By Barb Arland-Fye
While reflecting on a message of hope written in an Advent booklet, I picked up my parish’s quarterly newsletter, The Lighthouse, and read the story of a Haitian baby that gave flesh to the Advent reflection.
Dieunalson Sanon was born Oct. 1 in Grand-Bois, Haiti, with a bilateral cleft palate and lip, and was admitted to the ServeHAITI Health Center. Staff assisted baby and mother and made arrangements for them to travel to Port Au Prince to get registered for a surgical clinic. The mom received instructions and one special bottle with which to feed her baby boy. She was asked to return to the health center for weekly check-ups. That didn’t happen, until a group of ServeHAITI volunteers arrived in Grand-Bois to help out at the health center.
When the mother returned to the health center with Dieunalson, he weighed barely more than his birth weight. He was listless and did not attempt to eat or even cry, reports Liz McDermott in The Lighthouse, the quarterly publication of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire. Liz has long been involved in ServeHAITI, a group of volunteers committed to working in solidarity with the people of Grand-Bois.
Liz says the volunteers arranged round-the-clock feedings and worked with the mom to show her how to encourage her baby to take the bottle without choking. Little Dieunalson responded and had gained two pounds during a recheck at the Port Au Prince hospital. That meant he would most likely be strong enough for the life-saving surgery.
But the part of the story that caused a catch in my throat was Liz’s explanation about why the mom initially couldn’t follow through with the health center’s request for weekly check-ups.
Here was a 23-year-old mother who lived at least an hour’s walk from the health center, temporarily abandoned by the baby’s father, struggling to deal with a congenital defect that carries a huge stigma in Haiti, especially in the rural areas, Liz says. Furthermore, “Feedings are scary. The babies have a tendency to choke frequently. With a cleft lip and palate on both sides it’s almost impossible to keep them from aspirating milk into their lungs. It’s difficult enough to feed them in daylight, let alone the darkness of a hut in the middle of the night … This poor mom became overwhelmed and simply lost hope her baby would live,” Liz writes.
The volunteer nurses assured the mother that her son’s condition wasn’t life-threatening if he could survive to have the surgery. They helped her care for him, and that’s when she saw the first “glimmer of hope” since returning from her initial trip to the Port Au Prince hospital.
Liz says this story reminds her once again, “that I have no right to judge, but rather just hold them all up in prayer.”
I am struck by the merciful actions of the volunteer nurses. They didn’t judge the mother; they reached out in love to a fellow human being. They transformed her outlook from despair to hopefulness. Mercy and hope: two elements that will be intertwined this Advent Season when we also celebrate the Year of Mercy (beginning Dec. 8).
The booklet that enriched my appreciation of Liz’s story as I prepare for Advent is called “A Season of Mercy,” an Advent 2015 booklet of Daily Reflections, Practices & Prayers. David M. Knight wrote the booklet for Twenty Third Publications. I picked one up in Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Do an Internet search of the title to get the booklet.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)