Bohoc pre-and post-natal clinic.
Women attending the post- and pre- natal clinics in Bohoc, a village in northeastern Haiti run by PhilomèneThelemaque. Photo by Jean Mario Cleophat.

BOHOC, Haiti — Katiana Louis was a few days shy of her ninth month of pregnancy when she was deported from the Dominican Republic last November. Days after the arduous trip, she lost the baby. 

“The conditions under which Katiana traveled might have affected the death of the baby,”  said Philomène Thelemaque, a midwife who examined Louis five days after her arrival in Haiti.

Louis, 24, was among 165 pregnant women, out of 800 women total, that the Dominican Republic deported in November 2021. Earlier that month, the country closed down access by Haitian migrants to most healthcare services, limiting availability only to emergency care. At the time, the United Nations expressed “concern” over the action towards pregnant women.

The United Nations called on the Dominican Republic, “to prevent and suspend actions that violate the human rights of the Haitian population.” 

Louis, 24, had moved to the Dominican Republic after her husband, Geslen Borno, 36, worked there on and off for five years. Unable to find a job in Haiti, “I decided to bring Katiana to San Juan de la Maguana for the first time, a year ago,” Borno, a carpenter, said. 

The couple began to settle in. Louis occasionally played with her 17-month-old toddler as she made breakfast for her husband, who ate his morning meal during work breaks.

When Borno’s work card expired, the pair did not worry too much about it since his job as the lead carpenter was going well. But when they heard rumors of Haitian migrants being deported, they considered returning to Haiti. They even talked to neighbors about purchasing their small refrigerator, but their plans were cut short. 

On the morning of October 25, just before Borno took his work break, he received a call from friends. Authorities had gone to his home and left with his partner and child — to deport them. 

He headed to the jail.

 “I wanted to offer the officials the 800 pesos ($14) I had in my pocket to get them to release her,” Borno said. 

Instead, he, too, was detained. 

The entire family remained in jail overnight. The toddler, no longer breastfeeding, was given something to eat. The parents had nothing. 

Haitian-Dominican border
Haitian-Dominican border in Grand-Bois, Haiti. Photo via Creative Commons

Early the next morning, Dominican officials loaded the family onto a jail bus, already full with Haitians being deported. The bus stopped two additional times to pick up more people. 

There was no place to sit during the hot and humid three-hour ride. As they jostled for space to stand, Louis felt squeezed on all sides. Occasionally, she was able to sit, but still had little room with her protruding belly. 

The bus crossed the border into Haiti at Belladère around noon. The family was released 27 hours after being detained. The entire time, they went without food or water.

To get to their native home in northern Haiti, the family sold one of their phones to pay for transportation.

“In the village, she saw a traditional birth attendant,” Borno said.

Louis’ condition worsens

Five days after arriving in Haiti, Louis reached the official nine-month mark. Louis had visited doctors in the Dominican Republic on a regular basis and the sonograms were good. That day, a Saturday, Louis felt pain in her lower belly and waist. She began walking to the mobile clinic in Bohoc, an hour away by foot.

Cathedral of San Juan de la Maguana
Cathedral of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic Photo by Escape2606 via Wikimedia Commons

It was on that road that Thelemaque, heading to the clinic, saw Louis. She offered her a lift, saying, “I have a soft spot in my heart for pregnant women.” 

Thelemaque, trained by Midwives for Haiti, is a former instructor at its midwifery school in Hinche, which aims to reduce maternal and newborn mortality across Haiti. Thelemaque runs the post- and pre- natal weekend clinic in Bohoc with another midwife and some help with multivitamins and transport from Midwives for Haiti. 

Most Haitian women give birth with the help of traditional birth attendants, a role often passed from mother to daughter through the generations. Thelemaque’s Saturday clinic both educates the mothers and helps identify complications such as pre-eclampsia or eclampsia, conditions treatable in an equipped hospital. 

When Louis told Thelemaque of her pain, the midwife moved Louis to be first in line. Thelemaque couldn’t hear the baby’s heartbeat and sent Louis for an ultrasound at a hospital in Pignon. That’s where Louis learned of her baby’s death. 

Louis remained in the hospital for some days. 

Weeks later, back in Bohoc, Louis’ face was downcast during a video chat. She remained quiet, as Borno relayed their experience to The Haitian Times.  

“We had no papers, we were illegal,” Borno admitted. “But because of our government …. it helps to have a president who can negotiate well with the D.R. It’s a problem on both sides.” 

The couple plans to remain in Haiti. At least for the near future. 

Louis continues to care for her toddler. Borno is looking for another carpenter’s job. Thelemaque carries on with her Saturday clinics.

J.O. Haselhoef is the author of “Give & Take: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti.” She co-founded "Yonn Ede Lot" (One Helping Another), a nonprofit that partnered with volunteer groups in La Montagne ("Lamontay"), Haiti from 2007-2013. She is a 2022 Fellow for the Columbia School of Journalism's Age Boom Academy. She writes and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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