Our van rushed through the crowded streets of Port au Prince. We were trying to get to our destination of Mother Teresa’s Children’s Hospital by 3:00. We had been told that if we didn’t arrive by 3:00 we would not be able to get inside. A new driver and a wrong turn pushed us past our desired arrival time and now we were pulling in front of the building, our arrival time 15 minutes late. Maya our guide got out of the van and knocked at the door I held my breath while at the same time saying a silent prayer, ‘Father, if this is your will today, please get us in,” that instant Maya began waving for us to come inside, prayer answered our group climbed out of the van and headed through the door.
We had been told we were going to be helping with the malnourished babies today and that our job would be changing their diapers and feeding them. I was excited about this because I love babies and in my mind I envisioned us cuddling a cute little baby as it happily drank a bottle. What I didn’t know yet was that it was not going to be anything at all like I thought it would be and nothing could have ever prepared me for the helpless feeling that was waiting for me on the other side of the door.
We entered the room and the first thing I noticed was the white metal baby beds that were lined up head to foot in rows, and each one had a baby about the size of a newborn in it. In the first bed we were met by a cute little smiling faced baby boy. His little smiling face just warmed my heart and took a bit of the edge off my shock at what I was seeing beyond him in the other beds.
To me this hospital looked out of date and not at all like any hospital I had ever been in in my life. There had to be over 60 babies here and though I never actually counted babies, there were two full rooms of babies each with at least 25 or 30 babies per room. There room was all white with nothing in it that showed that this room was for children, other than there were baby beds. The baby beds were very small and they seemed really unsafe. They had metal bars and there were no bumper pads to block the the baby’s heads from being bumped. I also noticed that the babies who were able stand were much taller than the sides of the beds, and the first thing that went through my head was how easy it would be for one of these little ones to fall out head first onto the concrete floor below. Another thing I noticed was that the babies didn’t have blankets though I am not really sure a blanket was needed because there wasn’t any air conditioning or even a fan to stir the hot muggy air.
There was one nurse in the room and she was busy mixing cereal and filling baby bottles with milk. We were given the task of changing each baby’s diaper and then to feed them. We spread out and began going down the rows almost in an assembly line fashion. I began checking diapers and eventually reached a bed with a baby boy sitting in it. He lifted his arms up to me, I reached in and picked him up, his tiny little body seemed to mold to me as he pressed in close seeming to almost melt into my arms. I was unprepared for the panicky feeling that washed over me as I suddenly felt shocked at how feather light and tiny he felt in my arms. I was frozen in disbelief as I stood there holding him in my arms, unable to let him go, and I also got the feeling that he did not want to let go of me either. Another silent prayer went up, “God, he’s so tiny, so precious, and so sick, please do something!’ Only a few minutes ago I was looking forward to coming here and now I felt sick to my stomach wondering how could this be possible that a child could be so small and so sick?! And right now this somehow made me I feel really small too.
Holding back the tears that wanted to spring forth, I held on to that precious boy as long as I could but I also knew there were other babies waiting to be changed and fed too. I finally peeled him off my body, laid him down and began to change his diaper. I gently took his tiny cloth diaper off and once again I was in shock at what I was seeing. his tiny legs were like fragile sticks, his tummy looked somehow bloated and to big for his body that was nothing but skin stretched over a tiny skeleton. I was smacked in the face by the fact that this baby was one of those children I have seen on the television commercials, the ones who are starving. I wanted to close me eyes to what was before me right now, oh how I did not want to see this!!
So many times I have I prayed for God to open my eyes and let me see what he sees and now he had my eyes fully open wide and all I wanted to do was shut them tightly back up again. I wanted to go back and live in my happy bubble of a life where all babies were cute and cuddly and full of life. My mind kept saying this can’t be true, you must be dreaming, but unfortunately this was not a dream, this was the harsh reality right here in front of me and it hurt my heart. Tears wanted to come but I would not let them out and I finished changing his diaper and fed him a bottle. I sent prayer after prayer up for him and as I fed him he fell asleep in my arms.
Just as I lay him down in his bed the nurse handed me a tiny little baby girl. To my surprise she felt even tinier than the boy had been and she just lay in my arms listless and gazing off at nothing. The nurse then handed me a bowl of cereal that resembled thick gloppy white paste and motioned for me to feed the cereal to her. As soon as I realized she wanted me to spoon feed a listless baby I was once again uncomfortable. This baby looked as if she was barely able to keep her eyes open, much less eat from a spoon. What if she were to choke?
