Ann Marie Henninger shares her experience after volunteering at a midwife training program in Haiti. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim woman tells of volunteering in Haiti during hurricane

SEQUIM — Ann Marie Henninger is already planning to volunteer with Midwives for Haiti again after returning from Haiti several weeks ago.

The Sequim resident, wife and mother of seven children returned to the U.S. in mid-September after volunteering her expertise in childbirth, pregnancy and lactation to Midwives for Haiti (MFH), a midwife training program that aims to increase access to skilled maternity care in the region.

Henninger stayed at the MFH headquarters in Hinche, where she was able to take part in a variety of activities, from teaching the program’s clinical director and education director how to do ultrasounds to performing newborn exams to helping with some deliveries and Cesarean sections, to name a few.

She said while she was there, she wanted to help any way she could, even in the smallest of tasks, such as folding gauze and rolling cotton balls to providing encouragement and compassion to women in labor.

“I wanted to be a sponge going into Haiti, and I felt like I was,” Henninger said. “Working for MFH was an honor and a pleasure.”

Henninger was in Haiti when Hurricane Irma passed over the region but said she knew about the hurricane before she left Sequim.

“I wasn’t not going to go,” she said.

She said the hurricane hovered there for a few days, and while she was “tying things down and preparing for the roof to blow off” at one point, there was some wind and rain, but the storm was relatively mild at her location.

Henninger learned about life in Haiti.

“It was eye-opening to be in Haiti and see the level of poverty that exists there and how resilient the people are as well,” Henninger said.

Henninger also said there was very little privacy for pregnant women giving birth — with several women giving birth in one delivery room — and the hospital had no running water.

“Everybody has an abundance of hand sanitizer we’re using all the time,” Henninger said.

Four babies were stillbirths.

“I think because of my own experiences with loss, it was important to me to honor those babies’ lives,” Henninger said.

She noted one of the big differences in pregnancy between Haiti and the U.S. was there was a lot less happiness revolving around childbirth.

“When I do births [in the U.S.], there is always a sense of joy and euphoria and relief,” Henninger said. “I can’t say that I witnessed a lot of joy.”

Henninger said after her experience working for MFH, she believes her biggest contributions there were teaching how to do ultrasounds, building relationships and facilitating goodwill.

The MFH program has made considerable strides in providing prenatal and postpartum services and care to women with the program’s mobile clinic and home visits, Henninger said.

“Women were not getting any care in pregnancy up until the time they delivered,” she said.

“It’s important to be following up with these moms and babies,” she added. “And that’s where I think I really saw the positive because I saw moms and babies with postpartum issues and we were able to help them.”

She said the mobile clinic and the home visits — which are new to the organization this year — also allows MFH to educate women and refer them to the hospital to get the health care they need.

Henninger plans to apply to be an MFH volunteer again in 2019.

“I want to go back to help further the work Midwives for Haiti is doing,” Henninger said.

“I want to go back and serve.”

To read more about Henninger’s experience, visit midwivesforhaitinurse volunteer.wordpress.com.

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Erin Hawkins is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at ehawkins@sequimgazette.com.

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