After spending 3 months in Canada, I was back on Haitian soil but could only stay for a short time. When I arrived to be with my wife for the birth of our son, Adel wasn’t at the airport. Freddy, who was about to become my next angel from God, was waiting to pick me up for what had become a common occurrence. The Port au Prince airport which had once terrified me was becoming simple and systematic. I knew to have single dollar bills for the luggage cart rental. To my surprise the price had gone from one to two American dollars during my short time abroad. I stopped carrying twenties and only had fives in my pocket to pay the airport’s entrepreneurs. I knew how to pack and how to slide through customs. I’d learnt the language and was confident in my travel vocabulary. Freddy, Richie, Adel’s toughest cousin and I set out from Port au Prince to my very pregnant wife and completely Haitian family. I’d returned and within the next seven weeks would face my two scariest days.
The pictures are vague but I remember Adel being much fuller then when I’d left her. Four months had passed and she was now nearly eight months pregnant. She’d endured malaria and infection while I was gone. The boy inside had been subject to extreme fever and had faced an infection that came dangerously close to his incubation quarters. I’d been home in Canada working and with God’s grace, I’d been prospering. My last four months consisted of Christmas, cold and snow. Now again my life was tropical and hot.
I remember Adel being sick often and me feeling awkward. In my absence I hadn’t been building the skills to cope with a pregnant wife. She was in considerable pain nearly every night and I didn’t know what to do. I would prepare food in hopes of pleasing her and she would reject it. I had my concerns surrounding her pain, but not understanding, could only chalk them up to what must be required in order to prepare the body for creating life. I tried to help but felt helpless. I was ill-equipped for what was going on in our lives but as time does, it continued to pass. The days quickly turned into weeks and then the time was upon us. The doctor had told us our son was due on the twenty eighth of March but Adel and I felt it might be closer to the twenty sixth. If you designate baby emergency codes; yellow, orange and red, we were full scale orange on the twenty second. That morning Adel insisted on killing and cleaning one of our chickens. Haitian customs dictate that after a woman gives birth she eats an entire chicken. I would imagine for the protein and energy. She knew our little king was on his way and was preparing in the way she knew how.
Two days earlier, during code yellow, she was chasing chickens over by the family home. By that time we’d accumulated seventeen birds, if you include the turkey. The rainy season was on its way so the farmers had planted corn. Our chickens were all free range which means exactly that, they were free to roam on the range. No fences meant no limits. That was fine for most of the year. I was unprepared when I found out our flock was in jeopardy. The corn farmers set out poison with their seeds with the objective of killing the chickens that’d eat the seeds before they could sprout. Fair enough! We were at baby code yellow but needed to catch and tie up every one of our birds before they poisoned themselves.
This can be very tricky. I’ve found I can’t outrun a bird because they can fly. You can however bait them with food then drop your hand from directly above and with some precision gripping, catch your target. One enormous problem is when you catch one, you alert the others. The game begins. The bait and blindside approach gets used up so it becomes a chase and trap game. This is exhausting and not always fruitful. One needs a strong team of the young and quick. Adel bounced around with her giant belly playing blocker while I, covered in sweat and out of breath, watched my nieces and nephews. They would only be able to get two or three. They’d tie them up and start again once the chickens forgot what was going on. We did our best but inevitably lost a couple birds, one of which I’d named Wolf. He’d been abandoned by his mom for what I saw was no apparent reason. To me he was different so I singled him out as a pet. A piece of advice you’ve maybe heard, don’t name your food. He’d gotten himself poisoned and had expired. I learned and then saw how this form of death gets stuck in the chicken’s throat. The pellets which it consumes with the corn seeds suffocate the bird; fortunately leaving the rest safe to eat. I’m in awe but no longer disturbed by the dissection of an animal which had been living only minutes earlier.
