Really, this is all the women’s fault.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by that.
More than thirty years ago, John and Beth McHoul arrived in Haiti from the United States as missionaries. As part of their work, they established an orphanage – a Children’s Home – to care for the never-ending stream of orphans and vulnerable children due to poverty and maternal death. During the years that Heartline operated as a Children’s Home and Adoption Facilitator, many children were placed into their forever families all around the developed world.
In addition to the Children’s Home, they also established a Men’s Education Centre, a Woman’s Training Centre, a Prison Ministry, and countless other programs to serve the poor and marginalized of Port au Prince. The Children’s Home was one part of the ministry puzzle. In 2006, Troy and Tara Livesay joined the team at Heartline in partnership with John and Beth.
But as the years went by, it became more and more obvious especially to Beth and to Tara: no matter how many children they cared for and lovingly placed into new families, there were always more motherless or abandoned children there to take their place.
It was a never-ending problem. More and more ministries arrived in Haiti and they all did what Heartline was already doing: the formula was familiar.
- Start a children’s home to care for the abandoned and motherless of Haiti. Offer wonderful institutional care.
- Find new adoptive parents for those children.
- Create happy families.
- Congratulate ourselves on caring for the orphan …. while never asking the hard questions about why these children were orphans in the first place.
More orphanages, more orphans, more orphanages, more orphans.
By living and working in the community, Beth and Tara witnessed the devastation poverty-stricken mothers or family members experienced after relinquishment.
And it was clear: mothers in Haiti were dying in childbirth from preventable and common complications. Even if they survived, the system wasn’t set up for a healthy mother-child bond.
The women of Haiti wanted their babies: the system was stacked against them.
Unable to provide for their children or ill-equipped for parenthood, families were often choosing to relinquish their children for adoption out of desperation and despair – even if a parent was still alive.
As beautiful and redemptive as adoption was, it was often born out of preventable tragedy and preventable loss. Birth control and family planning was unavailable and unreliable.
Beth and Tara began to wonder – what if we made women the centre of this story?
What if there was a way to keep families together? What if there was a way to eliminate the need for orphanages altogether?
What if we gave all of the energy we’re giving to caring for orphans towards making sure these children never even became orphans in the first place?
Like I said, I blame the women.
They had a hunch that if they cared for and supported expectant women right from the early days of her pregnancy, through her delivery, and then afterwards with everything from education to economic opportunities to medical care, they would begin to see the need for orphanages entirely disappear.
Tara and Beth wanted to end the need for children’s homes like theirs in the first place.
They wanted to see the women of their adopted home thriving and empowered.
I mean, if you’re going to dream, you might as well dream properly, right?
In 2007, Heartline established their first Prenatal Care Program – consisting mainly of education and community support – with twenty pregnant women while still operating the Children’s Home. The dream for a maternity centre was for “someday” in the future.
Beth and Tara found their great passion in life: pregnant women and new mothers. They devoted themselves to their clients.
“Someday” arrived sooner than expected.
In 2010, the earthquake struck Haiti and everything changed. Like most of the island, Heartline was devastated by the earthquake. The days and weeks afterwards were filled with uncertainty, lack of resources, danger, and suffering.
In the aftermath, each of the orphans currently still at the Children’s Home had their adoption visas expedited by the United States. Their new families arrived to whisk them to safety and home.
For the first time in years, the Heartline Children’s Home was really and truly empty.
At this point, the women knew that they couldn’t go back to the old ways anymore.
Someday was here. Status quo was over. It was time for disruptive justice.
Tired of settling for band-aids on big wounds: the women wanted to participate in the redemption of mothering in Haiti and this was the time.
At the age of 60, Beth McHoul went back to school to become a certified midwife.
Tara soon followed her.
Did you catch that? At an age when most women are winding down, Tara and Beth hit the gas.
Shortly afterwards, Labour and Delivery Services were officially added to Heartline. They added Beth Johnson (known as KJ) to their team. Beth and Tara hired certified nurses from within Haiti. They brought in OBGYNs from the United States to establish medical protocols and provide support and direction. They hired local staff as caregivers and support staff, employing dozens of Haitians for the new venture.
Since the establishment of the Maternity Centre, hundreds of babies have been born at Heartline. Of those babies, only one child has been relinquished for adoption. Every other baby has remained in his or her mother’s care.
