neck to cool her down, giving her a light arm massage, and just being generally great! A refreshing change from the minimal (or nonexistant) involvement that the male spouse normally has in deliveries here. By the end of the delivery, he had a huge grin on his face, was excited and happy, and gave me a big high five and a laugh.
The birth was a little slow because the baby was face-up instead of face-down (a posterior birth! exciting!), but our client did great work and brought a happy, healthy baby boy into the world! Just as the baby started to come out, the rain started to hit, and by the time we had him cleaned and wrapped up, it was pouring!! The baby brought the rain, so the new dad was joking that they should name him Isaac, after the impending hurricane. Yet another successful delivery, check!
Our second client in labor didn't need much from us until later that afternoon. When Ninotte called Sarah in with the prediction that delivery was approaching, I followed and joined the party. This client's mother was with her, sitting next to her. For a while, it was mostly silence, with a few rare vocalizations coming from the woman. But she wasn't shy! When her mom got up to go across the room, the client sharply said "Mom!! Come back here!!" - her mom pauses but doesn't immediately rush back - "MOM!!!!" This woman was in the zone and knew exactly how she wanted things to be!
As her labor progressed, she became more vocal, invoking Jesus, God, her mother, Ninotte... she kept asking "Jesus, where are you??" and telling Ninotte that she couldn't do it! Sarah told her that she knew she had some more courage, and that she COULD do this! Finally, she started singing for a short while... and she told us later that she thinks God came to her while she sang and gave her more courage.
We moved her from lying down on her bed to sitting/squatting on the floor, supported from behind by her mom. The whole time, I was very impressed with her mother, who kept an incredible calm (she had obviously been through this before) and maintained an almost constant smile! She had a great sense of humor whenever her daughter said something extreme or angry - she would just grin at the rest of us. Having her around and seeing how she was such a calm, warm, supportive rock for her daughter made me think how nice it would be to have MY mom at my delivery, whenever that day comes...
Anyway, after our client received her second wind of courage, she got to working hard on pushing and it wasn't long before there was suddenly a new little baby girl in the world! We got mom and baby all wrapped up in bed and turned the lights down because the client's blood pressure was a little high, and left them to nurse and bond. Little did we know... apparently, the baby's nursing was giving the new mom cramps, so she decided to not bother! We found out this morning. How crazy is that?? We set her straight, and everything is fine, but... seriously? Yeah, I just won't feed my baby because I don't feel like it. Hopefully this isn't going to be a continuing trend!
So meanwhile, it had continued to rain on and off ever since the first baby was born, but nothing crazy had happened yet. After all the clinic excitement died down, Sarah, Melinda, some friends, and I were all hanging out, enjoying Melinda's apple cake and a little Haitian beer. It was raining fairly hard, but suddenly there was a HUGE gust of wind that hit the house and blew a screen into the kitchen! We all hopped up, packed up our things, and dispersed to our respective sleeping places - this was it! Isaac was here! Melinda, Ninotte, and I were all sleeping in the clinic, so we ran around and made sure everything was ready to withstand heavy gusts coming through the building. We pulled our beds away from the windows, got our buckets ready, and sat down on our beds... It wasn't long before we were all up again, called to the next room by a bang of furniture, or called to the window by the sound of voices or a rattling roof.
The wind was insane. It was just so loud!! If I lay on my bed, I could hear huge gusts of wind flying past, I could see the palm tree outside bending and getting pushed way down, fronds flapping yet somehow not breaking off immediately. The rain was hammering down but not as intense as it could have been; it was really all about the wind. We could hear things tumbling and banging around out in the yard next door, probably a combination of trash and random stuff in the yard... we were hoping it wasn't anything bigger.
Things started getting worrysome when Melinda got a call from a friend who said the roof came off her kitchen, but not the rest of her house... we spent the whole night hoping that that was as bad as it would get for her - luckily, it was. She kept the rest of her roof. We also were worried about our neighbors' roof - we could hear rattling tin roofs all night, each time an extra crazy-strong gust swept past! It was quite dark out, but we could just make out the outline of a section of tin roofing that was partially coming off and flapping violently in the wind. I was so thankful, so many times, that we didn't have to worry about that kind of roof above our heads. (I have yet to explore the state of the volunteer house, although I think it'll be fine.) At some point, we heard a few guys outside the house dealing with the havock, and they were laughing - I said something like "well at least they can have a sense of humor about it!" - but Melinda said that they have to laugh in the face of misery, because they experience SO much of it. There's no other way to deal with it. We hollered out the window that our neighbors could come stay with us if they wanted, but they never needed to because, somehow, their roof stayed on! Thank goodness!!
The other awful part of the night was just witnessing the sheer power of the storm and its effects, even on the relatively well-built structures outside our window, and simultaneously knowing how many hundreds of thousands of people (notably in and around Port Au Prince) only have weak/temporary structures like tents and tarps...! As I lay there, hearing the mind-numbingly loud winds, seeing the tree thrash back and forth, hearing roofs rattle and things tumble around in the yard, I couldn't help but cry a few tears for the extreme, unfair suffering that must have been going on at the same time, not far from us. When one lives in such conditions, the risks of rain and wind, not to mention flooding, landslides, lack of clean water/food/sanitation, are unimaginable. At least sweet little Alfaida was with Sarah this weekend - a precautionary measure because she lives in a not-so-sturdy structure in town in Jacmel.
I don't know how I did it, but eventually I got to sleep amidst all the sounds. When I woke in the morning, the wind had almost completely calmed down, and it was just raining and raining and raining. It rained almost all day, until 4 or 5pm! I got to spend a good 5 or 6 hours taking care of Alfaida, who has become quite good friends with me by now. She's just too wonderful and cute and lovely not to love! And to think, I got here not really knowing how to take care of a baby... Anyway, we were safe and dry and well-fed, and after Melinda took a drive down into town to drop off one of the clients, it looked and seemed like maybe there wasn't too much damage done! She said that very few roofs were off - the only visible issue was a good number of downed trees. Even then, there were two downed trees near the clinic, in the street, but apparently they "disappeared" before it even stopped raining! (Someone must have come and removed them somewhat quickly, and there wasn't ever even the sound of a chainsaw.) When the rain stopped, there were immediately a couple of guys up on the neighbor's roof, nailing down the loose piece and fixing any other damage.
However, it was sobering to start hearing news from elsewhere. My mom was nice enough to text me a few newsbytes, since our internet wasn't up yet, and I shared them with everyone else. We heard of 1500 people taking refuge in a school in Jacmel, probably flooding and loss of roofs, at least 3 dead in the north and at least 1 dead in Jacmel, tent communities completely flattened (we had been right to fear the worst)... We'll see what the final reports show. So, once again, as with the earthquake on January 12, 2010, Haiti falls victim to a natural disaster that becomes an unnatural disaster; social inequalities have resulted in the extreme worsening of the impact of natural disasters that might be much less gravely dangerous in any other country.