Compassionate, Gentle Births in Haiti
By Ken Heatwole, MD
A good cause. Passion. Compassion. High motivation. Extremely motivating. Delicate negotiator. Put all of these into a lady who is already vivacious, likable, and mild-mannered and out comes Nadene Brunk.
In 2000, I was on the medical mission team that introduced Nadene to Haiti. Granted, as a Certified Nurse Midwife, she was already primed to be acutely aware of women’s health, especially as it relates to pregnancy. But the impact of that visit and the seeds of vision that were planted went well beyond her own expectations.
The reality of what she witnessed and the statistics of Haiti – 75% of births unaided by skilled attendants, high infant and maternal morbidity and mortality by largely preventable causes, almost nonexistent prenatal care, early childhood disease and death rates, and rampant postpartum disease – were more than enough to impregnate the vision of help for the women of Haiti.
Through her own vivid thought process and with the help of others close to the cause, Nadene birthed Midwives for Haiti in 2006.
The primary goal of MFH is to educate and train the women of Haiti in the skills of midwifery and place them in areas of need. We are preparing to graduate our third class and are now interviewing candidates for the fourth. The graduates are already embedded into various rural communities and have been highly successful. In good modern mission philosophy, this program is for the Haitians, in strong collaboration with local Haitians, and to be, ultimately, largely Haitian driven. MFH is barely a toddler yet, but its growth is dramatic and largely due to Nadene.
Passion – The plight of the pregnant Haitian woman and how to care for her are daily on Nadene’s mind and lips. Without hesitation, she will enter into fervent discussion on the statistics and emotions of Haiti. Her e-mails of research, organization, and various personal reflections are sent at all hours of the day and night.
Compassion – There is a certain amount of chaos and aggressiveness during labor and delivery in Haiti. One of the lesser, but no less important, goals that Nadene fosters in this project is her own philosophy of compassionate and gentle care during birth. She models this approach, urges all of the volunteers to do likewise, and actively teaches this approach to our Haitian staff and students. And outside of the delivery room, her compassion and caring highlight the importance of developing and maintaining relationships.
High motivation – To make a project like MFH work, sustain, and grow, there must be leadership that is greatly motivated and driven to see the big picture, yet focus also on the necessary details. The future for MFH may always be cloudy. Nonetheless, since day one of this service to Haiti, Nadene has believed strongly in her vision of better health care for the women of Haiti and has pursued it with unbridled gusto. In the most positive sense of the word, Nadene is obsessed with the success of this project.
Inspiring – Nadene’s leadership and belief in a program that is right and good in our world excite and move those around her. She has motivated into action: midwives across the United States and Canada to volunteer through insight sessions at the national midwife conference; university professors to bring their students for training and experience; the Haitian Ministry of Health to see MFH as a model for the rest of the country; the support of women’s groups through impassioned testimonials; churches with worship sermons; and the MFH board and her family as we become more invested in the cause. MFH has even captured the attention of the United Nations, the wider international midwife community, and, hopefully with upcoming negotiations, the Bush-Clinton Foundation.
Negotiator – Nadene has developed into a masterful and delicate mediator. And there has been no lack of opportunities – contracts with a challenging Haitian government, hiring and firing of Americans and Haitians alike, working with the personalities of 250 midwives that have been placed in volunteer positions, settling contracts of our Haitian staff, collaborating closely with the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, and working with major benefactors like the Bon Secours Healthcare System and the International Rotary Club. She takes each challenge, often processing it out loud with those close to her, and, even in the most sensitive and potentially explosive scenarios, creates an outcome of good will for all.
While the cause of MFH has many contributing to its growth and success, it is fundamentally Nadene’s vision. She is the current heart and soul of this mission, but has the wisdom and intention of raising this “child” of hers into an adult mission that can sustain itself regardless of an individual or the few.
Ken Heatwole, MD, is on the board of directors of Midwives for Haiti, as well as its medical director. He also practices family medicine in Mechanicsville, Virginia. He is husband of Virginia ’79, son of John Paul Heatwole, class of ’51, and grandson of long-time Eastern Mennonite employee Ammon Heatwole (deceased).