Sunday, March 27, 2011

3 lbs of life!

Yesterday, just as the twin birth was coming to an end, I met two sorrowful faces in the hall. They rattled on and on in Dinka, and gestured toward a bundle one held in her arms. My translator was off working elsewhere, so, I  unwrapped the stained sheet to find a very small and very cold baby. 

She was obviously preterm. 

The woman holding her was old, wrinkled, and withered. Was she the mom? I couldn’t tell.

Once my translator arrived, I learned that the mother of the child died a few minutes after birth due to a massive hemorrhage. She had delivered at home, unassisted-- except by family.

Despite her prematurity, she was breathing well. Her vitals were normal, except for her temperature. She was 34.3 degrees (94 degrees Fahrenheit). I had to take it twice before I believed it.

The woman holding the child was the grand-mother, and she looked every bit the part. Thin, sagging, and with puffs of gray about the edges, she must have been 60 plus. (Mind you, that is NOT old in the States, but here, it’s ancient!)

She had already tied the band of cloth around her middle in mourning. (This, I’m told is done after a death to signify mourning.) It was her little girl that had died in those desperate bloody minutes after birth. She was sorrow edged in despair, and slightly splattered in hopelessness. So, I prayed for her. 

As I examined the baby, I wasn’t surprised to see she weighed only 1.4 kg (3lbs). She was thin and had frail bones. I almost feared moving her. (When I did a Ballard’s Score, she was only 30-32 wks gestation, or roughly 7 months.)

Since she was so cold, glacial really, I continued to monitor her while the grand-mother did kangaroo care. Fortunately, in the span of only 45 mins, her temperature stabilized.

She, also, sucked enthusiastically at the sugar-water we gave her by syringe. This was a baby who wanted to live. I kept telling them that, but they didn’t seem convinced.

When I told them, all they had to do was find a wet-nurse or get formula, and the baby would live, they argued with me.

I think they decided to bring the baby to the clinic to die. I really do. Every time I told them she would live, so long as they kept her warm and fed her properly, they’d shake their heads in disbelief. I was confused.

I called Sabet in for help. Was I misunderstanding? Did they want this baby to die? If so, give her to me! I’ll keep her.

He laughed at the impracticability of such a suggestion while trying to reason with the women. They were hopeless. They could see no way of helping her. They knew no one who could give this baby milk. They had no money for formula. (A month’s supply of formula costs roughly $12 or two and a half days salary.)

They refused to go home. The grand-mother explained that she didn’t want to be there to watch her child’s burial. (I couldn’t figure out why, but I didn’t try to, either). She asked to stay at the clinic, and seemed to indicate that she’d stay until the baby died.

The problem was, the baby wanted to live. She had no infection, no signs of distress, and now her temperature was stable. All she needed was food to live. Wouldn’t they go talk to their family about feeding her?         -- No. We’ll stay here until she dies.

I went back to Sabet. I wanted to take the child from them and strap her to my chest. I wanted to feed her myself and help her live. Why were they giving up so easily?

Part of me understands that grief played a role in it. Another part of me imagined their confusion. I’m sure they have never seen a baby so small and frail, live before. They must have thought I was crazy for suggesting she would.

After Sabet spoke to them for the second time, he agreed that the women were planning on letting her die. So, he promised to get them formula if they would just feed her. They agreed.

Explaining the details of how to mix formula correctly took time, but I think they got it. They also promised to bring the baby back for check-ups. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Please pray for them all. Pray that this little girl gets the food she needs to not only survive but to thrive! Pray that as she grows, the family would see what a precious miracle she really is! God has put air in her lungs and life in her body; He has a beautiful plan for her life! May she one day grow to know His love! Thanks.

By the way, they named her ‘Akec’, which means ‘born to a dead mother’. 

Postscript:
During our conversations, I found out the the woman who died was apparently very sick all throughout her pregnancy. The family said she had 'yellow fever', but everyone claims that; it’s rarely the case. The symptoms they described were stomach pains, swelling, and green eyes. I think she may have been anemic, due to some underlying chronic liver problem. That is the best explanation I can come up with for her hemorrhage, and subsequent death. But then again, I’m guessing. They said the woman who died was seen only once, and that was at a different clinic. They told her she didn’t need medicine, and sent her away. Pray that the women of this community would all come for prenatal care, deliver at the clinic, and seek postpartum care. Pray that one day the name ‘Akec’ would never be given again. Thanks.