Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Haiti post earthquake: how motherhood changed my experience

In 2010 I found myself in Haiti post-earthquake on assignment as a TV correspondent. While there, I witnessed a mother visit a health clinic with her infant. With an interpreter’s help, she told the doctor that her child was sick. After checking the baby, the doctor explained that the child was not sick, but malnourished, meaning that the baby wasn’t getting enough food.

New Hospital in Drouillard, Haiti. Photo courtesy Yann Libessart/MSF.

The mom sadly stated that she had a low milk supply, while desperately asking for advice. The doctor recommended adding beans to her diet for increasing her milk supply.

The mother started to cry, “Beans? I cannot even afford corns.”

At the time, I was working for DaAi TV, a non-profit Chinese TV Network operated by Tzu Chi Foundation, the largest charitable organization in the Chinese-speaking world. They sent me to Haiti to cover the relief work after the 2010 earthquake. The Tzu Chi Medical Association, also part of the foundation, works closely with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Port-Au-Prince. There, hundreds of seriously wounded victims kept coming to us, and people who still had four limbs—like the mother and her baby—could hardly attract the attention of our delegation of journalists among the masses of wounded people after the devastating earthquake.

MSF Hospital of Drouillard, Haiti in 2012. Photo courtesy Yann Libessart/MSF.
The earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010 left an estimated 230,000 dead, 310,000 wounded, and 1.5 million homeless (these numbers are currently disputed by a US government report, fyi). During the 17 months since the earthquake, MSF has opened five hospitals and fought a massive cholera epidemic throughout the country, an ongoing fight as MSF continues to treat patients for cholera as of May 2011.
In the past, I jumped from disaster situation to disaster situation to report. I did my job, and moved on to the next story. However, it wasn’t until after I had become a mother myself two years ago, that I began to reconnect to the story of the Haitian mother who sadly couldn’t afford beans. 
I’ve been trying hard to recall the child’s appearance: He must have been tiny, probably with thin arms and legs. He must have been starving and dehydrated. His lip was probably dry and his cry was probably weak. The formula from Doctors Without Borders might have helped them cope with the emergency, but couldn’t support them forever. How are they doing now? Could the child even have survived for three years?

My heart aches every time I think of them. I regret not giving the mother and her baby more attention when I was in Haiti. I am ashamed.

From my experience, I’ve realized that becoming a mother can really change the way a woman looks at the world.

I met many moms in Haiti. Moms with malnourished babies. Moms who walked miles with sick children under a scorching sun to clinic stations for help. Moms who lost their children in the earthquake and took responsibility to raise their grandchildren. And teenagers who had been sexually assaulted in tent cities and forced to become mothers at a very young age.

In fact, 61 percent of births worldwide are assisted by qualified medical staff. In Haiti that number is only 5.6 percent, and a woman’s chances of dying from obstructed labor, eclampsia the effects of malaria or other conditions increases without access to medical care.

I learned from Doctors Without Borders that in crisis situations like this, mothers, especially those who are pregnant, can face extraordinary challenges. In recent conflict settings where they have taken action, their teams conducted more surgeries for life-threatening pregnancy complications than for war wounds.

The saying goes that there are three kinds of people who run toward disasters: cops, firefighters, and reporters.

I was a disaster and criminal reporter for 10 years, and I could handle reporting on the toughest of situations. I ran to them. But the birth of my child forever changed my career path in a new direction. I am now a parenting and education columnist who also writes children’s books in scattered hours.

I probably will never get to go back to Haiti (or the other places on the globe where I have covered disasters), but as a mother, I feel that I have become even closer to the mothers I met along my journey. And I have become a loyal supporter of organizations like Doctors Without Borders. It’s a way I can help mothers like those I met in disaster areas from home and without physically running to the next natural disaster.

Will you join me today?

This post is provided through a special collaboration with BabyCenter’s Mission Motherhood™ and World Moms Blog to empower women everywhere to have safe and healthy pregnancies and babies. Photo Credit to MSF.

To-wen Tseng is a World Moms Blog contributor, wife, mother, previous TV reporter turned freelance journalist who also writes children’s books in wee hours. To-wen regularly contributes to World Moms Blog, Moms Rising, and Taiwan’s Commonwealth Parenting Magazine. She is also the author of “Xiao-Hong the Anchor Girl,” “Summer Days with A-Fu” and two other books, all in Mandarin Chinese.”

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