Dr. Betsy Wickstrom’s father never knew a stranger. While growing up in a Greek home on the East Coast where everyone was welcome and help was provided to anyone in need, Betsy instinctively embraced a life of service while nurturing a calling to become a physician. After her family moved to the Midwest when Betsy was in high school, she pursued her dream of becoming an OB-GYN and attended college and medical school at the University of Nebraska. Since then, she has not only made it her passion to care for women in high-risk pregnancies in her practice based in Kansas City, but also to teach Haitian women and their health care providers that they too can have healthy pregnancies and babies.
In 2003, Betsy was led to her purpose during her first trip to Port au Prince, Haiti, to teach medical students and residents. As she embarked on a tour of the national hospital, she noticed a ward filled with women suffering from eclampsia—a disorder that is rare in the United States because women are delivered with pre-eclampsia before they endure potentially devastating effects such as seizures, coma, brain damage, blindness, and fetal death. After Betsy noticed the helpless looks on the faces of Haiti’s bright young physicians, she knew she needed to find a way to deliver prenatal care that would prevent such tragedies from occurring again.
With assistance from Dr. Stan Shaffer, Betsy co-founded Maison de Naissance, a birthing center that provides economic opportunities for local women, a community health education service, and runs the busiest family planning program in the entire southern peninsula. Since then, her role has transformed from medical director to providing annual professional development and education, as the 100% Haitian staff now lead the programs at Maison de Naissance. Today, Betsy works from her home in Kansas City as president of the supporting nonprofit organization, Global Birthing Home Foundation, raising money and awareness while nurturing a new dream to plant birthing centers using the same model across Haiti and in other developing countries.
Betsy, the mother of two adult daughters, is clearly devoted to continuing her purpose in life. She jokes that Maison de Naissance is her “third daughter” and says it is wholly gratifying to witness the Haitian staff and community now directing and choosing beneficial programs for patients and families. Betsy follows the advice from Dory in Finding Nemo and just keeps swimming every day. There are days when she is certain the donations will dry up and the latest natural disaster will prompt the end of their work. But then she remembers the moment when she realized that Maison de Naissance was founded under miraculous circumstances. When it was time to find a property for the community birthing center she wished to build, Betsy pulled out a check that was tucked into her passport. It was originally written to support another program near Port au Prince (which the program was unable to cash). The amount on the check happened to be the exact amount needed to pay the back taxes and purchase the property on which Maison de Naissance now resides. “It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck to think about that moment. It was a clear mandate that this was the work I was meant to do,” Betsy adds.
Betsy has gained much from pursuing her purpose. “It’s impossible to measure the joy I receive when one of our staff sends a photo of a chubby, healthy baby with a beaming mother.” In addition, Betsy has learned patience, faithfulness, to give until it hurts, and then give some more. She offers sound advice for anyone who wants to pursue their passion in life. “Evaluate your strengths. You have been given them for a reason. For me, it was teaching. Who knew I would learn to be a passionate fundraiser? Not me! But if your strengths are leading you in a particular direction and then you feel that tug to take the next step, gather some like-minded people and discuss it. You don’t have to make a blind leap into the dark—research, learn, and talk it out. But when the light bulb comes on and you have that moment where you know this is what you are meant to do, move forward and ‘just keep swimming’.”
Mother Teresa once said, "The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it." Betsy is living proof that relying on faith, love, gratitude, and a passion for helping those in need has led her to realizing a purpose she is more than happy to fulfill because she too believes in miracles.
To learn more about Maison de Naissance and the Global Birthing Foundation, visit their web site at www.globalbirthinghomefoundation.org or find them on Facebook.
Vicky DeCoster is a Certified Life Coach who specializes in helping her clients move past obstacles, create a plan for happiness, and cross the bridge of transition to find a new and fulfilling direction in life. To read more about her and her practice, visit her at crossthebridgecoaching.com.