Connecting with Haitian moms

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.

ED07E891-B6B2-420B-926C-4312C8C5281F-4645-00000BAD006FD056Hold on…

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!🤰🏿🙌🏿🙏🏿👶🏾🤰🏾


Soy una MORENA en la Republica Dominica

I mentioned before that I was ‘concerned’ about how I would be received in the Dominican Republic 🇩🇴. The first gentleman I engaged with when I got off of the plane referred to me as la morena over and over again. His name is Victor and he was very helpful to me when I first touched down in Santiago.

I had spent as long as I could in the terminal trying to sort out my phone situation until airport personnel came over and asked for my tourist pass and started easing me toward the immigration stand… en espanol. I was the only one left except a woman I had traveled with from Chicago O’hare. She had been trying to manage her little boy and several large suitcases. We each grabbed one of the free carts for our luggage and finally headed out.

I was greeted by some stares, which I also get at home because of the way I dress. But it did seem a little different to me. Almost all of the people I saw looked like those I would refer to as Black people or people of African descent if I was in the U.S. At home, they may be described as ‘light skinned’ or even a medium brown. Most would pass the “paper bag test.” (I explained what that was to my housemates one day last week.) They all looked like some variation of my husband and some folks on his side of the family. Whether it was the complexion, the hair texture, or the facial features, there was generally something that pointed toward a connection to The Continent. Even with the variations in physical appearance, I still noticed the commonalities.

I pushed my packed luggage full of donations over to a place where I could think about my next actions. I had just realized that my portable charger was not working, my phone was almost dead and WhatsApp would not work with the airport WiFi. So I could not contact the driver that had been arranged to pick me up when I arrived. Not only did I have issues with WiFi, I also did not know what the driver looked like.

I moved through a crowd of people and found a spot. I must have looked like I was in distress, which I was but trying to hide. I was looking at my phone trying to remedy my situation and watching my bags and trying to think Think THINK about my next move and a solution all at the same time.

I did not notice Victor walk up, but heard a voice address me… en espanol. I looked up. I am sure I had my typical ‘deer in headlights’ look I always get when I have practiced a language only to hear someone speak and it sounds totally different. And they drop beginning and ending sounds here… And they speak so fast even the Latina women who are apart of our group have to ask them to repeat themselves sometimes.

Victor worked at the airport, so I was not totally terrified about allowing this stranger assist me. I stumbled for my words and finally decided to say said, ” No hablo espanol…” He laughed and started to speak more slowly with gestures. I could understand him better when he used single words or small phases. Somehow I was able to communicate that I was having trouble with my WiFi, needed an outlet and could not reach my driver. Then he laughed again. I wondered why he would be laughing when I was trying SO HARD to communicate with him. Then he started speaking to me in English. Actually, I laughed, too. I said, “Oh my God! I can’t believe you just made me struggle like that!”

Victor told me I could follow him and he could help me with WiFi. He took me to his work station, which was one of the bag wrapping stations. Do you know what those are? When you travel from some countries, you can pay to have your suitcases and bags wrapped in plastic so that people are less likely to go into them once you check them and they are being routed to your destination.

Victor was VERY kind to me. He allowed me to charge my phone at his work station and, after he saw that he also could not get my phone to connect to the airport WiFi, he connected me to his hotspot, so I could contact the driver.

While I waited, Victor and I had a chance to talk. He showed me his children and I showed him my sons… and my husband. He looked shocked and asked how old I was. I asked him how old he thought I was and he said 35, like him……… Bless his heart. He said he thought it was the cold weather in Chicago that was responsible for me looking so young… I’m not sure about that.

(True story: On our 21st anniversary, I got carded while out at dinner with Eugene. A gentleman at the adjacent table seemed amazed and asked if my husband had married a child bride………. I was SO CLOSE to be flattered, but ummm… NO!)

I told Victor that I was told that Dominican people don’t like dark people. He totally resisted that and said that those were ignorant people saying that. As people (others who worked there) passed by, I noticed he referred to me as la morena. He even referred to me that way when he left an audio message on WhatsApp for my driver en Espanol, so I asked him why he continued to refer to me as MORENA. He said it was a term of endearment and nothing bad. He did mention something about Black people too, but he was talking too much Spanglish too fast for me to understand.

(I later looked it up. The primary definition of morena(o) is “brunette” or a person with brown hair or eyes. Other definitions acknowledge the use of morena to reference a woman (moreno for men) with dark skin and its etymology to be linked to words used by Italians, Portuguese and Spaniards to describe Moors from Africa.) Last night while in a taxi, however, I noticed that the driver referred to Guy (a Haitian medical student we met at the hospital) as Moreno whenever he spoke to him. In the same way you would say Señora or Madame for women.

I talked to Nicole and asked her thoughts about it. She said that she did not see it as a bad thing to be referred to as la morena. I do not either, but I do acknowledge that there is something to be said about the fact that there is no term used for “light skinned person.” And that is probably because it as more of the norm here to be lighter. But why is morena(o) used as if it is describing an other?

Victor helped me understand more about his perspective when he said, “My parents are both white, but I came out this color. Do you know why?” I was shocked by the statement and the question that followed, but I surely wanted to know. He said, “Because my grandfather looked like you. I am the only one who came out with these features.” He did not seem to have an issue with it. He told me that his grandfather was Haitian and he still remembered the language.

While I was shocked to hear him refer to his parents as white I understood, because I know that many Hispanic/Latino people (regardless of identifying features) identify as white when given the five options for race on the U.S. Census – White/Caucasian, Black/Negro/African American, Asian, Native Mexican & Pacific Islander. To me, his parents look like people with European influenced features who are very light complexioned.