I had no choice but to do what I was told so I did it even thought my motherly instincts were telling me this was not possible and also not safe for the baby. I was worried she would choke as I put the first spoonful of food in her mouth…. I fearfully watched as she began slowly sucking the cereal off the spoon and to my surprise she was able to swallow it!
For the next 10 minutes I fed her tiny spoonfuls of cereal. When she seemed to be finished I told the nurse she was done eating. The nurse lifted up the baby’s shirt, felt her tummy and pointed at the bowl motioning for me to feed her more. More?!? I am a mother I know when a baby is full and this baby sure seemed to me to be full! I was not the one in charge here today so reluctantly I gave her another spoonful of cereal. She held it in her mouth for a long time and I kept thinking to myself that at any second she would spit it out or start to choke, but instead she eventually swallowed it down. This went on for another 10 minutes or so and I began to realize with each spoonful she was beginning to become more aware of her surroundings and she was starting to eat a little faster. Eventually she finished the whole bowl of cereal and I lay her down to change her diaper. While I was changing her she began playing with a small pink stuffed animal that was tied to the rail of her bed and she even began to smile. While I was changing her diaper I noticed that she had a cloth bracelet on her leg with her age written on it and it said she was 8 months old!! How could this be possible? I knew she cold not weigh more than 8 pounds because she was the size of a newborn! I thought I knew what poverty was before today, but now here I was once again still having my eyes opened even further, WAY much further than I ever wanted them to be open and once again my heart was hurting.
When I finished changing her diaper I started to move away from her and on to the next baby, but just as I started to walk away she raised her arms stretching them up to me, I reached down and touched her precious little face and said goodbye because I knew I had to move on. As I started to walk away I looked over and her hands were still up and now she stuck her bottom lip out and began to cry. That was the end of me, I could not take it, the next thing I knew I had scooped her up and I held her in my arms rocking her telling her it was going to be okay.
As I rocked her she kept looking me right in the eyes, and in turn I could not tear my eyes off hers. Her little brown eyes were mesmerizing and I wondered what she was thinking about just as she reached out her tiny hand and placed it on my mouth. Once again my heart was melted to mush. There was no way I could put that precious girl down now, so I found a stool and sat down on it and just held her until she finally went to sleep, the whole time she continued to look right into my eyes
I am not sure how but somehow fell in love with that little girl as I sat there holding her. After she fell asleep and I lay her down in her bed to move on to the next baby I realized that each baby in here needed someone to love on them. I felt an overwhelming feeling of love for each one of them. that day and there were so many babies and so few of us. My heart was tearing into shreds and at the same time the feeling love was almost overwhelming as I gazed around the room and realized that all of the ladies who were here today were all loving up on these small little babies. At one point I caught eyes with another of the ladies in our group and I could tell by the look on her face she was also feeling the same heartbreak I was feeling and I also knew she loved them too. I am pretty sure her eyes spoke for the way the whole group was feeling inside.
We had been told that these babies were malnourished. I don’t know a thing about malnutrition but as our time went on that day I realized that many of the babies had fevers, runny noses, and diarrhea. I am not sure if that is part of being malnourished or if they were also sick with something else too. Either way these were the sickest children I had ever seen in my life.
As I was sitting there in that room I remembered that I had read on Compassion International’s website that 9 million Children never make it to their fifth birthday. I wondered how many of the babies in that hospital room would not make it to their fifth birthday. After I came home I looked up the facts on Haiti and found out that 76 out of every 1000 children in Haiti do not live to see their fifth birthday. It breaks my heart knowing that a lot of the babies in that room may become one of the children in those statistics.
As I left the hospital that day I felt heartbroken and I will admit I was a little upset with God that he didn’t just snap his fingers and fix these babies but then later that evening God reminded me of my last visit to Haiti. On that visit I had visited one of Compassion International’s Child Survival Programs (CSP). Mothers can come to the CSP and while there they are taught how to take care of themselves during pregnancy and they are also taught how to take care of their babies after they are born. At the CSP the moms learn about proper nutrition, and are given a safe place for their children to learn and grow. Their children also receive medical care and immunizations. Most of all at the CSP the mom’s and children learn about Jesus and they have the opportunity receive the hope that only He can give them.
You can watch the video below to find out more about the CSP
That day we were not allowed to bring cameras or take pictures in the hospital, but even though we were not allowed to do that, a picture will be forever etched in my mind of what I saw that day.
If you would like to sponsor a child in Haiti or do something to help you can click this link – Haiti and get more information.
Thanks for reading and have a blessed day,