A weekly visit, a nutritious meal and the deepening of relationships. Over nine months, trust builds and a bond forms—a bond with the women who stand by her side, who hold her hand, who breathe with her, and help her bring her baby into this world safely. After the calamity and torrent of giving birth, then there is the peace—the peace of time, the peace of space, the peace of bonding and nurturing this new life. These are all luxuries afforded pregnant women and new mothers in many parts of the world, but often a necessity out of reach in Haiti.
But that is the beauty of the Heartline Maternity Center. Heartline Ministries staff and supporters help protect mothers before and during birth and provide critical bonding time in the weeks and months after. This is all part of a proven strategy to strengthen the capacity of families and communities to care for children.
The founders of Heartline began in the late 1980s working with a children’s home to place children into families in North America through adoption. Over the course of several years and multiple conversations with birth families, it was clear that many babies and children were being relinquished due to maternal death and poverty.
According to Heartline, “Many babies and children become orphans due to inadequate or absent medical care for pregnant mothers. In many cases, simple procedures and proper care could have prevented these deaths and thereby the orphans. There are many orphanages in Haiti. There are very few maternity clinics.”
Through prayer and reflection, Heartline founders John and Beth McHoul began to transform the work of Heartline with the creation of the Women’s Education Center and the Maternity Center, to care for mothers and support and empower adults who are then able to support their families.
The Heartline Education Center and the Maternity Center were formed out of a desire to help Haitian children and their mothers in the best way possible. This idea is central to one of the Faith to Action Initiative’s 7 Guiding Principles, which states, “The best way to meet the needs of vulnerable children is to strengthen the capacity of their families and communities to permanently care for their well-being and every effort should be made to do so.”
From 2007 to 2009, the Heartline Maternity Center was built. They began with 20 mothers, and now serve 70 pregnant women at a time. Heartline has two full-time Haitian registered nurses, three full-time midwives, and three graduates of the Midwives for Haiti program who serve as Skilled Birth Attendants. They have a busy birthing room and provide prenatal classes and post birth child development classes each week along with a shared meal. The staff at Heartline get to know and build trust with each mother. They work with first-time moms and “many-time” moms who are at risk for a variety of complications during the birth process.
The focus on the health of the mothers is centered on Heartline’s work to strengthen Haitian families and prevent children from being orphaned through holistic care. A mother surviving pregnancy is the first step in preventing a child from being orphaned and helping a vulnerable child in danger of being orphaned.
A recent story from the Heartline Maternity Center illustrates this work. The Heartline Maternity Center began working with Philancia when she was 14 weeks pregnant. Heartline medical staff reported, “At the age of 41 and in her fifth pregnancy, Philancia was at high risk for complications including postpartum hemorrhage and preeclampsia. These life-threatening issues are among the top five causes of maternal death in developing countries.”
Philancia received excellent care and prenatal education throughout the course of her pregnancy. She safely delivered Phillip at the Heartline Maternity Center in February and was afforded bonding time in the days after birth. She could return home to her husband and continue caring for her other four children, as well.
As in Philancia’s case, Heartline provides needed care throughout the course of a Haitian mother’s pregnancy. The medical and midwife staff monitor a mother’s health and are there during delivery. Mothers come to Heartline because they want to survive childbirth, and they want their babies to survive too.
Heartline not only provides personal care for pregnant women, but also provides child development classes in the months after birth. The community building at Heartline Ministries speaks to the core of another of Faith to Action’s 7 Guiding Principles: Local solutions help communities address their own needs. The weekly visits during pregnancy and the post birth classes offer an important community of women supporting women in Haiti. Philancia has learned much since she began coming to Heartline, and she has much to share with other women in her community. “I especially want to share the information you teach on how to know if your baby is sick. It’s important for moms to know that,” Philancia says.
In addition to caring for mothers and providing for safe births, which keeps families together, Heartline is addressing the fear of childbirth that is prevalent in Haiti. “They all know someone who has died in childbirth,” says Tara Livesay, Certified Professional Midwife and Director of the Maternity Center. The weekly meetings and meals at Heartline allow for community to happen organically. Heartline creates space where expectant mothers can hang out, get to know each other, share birth stories, learn to trust and build confidence, and ultimately deliver safely. Week after week, women come to Heartline after learning about it through word of mouth, and community is being built. Heartline Maternity Center has helped to safely deliver more than 650 babies. It is the belief of the staff at Heartline that the best way to care for orphans is to prevent maternal death from happening in the first place.
The Faith to Action Initiative champions the concept that children grow best in families. Through the work of Heartline Ministries Maternity Center, more mothers can survive and care for their children. The local community support for mothers and families in Haiti continues to increase through their program, and the bond that forms strengthens and grows.