With the bulk of the chickens saved we found ourselves back to the evening of code orange. The boy wanted out and he pushed hard from the inside. Adel was in so much pain that we moved to the other room. The bed was firmer there and she could get out of it easier. I slept on the floor. That night we had power so the computer was on, we listened to Christian Creole, the same ten songs over and over. The music was soothing and full of faith and that was exactly what we needed. Earlier in the evening I’d sent Adel with one of her sisters to the hospital, with plans to finish making supper and meet them there. They returned a short time later as the doctor said it wasn’t time; she’d be in my care for the night. “Was all this pain natural?” I wondered “and so much, so often?”, we’d read a book about giving birth which seemed to have little relevance to what was going on here. There would be no private rooms with a dimmer switch for the lights and I doubted we’d find a shower adjacent to the recovery room. The book had made promises of the warm water available in said shower, which we could stand in to gently caress and sooth my wife’s pain while I held her. It did tell us there would be blood and there would be mess. It didn’t however; tell us about the animals and flies. There was no warning about the spectacle we were about to become and that since a white baby was about to be born, people would gather. We were a day away from being the best show in town.
After a long night of getting up every hour, on the hour, we decided the contractions were too much. In the morning Freddy came and got us, along with all of Adel’s pre-packed bags. We had sheets for the hospital bed, towels, extra clothes and a bucket to pee in. In this hospital nothing was supplied, what you had was what you brought. I remember feeling so alone waiting outside the delivery room. I could hear the buzz of fifty or more Haitians talking but had no hospital vocabulary. Time was passing and more patients began to filter in, Adel wasn’t the only one giving birth so the building was noisy. The screams pierced through the hallways as women were giving birth without an epidural or pills for pain. I peered into the birthing room and noticed a complete absence of any electronic equipment. There were two surgical beds covered with plastic sheets extending to the floor. At the one end the sheets were arranged into a funnel, directing what I didn’t want to imagine into metal garbage cans. I saw no monitors and no sensors. Again, the room was void of anything requiring electricity. As I’d expected, the birthing book had lied and I found myself in a state of shock that would lasted for nearly a week.
We were in what could only be described as an open air hospital. The mosquitoes traveled freely in and out of all the rooms and chickens were able to come and go as they pleased. I’d walked between our home and the hospital six times that first day. Our house was only a mile away and sitting down, just waiting, was driving me crazy. I didn’t know what to do with myself so I used any excuse to get out of that hospital. I’d go to retrieve extra clothes, food or whatever was needed. The hours continued to pass and Adel still wasn’t giving birth. By this time she’d been dealing with severe pain for more than twenty four hours so the doctors began to prescribe drugs to induce her labour. One dose, then another and if you can believe it, the hospital cupboards were bare. In Grand-Goave when a patient needed medicine they had to seek it elsewhere, purchase it and then bring it back to the hospital. We were I’m sure, one of the few fortunate ones; we had financial resources and people to help. I gave my brother-in-law money so he could start filling the latest prescriptions. I was becoming scared!
My wife was in tremendous pain which was evident by her screams of agony. I was finding it hard to cope. For hours I mostly sat alone, praying and worrying. Evening came so the hospital was closing to the public. I was invited to spend the night by one of the nurses, her name was Molly. She was a family friend and could see I was terrified so took it upon herself, to take care of me. Nurse Molly set me up in one of the unused rooms with a blanket and medical bed. I was completely exposed to the mosquitoes and probably feasted on all night long. They, along with the screams of the women coming from the rooms adjacent to mine, made for the longest night of my life. I was aware of the danger which was mounting for my wife and our unborn son. Unable to do anything, I was terrified and partly expected terrible things were on the way.
