Lending a helping hand in Haiti

Sequim resident Ann Marie Henninger has a passion for all things maternity.

Her interest in pregnancy and childbirth has led her to travel to Haiti in September to volunteer for a midwife training program called Midwives for Haiti that helps increase access to skilled maternity care in the region.

Henninger said in rural Haiti only 25 percent of mothers have access to a skilled birth attendant during childbirth.

She said the lack of skilled obstetrical workers makes Haiti the most dangerous place in the Western Hemisphere to be pregnant or a newborn.

The Washington Post reported Haiti’s infant mortality rate was 52.2 per 1,000 live births, according to a 2016 United Nations report. In comparison, the US rate was 5.6. The maternal mortality rate was 359 per 100,000 live births, as reported by the United Nations Population Fund in 2015.

Henninger said the possibility of death among mothers and their babies is something she is preparing for.

“I anticipate the potential death of mothers/babies due to eclampsia (high blood pressure) or hemorrhage, so that will be difficult,” Henninger said.

“If there is anything I can do to assist Midwives for Haiti in their mission or to serve moms, babies and families in Haiti, I will do it.”

When Henninger first thought about the volunteer opportunity, she said she did not think it was possible at the time with family life and other obligations.

“I dismissed it as something I could do later on, when the kids are grown and gone,” she said.

“Finally, I determined volunteering for two weeks would be an awesome way to celebrate and acknowledge my milestone 50th birthday.”

During her two weeks in Haiti from Sept. 1-16, Henninger said she is anticipating many challenges in addition to a language barrier between English and Haitian Creole.

She will be working with a translator Monday through Friday and said she has been taking lessons to learn Haitian Creole for a couple of months.

“I am confident there will be a myriad of challenges,” Henninger said.

“Among them the heat and humidity, lack of consistent running water and electricity, and language barriers.”

Henninger said she has had an interest in childbirth and pregnancy ever since her niece was born at home in 1978.

She earned her nursing degree in 1990 and her expertise ranges from working in Seattle Children’s Infant Intensive Care Unit, as a private practice lactation specialist, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with New Family Services at Olympic Medical Center and her most recent position as a nurse manager for three My Choices Pregnancy Resource Centers.

She also is a doula — a person that works with a hospital, birth center and home birthing families to achieve the birth they desire.

“I judged my skill set and passion for healthy pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and postpartum could be a good fit,” Henninger said.

“So it seems my passions will be well matched with the Midwives for Haiti mission.”

Heading to Haiti

During the two weeks Henninger will volunteer in Haiti, she could be assigned a variety of duties from working as a preceptor or care provider at the St. Therese Hospital in the maternity ward and postnatal care program, traveling to Cabestor to work in the birth center, teaching English, and visiting local communities and churches.

Henninger said working in a region with limited access to medical supplies is something she will have to adjust to.

“Working in a low resource country will certainly be distinctive from what I am used to here in the States,” she said.

“Contrasts may include lack of and inadequate (medical) supplies, sub-optimal sterility, births and exams taking place on dirt floors, working using a headlamp due to uncertain or no electricity, and so on.”

Henninger said her main goal is to help the Midwives for Haiti program in any way she can.

“My job is not to come in and take over (or) to tell them to do things differently or my way,” she said.

“But rather, to observe, listen, learn, be flexible and humble, offer compassionate care and offer to help however they need me, in whatever capacity that may be.”

She said she is excited about the people she will meet and the experiences she may have and believes she will learn more from the Haitian people than they will learn from her.

“I will very likely come home a changed person, impacted profoundly by all I see and do in Haiti,” Henninger said.

“I anticipate I will learn far more from the Haitian people than they from me!”

Henninger is asking for donations to help support the Midwives for Haiti program. Donations can be made at the fundraising site on YouCaring at https://www.youcaring.com/midwivesforhaiti-777605 or at any First Federal branch under Midwives for Haiti. Contact amhenninger@gmail.com for more information.

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