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In Haiti, a Life Gained in a Sea of Loss

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The late night hours were filled with panic, dread, and death.

It was midnight on January 13 in Port-au-Prince. Just seven hours earlier, a 7.0-earthquake shredded the capital, leveling whole city blocks and burying thousands in concrete tombs. But in the tragedy and destruction, one woman was fighting to bring new life into the world.

On January 12, Turlanje, 32, was nine months pregnant with her third child. Just before lunch, she started to feel the first pangs of labor. They continued throughout the day and then, just before 6:00 p.m., her house started to shake violently. "I did not know what was going on," she said. "It was not until later did I find out it was an earthquake."

As a result of the quake, her neighbor's house toppled over her two-room home, causing the roof to crash down. Miraculously unscathed, she and her husband emerged to find their neighborhood reduced to slabs of concrete and webs of rebar. Dazed, they joined the steady stream of people heading to the grounds of St. Bernadette's Church in Bolosse.

The baby was still coming and soon after they arrived at St. Bernadette's Church, Turlanje and her husband were forced to get their midwife. "Everybody was crazy," Turlanje says. "Even the midwife lost one of her children. But even in her loss, she took care of me."

Around 10:00 p.m., Turlanje realized she was going to have to deliver the baby in the yard of St. Bernadette's Church, amidst the panicking crowds, clouds of dust, and piles of rubble. "I was worried," Turlanje explained. "I was not expecting to deliver my child during a tragedy."

Despite her fears and the chaos that ensued around her, Turlanje pushed. And pushed some more. "I was suffering a lot," she says. "But I was helped by God."

She pushed and pushed until 1:00 a.m., when she finally gave birth to a perfectly healthy baby girl. They named her Gael, after the baby's father, Gaeton. "She was beautiful," Turlanje says, beaming.

Now nearly six months old, baby Gael hardly ever cries. No matter where they are, she rests contently in her mother's arms and watches the world pass by with wide eyes. Turlanje goes to church almost daily and wishes she could leave Port-au-Prince to live with her mother in the country.

haiti earthquake

After living in a camp at St. Bernadette Church for a few months, the family is now back in their two-room, block-like home in Bolosse. Half of their roof is still missing. "Life is difficult. My husband is not working," Turlanje explains. "We are just trying to survive."

Problems sadly not uncommon in Haiti, particularly as families try to pick up what was shattered in seconds on January 12.

But despite their troubles, Turlanje does not worry about medical care. Whenever she or her children need to see a doctor, Turlanje travels up the road to International Medical Corps' clinic at Bolosse, where they can receive care regardless of their financial circumstances.

"This clinic means a lot to [us]," says Turlanje, resting Gael on her knee. "Sometimes when our children are sick, we might not have the money to send them to a doctor. Now we can bring them here. Thank you."

haiti earthquake

It isn't only the health care that keeps Turlanje coming back. She also has a special connection to the place. Hugging the side of St. Bernadette's Church, the International Medical Corps clinic also marks the site where baby Gael was born six months earlier.

"I came here to this spot on January 12," she says. "Other people were crazy...[a]nd I gave birth to this child."