Haiti’s maternal mortality, stillbirth, and neonatal mortality rates are the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite inherent risks, the majority of women still deliver at home without supervision from a skilled birth attendant. The purpose of this study was to elucidate factors driving this decision.
We conducted six focus group discussions with women living in urban (N = 14) or rural (N = 17) areas and asked them questions pertaining to their reasons for delivering at a facility or at home, perceptions of staff at the health facility, experiences with or knowledge of facility or home deliveries, and prior pregnancy experiences (if relevant). We also included currently pregnant women to learn about their plans for delivery, if any.
All of the women interviewed acknowledged similar perceived benefits of a facility birth, which were a reduced risk of complications during pregnancy and access to emergency care. However, many women also reported unfavorable birthing experiences at facilities. We identified four key thematic concerns that underpinned women’s negative assessments of a facility birth: being left alone, feeling ignored, being subject to physical immobility, and lack of compassionate touch/care. Taken together, these concerns articulated an overarching sense of what we term “isolation,” which encompasses feelings of being isolated in the hospital during delivery.
Although Haitian women recognized that a facility was a safer place for birthing than the home, an overarching stigma of patient neglect and isolation in facilities was a major determining factor in choosing to deliver at home. The Haitian maternal mortality rate is high and will not be lowered if women continue to feel that they will not receive comfort and compassionate touch/care at a facility compared to their experience of delivering with traditional birth attendants at home. Based on these results, we recommend that all secondary and tertiary facilities offering labor and delivery services develop patient support programs, where women are better supported from admission through the labor and delivery process, including but not limited to improvements in communication, privacy, companionship (if deemed safe), respectful care, attention to pain during vaginal exams, and choice of birth position.