Escaping, Care, and Calling It Out

For David, Guerlande, and Naomi hospital imprisonment, much as they tried to avoid it, was becoming how birth is experienced in their family. What do they and others do to resist the valuations on human bodies that become devaluations of life itself?

Guerlande remembers an incident that always stirred her emotionally. It makes her voice quiver when she recounts it.

 I remember in 2017, there was a woman called Stefanie, that woman, she had come to give birth. She came from Port Au Prince but ended up in the hospital in Cap Aysiyen. She ended up owing $12,000 Haitian Dollars for the birth. The baby was born far too early. He just needed oxygen to stay alive. So much oxygen. So he could survive. Because he was born at 7 months. And Stefanie didn’t have money to pay the hospital, when they held Stefanie in captivity, they held her for a good long time, held that baby for a long time after they wracked that bill up. And this is something I saw myself, ok, its not something someone told me, I saw it with my own eyes because I was training as a nurse at the time. I was doing staj in pediatrics at the hospital. I’m telling you so you know that all the things I am saying are things I saw, not things people told me. So, while that arrived, Stefanie entered in neonatology, she crashed a small pill of medicine, a medicine that makes babies sleepy, she put it in a little milk, and gave it to the baby, so that the baby would sleep, would get really out of it and stop moving about and fall asleep. And in that same spot, she crushed that pill and gave it to the baby. Then she took that baby and put him in a black bag. She had brought that small black bag with her, acting as if she was bringing dirty clothes back to her house to clean them. She then ended up getting through the hospital gate, she fell, lost a sandal, and just kept running. Left her sandal behind her. The guards saw something was up and they went to chase her but she got away.  She was saved.”

Guerlande, June 2020

The threat of incarceration for an undetermined amount of time evokes both direct and indirect acts of resistance in hospital-prison. Mothers may form bonds with guards and nurses who secretly work to free them, they may protest to hospital administrators for their freedom or for alliances with other incarcerated mothers for food and water. Mothers loving on and caring for one another-tending to each others needs, and building kinships is an act of resistance. 

Naomi explains:

“When we are at the hospital, we put ourselves together, we ate together, when they had food, they would send me some, and when I had any, I would share with people who never had people bring food with them. There are some people who never had families bring them any food at all. On occassion, when I was held inside, someone would bring me food, but others had no one. I shared with them.

Naomi May 2020

These methods of self-care and care-for-others challenge a system intent on objectifying mothers as debt. Naomi was not able to be tended to as she had come to expect of a post-birth experience, hospital-prison prevented her from accessing the healing acts of love and protection that normally come with the birth of child. Butshe found a way, in the midst of that, to not simply survive, a tremendous act of resistance in and of itself, but to share food, to engage in the act of socially nurturing another. In spite of that she couldn’t have her confinmene,t that she was facing mental torture, that her body was experiencing post-labor hunger, in spite of being famished in a body driven to produce milk. At a time when birthing people should expect to receive the most social care and attention, they were totally removed from that care, and the fact that they found it in themselves to care for one another, on top of themselves, and their own babies, is nothing short of revolutionary. 

Naomi, Likna, and others also resist their situation in the language that they use. Instead of the term “detention,” mothers and their kin call the practice “Kidnapping” “Hostage-Taking” and “Enslavement”. In the current political and economic climate of Haiti, where everyday citizens live under the pervasive threat of kidnapping-for-ransom schemes, the reference to kidnapping is a serious one. Rather than a flippant comparison, as some critics have termed it, the use of “kidnape” and “otaj” (kidnapped and hostage) to describe their situation is a powerful condemnation of the practice by women, their families, and their information networks. They use it to speak of the things that lie behind the veneer of hospitals, and mission hospitals especially, as institutions dedicated to wellbeing. Behind the important scenes of life-saving medicine and desperately needed aid, these mothers see nefarious pressures that value bodies as ways of extracting capital willingly or unwillingly.  

These strategies of escape, sharing, care, and speech are deployed over and over by mothers and others around them in hospitals. In the face of profound dismemberments of care, that birthing people use care as a practice of refusal and resistance. Using these acts they create themselves and each other as precious, soulful, meaningful human beings. This effort is the most sustained challenge that has been launched against hospital detention in Haiti: that women create themselves and one another as meaningful beings in the face of a beeping, buzzing, slicing collection of instruments used to extrude capital out of bodies.   

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