From Sun Jan 18 10:15:06 2004
Date: Sun, 18 Jan 2004 08:49:48 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 17993: (hermantin)Miami-Herald-Midwife easing grief in Haiti (fwd)

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Date: Sun, 18 Jan 2004 09:19:46 -0500
From: leonie hermantin <>
Subject: (hermantin)Miami-Herald-Midwife easing grief in Haiti

Unsung heroes: Midwife easing grief in Haiti

By Donna Gehrke-White, The Miami Herald, Saturday 17 January 2004

Yolaine Biennevil knows her life’s mission: She is to help Haitian women give birth safely.

Her own mother died in childbirth in Haiti, delivering twins at age 44. At the time, Biennevil was only 19. She still talks of the shock she felt of not having a mother and then later the anger exploding inside her, because as a nurse and midwife, she knows her mother died unnecessarily.

So Biennevil, now 40, has taken it upon herself to go to Haiti three to four times a year to help poor women give birth safely. Sometimes she helps deliver up to 30 babies a week. She also saves thousands of dollars a year of her own money working as a hospice nurse to pay for desperately needed medical supplies.

No matter that she rents a modest Miramar house.


Nor that she and her younger daughter, Kiera, 8, share a bedroom because the supplies have overtaken Kiera’s room.

I do it in honor of my mother, Biennevil says. I don’t need a big house, the big car. I have found my mission—I would lose myself if I was not helping these women.

She does it out of her heart: She’s a special lady, says Diann Gregory, a professor of midwifery at Miami Dade College where Biennevil graduated.

Some Miami Dade midwifery students have gone with Biennevil on her Haiti trips to help deliver babies. Gregory says the hospital staff in Haiti works very hard and they do well with what they have available. Biennevil’s help allows them to stretch resources even further, Gregory says.


The need is definitely there, says Dr. Rudolph Moise, a noted Haitian-American activist who goes to Haiti on medical missions.

Facilities are so overcrowded that he has seen two pregnant women in one hospital bed, he says. Those are the lucky ones, Biennevil says.

Many Haitian women are so desperately poor they can’t even afford the equivalent of $10 to give birth at a teaching hospital in the Chancerelles neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Maternit√© Isaie Jeanty, where Biennevil volunteers. (It is the hospital where her mother died.)


So they give birth unattended outside the hospital—sometimes on the grassless grounds.

Even women who can afford maternity care aren’t always guaranteed a safe delivery, Biennevil says.

Often, hospitals in Haiti don’t have supplies and facilities to give proper care, Moise agrees.

What still haunts Biennevil is how she once ran down the hospital hall desperately looking for a suction cup to help a newborn choking and gasping for breath.

When she finally found one, it was too late. The infant had died.

In the United States there would be a suction cup in every room, she says.

But in Haiti there aren’t even basic supplies, such as gauze, disposeable coverings for the birthing tables or even blankets for the newborns.


Biennevil tries to beg such items from friends who work in hospitals or medical offices. She even asks her older daughter Rebecca, 22, in the U.S. Army Reserves now stationed in Georgia, to try to find some. Biennevil herself buys medical supplies and equipment.

To emphasize the need, Biennevil holds up a broken jagged-edged instrument the Haitian hospital staff had to use during the birthings.

Look what they can’t throw away, she marvels. We take so much for granted.


Her mother, she adds, would probably be alive today had she given birth in the United States. She would have been considered a high-risk pregnancy, closely monitored and given medicine to avoid complications. But in Haiti, she died from hemorrhaging, Biennevil says.

But even before her mother’s death, Biennevil knew she wanted to help people.

She had seen how her mother struggled through pregnancies only to lose the babies just a few months after their births. Only three of her mother’s 13 children lived to adulthood.

I was the first who survived, says Biennevil.

Her mother wanted her to be a doctor and scrimped to save to send her to the United States. There, she thought, Yolaine could study to become a doctor.


Biennevil knew becoming a nurse was more realistic and so earned her nursing degree at Miami Dade College.

Later she went back to earn a midwifery degree—what she calls her true calling.

I feel that the profession choose me, she says.

That feeling has been reinforced with her trips to Haiti.

The new moms are so grateful. Sometimes their families bring her a watermelon as a present; sometimes the new father catches a big fish to present to Biennevil.

When people give what they really can’t afford to give, that’s really giving, says Biennevil.