The next morning came and the only thing that had changed was one of the other women had lost her baby. I was as helpless as I’d ever been. I’d dreamt about so many bad things. How disgusting I must be in God’s eyes, how I was so disobedient and how I would be required to pay for my insolence. I was so sad and so sorry. I begged for God’s forgiveness and prayed Adel wouldn’t be forced to pay for my rebellion. The morning passed and the situation began to deteriorate. I made the mistake of looking into the birthing room while I paced the hall. I saw so much blood coming from my wife. I wondered how this could be normal and soon found out it wasn’t. We now had an emergency situation. My Haitian family was told there was nothing more that could be done for Adel and the baby if they stayed at this hospital. Her sisters began to cry but refused to tell me what was going on. With my limited creole I picked up the words “nothing is wrong” and “everything is fine”, but I knew better. I asked one of the kids and they told me we needed to go to a different hospital and we needed to go now. Freddy was on his way. He later told me he’d had the feeling not to rent his truck out that day. He said God had spoken to him and said “Keep yourself and your truck available.”
Things were all of the sudden happening so fast. Adel was up out of bed and on the move with her I.V. in tow. I was facing the scariest day of my life. I couldn’t eat; I’d barely slept for two nights and was now facing a life or death situation involving the girl I loved most. I sat in the box of Freddy’s truck with a few of our family members as he sped out of town and onto the highway. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye for fear of breaking down. The next town, Petit-Goave, was about twenty minutes away. This time the drive felt longer than it ever had as I anticipated every bump with worry the next one would be too much for Adel’s weakened body to handle.
We arrived at this different hospital which was presumably better equipped than the last. I helped my dying wife into this new place. It was packed with women dealing with emergencies of their own. We managed to find an available bed which was already spotted with blood stains head to toe. I was losing my wife; I thought I would watch her die and then return to Canada alone. Her sisters were all crying and I could do nothing. Adel’s oldest sister, Rosa, went into the surgery room to plead with the doctor. This man was up against a workload which included fifty or more desperate and dying cases. He sent Rosa out of the room; he was just too busy and could do nothing. At this time I wished my creole knowledge was less, I heard Adel say she knew she was dying. She cried the words “if the baby doesn’t get out of me soon we’ll both be gone”. By this time our boy had stopped moving inside her and everyone believed he was dead. The stress and duration of the whole traumatic event had been understandably too much for him and he’d expired. My only hope was that his lifeless body wouldn’t kill her as well.
Adel took survival into her own hands. She managed to get herself off the bed and with assistance, into the operating room. All I did was pray in fear. My fear was God would punish me for not obeying his authority. It’s said He gives and He takes. Was today a day in which much was required? I don’t know what Adel said to the doctor after she entered into the surgery room, but the next time I saw her she was alive and barely conscious. The doctor had removed the baby who’d spent the last nine months inside her.
When I thought God had abandoned me, He’d in fact sent angels to surround us that day. While Adel was in surgery I was sitting outside on a bench with Freddy, trying to play the tough guy. I was crying so hard inside and didn’t want anyone to know. We were told she was having an emergency C-section so the prescriptions needing to be filled continued coming. I sent Juan again and again for I.V. solutions, pain killers and everything else the doctor asked for. He’d even needed gloves. I couldn’t believe it, in an instance like this we were asked to hunt down the resources necessary, as they became necessary. Canada is not like this and that day I learned life has different values in different places. It was completely acceptable for my wife to die because so many women did in that hospital every day. She however, would not.
God’s plan wasn’t to punish me; it was to provide for me. Juan looked out the door and called to me from the hospital entrance. I rose from the bench were I sat not knowing what was coming next. My brother-in-law’s eyes told me everything would be alright. I’d been given a boy, a small wrinkled up one, far whiter than I’d expected. I looked at my new born son with little feeling; I was numb from the entire experience. My concern was for my wife, I’d even felt I didn’t want him if she was going to die. Adel was moved to the recovery area where she was surrounded by praying Haitians. As I knelt beside her bed, I began to talk and was quickly ushered away. She was heavily sedated and I was informed it would be best if I didn’t try to communicate. That day, I had an opportunity to take a picture of my first son but I chose not to. I still didn’t know if I wanted him. Adel wasn’t in the clear and if it was him that killed her, perhaps, I’d choose to be alone.