While in the DR, in the hospital and while out and about, I have had people walk up to me and begin speaking both Spanish and Haitian Creole. Once they realize that I am not native then they ask if I am Africana. Then I watch them process when I say I am from Los Estados Unidos and they say, “Oh… African Americana.” One Dominican guy said, “Right, but where are you from? What is your ethnicity?” I knew he expected me to respond with some African country or people group. Wouldn’t it be great if that lineage was never lost, stolen, or replaced?

All in all, my experience has been similar to what I experience at home. People are people, and people are different. And each person’s unique experiences helps shape their perception of the people in the world around them. To my surprise, I have been told that I muy bonita here more than I ever am at home in the same amount of time. I found I was noticed in a different way when I traveled to South Africa as well. Somehow, while the differences are acknowledged, color in the U.S. carries its own special historical context and baggage.

I have been approached by several men and learned to say: “He estado casado con mi esposo por 23 años. No nos compartimos con los demás. Él es el mejor para mi.” Gene laughs and says, “I nicknamed you and have been calling you Beautiful for over 23 years… I know what I have…” I think I might need him to upgrade and start calling me La Morena… I like it!❤️



Day 1… Continued

Let’s see… where was I? Okay… I remember.

If you didn’t read the first part of this post, you can do so here –>

The baby was whisked away to the nursery. The assisting doctor massaged the mom’s abdomen as the lead doctor worked to expel the placenta from her uterus. He tugged on the umbilical cord a bit and as the placenta began to come out, he turned it in a circular motion. They put the placenta on a tray and put it aside. The assisting doctor continued to suction as the lead doctor massaged the abdomen.

Next, the doctor reached inside the mom’s abdomen with both hands and lifted her uterus outside her body. I have to take a moment to clarify what I mean by the uterus being lifted out of the body, because I never understood what people meant when they told me this happens during c-sections. And this is usually the time they send family out of the room. The uterus is still connected to the cervix which is connected to the vagina etc. It is more like having a shirt tag that is hanging outside of your shirt but still attached to it.

Anyway, the lead doctor began to manually examine the inside of the mom’s uterus. He felt around inside and brought his fingers out to look at the blood several times. Then he took the rag they had been using, which was completely red with blood, stuffed it inside the opening of the uterus and wiped around and around as someone would do if they were cleaning out a bowl or a large cup. (Oh did I mention what the surgical opening looked like on this uterus? My team lead leaned over and said, “This one kinda looks like an angry mouth…” And it did.)

I was AMAZED to see how quickly this organ that had just housed a baby 15 minutes before had shrunken. It had been large enough for the doctor to almost fit his whole forearm into and now he could barely fit his hand completely inside it as he used the rag to clean it out. There was a lot of blood suctioned out of this mom and some pooled around her uterus, so the doctors rung the towel out several times.

When the bleeding slowed down, he began his suturing. I saw three c-sections from start to finish that night and this doctor seemed the most meticulous with his suturing. He repaired her uterus layer by layer. And when he was finished he stopped to examine it to see if there any areas bleeding. He continued to cauterize and stitch until there was no more bleeding outside of her uterus.

So… this is the part that blew me away… When they had finished suturing and cauterizing, the doctor rotated the uterus forward (toward her public area) and put his hand along the side of the uterus and lifted it up. The best way I can describe it is to say that it looked like a translucent membrane and, inside of it, I saw a small, oblong white-ish thing about size of a green grape. I asked my team lead if that was her ovary. I had always wondered how the female anatomy stayed put. Diagrams leave much to be desired when illustrating the grandness of this part of the woman’s body.

I was standing less than six feet away observing, but couldn’t be sure until I looked more closely. That was when I saw a long tube across the top of the membrane less than the width of a macaroni noodle. That was her fallopian tube. The doctor lifted the membrane up again, and I saw it… It looked like HER UTERUS HAD WINGS. The visual was intense for me. What a gracious Creator.

It literally looked like her uterus could take flight. In that moment, I imagined something between Batman and Superman. I considered the power that was packed inside of this sister’s body and the fact that she had the ability to nurture a life inside her body. I contemplated how the functions were so amazing and how within a few months, her Fallopian tubes would once again resume their function of delivering eggs from the overaies to her fabulous uterus.

That was when I saw them bend the Fallopian tube, take suture thread and wrap it around and around the crimped tube as tight as they could. Next, one of the doctors grabbed the tip of the bent tube, while the other snipped the end off and cauterized it. The doctor holding the clipped end held it up and showed it to the mom. The repeated the same process on the opposite side with the doctor again showing the mom. It took me a moment, but then I realized that these symbols of what so many have adored for its Creatress abilities, had completed a journey. She had just had a tubal ligation or as we say in layman’ terms, she had her tubes tied.

After the tubal ligation, The doctor inspected the uterus again and folded it back into the mom’s body. Layer by layer, the doctors began to repair the open wounds. First, with the muscle, working in reverse layer by layer until he reached the top layer of skin.

Since the first day, I have see the same procedure done to birth babies into the world more than 10 times. I only see the “wings” when there is a tubal ligation, but I never forget the gift we have been given as women. I have several friends who focus on womb care. I believe along with others that the woman’s uterus is always trying to help us know how we are doing and coping in the world. I even have friends who have had hysterectomies who talk about how they still experience cramps and discomfort as if their uterii are still there, even though they have been removed, because the power of the uterus is so potent.

These experiences have truly increased my appreciation for the work that so many do that seeks to support the physiological aspects of a woman’s body. It really is a lot to ponder and consider.