Did you catch that?
Those are real women who didn’t die in childbirth, real children who are growing up in the love and care of their mothers.
This is what justice for women looks like in public, friends.
Slowly, at the rate of about ten additional women each year, the Maternity Centre has grown to the current capacity of 70 women in care at a time. Thanks to an initiative with the amazing community at Together Rising a little while ago, in just a few days, a community of women managed to add a second floor and additional classroom space, almost doubling the impact of the maternity centre. Again – those ladies, bless’em.
Now Heartline provides prenatal care and classes covering a range of topics from preparations for delivery to breastfeeding to infant care and attachment. They also provide delivery on site. Equipped to handle most common complications, their work reduces maternal mortality and infant morbidity rates by a staggering amount. After birth, women are moved into the after-care program where they are monitored and supported in community with other women for more than forty days. Working to normalize attachment and nursing with our mothers, Heartline is committed to ensuring a mother’s connection to their child, empowering them to believe that they are the best mother for their child.
If women are need in of support to create a sustainable income for the care and raising of her new baby, they are able to refer to the Heartline Education Centre for training and opportunities. Troy and the rest of Heartline also works with the husbands, boyfriends, and partners of the women in the program to ensure that the family unit is healthy and sustainable.
And guess what? It turned out that Tara and Beth’s initial hunch was right though – since Heartline’s inception -with only one exception – all Heartline mothers are raising their own babies. It turns out that mothers in Haiti did need simple availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality care in order to keep their families intact.
I give honour to Tara and Beth all of these women who worked alongside of them over these past ten years.
I honour every woman who showed up for a pregnancy test or an IUD or a delivery or a breastfeeding class.
This whole gorgeous redemptive holy thing is their fault. And for that we praise God!
Ten Year Celebration
Today is an important day, my friends!
Today is the tenth anniversary of the Heartline Maternity Center! To celebrate, we’re going to affirm what they do with our money and our voices.
Now, I have zero chill on this topic as you know. I’ve spent a lot of time with Heartline over the years and I’ve had a front-row seat to their legit work. I have spent time in the actual maternity centre. I’ve been a supporter and now I’m all-up-in-their-business as a board member. Troy and Tara are the real deal in every way and I trust them implicitly. This is good ground for the seed you want to plant for the future of women in the world.
There is a Hebrew concept called “tikkun olam“ that has caught my imagination over the past few years. It translates as “healing of the world” and it is considered the work of all of us. It is the work we are called to do, it is how we repair the world. I love this way of seeing the world: it gives me work to do that is sacred and necessary and daily.
Now Tara also happens to be one of my best and dearest friends in the world. We talk almost daily. I also love Troy like he is my actual brother. Knowing them has ruined me for concepts and airy ideas, I want down in the dirt real life justice.
One of my favourite “Tara-isms” is “less jaws, more paws.“ She wants less talk about justice and more doing justice. Less talk about how we value women especially the marginalized and the poor – and more actually valuing of them with our money and our prayers and our time.
Less jaws about healing the world and more paws doing the work of it for real.
Less jaws, more paws.
That’s what this celebration is to me.
Heartline is one tangible way that I help to heal the world. I can’t save everyone and I can’t do everything – neither can you. I know it’s easy to get bogged down in the universal generalities of justice. The cure for my despair has been the hope of participating in actual real healing. I can’t change the story for every woman but I can participate in the healing of the world here in this small maternity centre in Port au Prince. I know the names of these women. I’ve witnessed their work and it’s probably the holiest thing I’ve ever seen with my own soul.
Let’s launch Heartline Maternity Center into the next ten years of making the world right.
Less jaws, more paws.
Here’s how you can help:
- Donate to Heartline right now. $5, $25, $50, $100 – whatever you can give, please give today for this special celebration. Any amount you can give will be so meaningful, I promise.
- Post about this celebration on social media. You can share my blog post by clicking the share buttons at the bottom of the page. The hashtag we’re using is #CelebrateFamily.
- Share the amazing video featuring Beth and the Heartline origin story with your friends and family. Here’s the direct link.
- Follow Heartline on social media – here’s their Facebook page and their Instagram.
- Sign up as a prayer partner for the ministry. This work is no joke and your prayers matter deeply.
All images courtesy of Heartline Ministries Haiti.