There is a unique phenomenon that I am trying to navigate with the Haitian moms in this setting. I will try to describe it to you.
If I had to guess, I would say that 1/4 to 1/3 of the women we are supporting are Haitian. At this public hospital, we are working with young doctors who either speak Spanish as a first language or as second language. Most of those who speak Spanish natively are Dominican and most who speak as a second language are Haitian. On any shift I have worked there may be two or three Haitian doctors. However, only the Dominican doctors attempt to communicate with the Haitian mothers.
I know… Crazy, right? A Haitian doctor can be standing there hearing the mom speak in Kreole and not engage… or only engage en Español.
Navigating this medical environment en Español is a great challenge in itself. Making sure that I interact respectfully with the doctors is a priority. Some are very accommodating of our presence and invite us to participate in various aspects of the birth process and accept simple assistance with things when they find it makes their jobs easier. Others are more skeptical, so I am mindful about how I engage them.
Sometimes as I struggle to communicate with the doctors, a Haitian mom will begin to speak to me in Kreole.
May I take a moment to say how amazingly beautiful Kreole is? When they speak, it sounds like music and like honey rolling off of their tongues… Simply beautiful.
In those chaotic moments, when I have just realized that I did not understand what the doctor needed when they requested the lamp be turned on… or that someone bring a wheelchair… or understand what the doctor is saying after I ask what I am to be feeling for on the mom’s abdomen when I massage a mom’s belly to check for bleeding… or whatever else they say that is spoken so quickly that I am struggling to understand… I can get really caught up.
Often the Haitian mom we are attending to will begin to speak directly to me. In those moments, the only words I can muster are words in the language I have been trying to convey to the attending doctors: “Hablo Ingles… Hablo poquito Español… Repetes despacio, por favor…”
Before you think it is cruel of me to respond en Español, I must also make you aware that at least half of the Haitian moms I have encountered speak some amount of Spanish. So their effort to speak to me in Kreole is intentional and an effort to try to say something they did not want to share broadly with others.
When the Haitian mom’s begin to speak in their native tongue, I am hard pressed to find ANY of my Kreole… AT ALL… But the next thing they do is what hurts my heart the most. Most of them, after I respond in the only thing I can conjure up (which would be Español), divert their gaze from me and refuse to engage me again. It almost feels they sense a betrayal and now place me in the same category with those doctors who refuse to speak with them in their language in front of Dominicans.
I had to pause to make sure I downloaded Haitian Creole in my Google Translate App for work tonight. I realized it wasn’t downloaded properly last night while I was looking for a lifeline to the Haitian moms… and then I realized that it doesn’t provide pronunciation, so I hope I am able to remember some previous lessons about the Kreole alphabet.
I can tell you in another post about ways I am finding success with communicating with the Haitian moms. In this post, I just wanted to share this current challenge I am trying to figure out how to overcome over the next few days.
And please know that I do have a theory about why I am noticing this social cultural context in the hospital. I could be wrong, but it feels familiar. I notice a certain social context with the Haitian doctors as well that looks familiar. It’s not a complaint, just an observation. It could be for a myriad of reasons but I have my theory.
Perhaps I will share those thoughts in another post. I am headed to work now.
Send a sister some positive energy!🤰🏿🙌🏿🙏🏿👶🏾🤰🏾