“Leave it! Just let her die!”
I jumped up off of the bench, Bella still cradled tightly in my arms. “No, no, you can’t say that!” I told the new mother who had spoken these words.
Her little girl was born the day before weighing 800 grams (1 lb. 13 oz.), and she was still fighting for life. I had never once seen the mother come near her child. Upon the hospital’s suggestion that her daughter be transferred to another hospital for better care and a greater potential for survival, the mother had responded in utter despair, willing her child to just die. This explained why the mother would not come near her child. She was already resigned that the child would die, and was preventing herself from further anguish by refusing to even hope for her child’s survival.
I held out Bella to the mother. “Look at her,” I said, “She’s beautiful, strong and healthy, but she was born as small as your own baby, in fact, within a few days after birth, she weighed only 700 grams (1 lb. 9 oz.), but she grew. Your baby can grow. God can take care of her, please believe in that.” Along with a nurse, I tried to convince the mother that she had to hope and do the best she could for her child. I walked over to her baby’s isolette, and opened the door. Your baby needs your touch, needs your love, the sound of your voice, the smell of your skin. You can help your baby.”
“Leave me alone and leave it to God to decide,” the mother replied, and walked out the door, leaving me with her child’s hand wrapped around my finger.
It’s hard to comprehend, but in a world of endless poverty and survival. This mother was refusing better care, because she knew she could not afford it, and rather than take a chance that the hospital would work to help her, she gave up. She simply assumed no care would be provided when she couldn’t pay for treatment; and she would rather God just take her child than have to deal with the stress.
I found her later in the hallway, sitting alone, and I tried again to console her and encourage her. When she told me money was the problem, I again tried to tell her to believe there could be a way. Though I would not and did not tell her, my thought was, that I or Love Alive would ensure the baby’s treatment was taken care of; however, once again, the mother told me bitterly, “If God can do all things, then let Him, and leave it be.”
I wish I could be shocked at this attitude. I wish I could say, I was calling the local Children’s Services Hotline to inform them that this baby was in danger of neglect, but I’ve seen too much in the neonatal unit of my local hospital in the past months.
You see, in the months of daily visits, holding sweet Bella, I’ve seen a lot, I’ve heard a lot. Sometimes I don’t know if God brought Bella into my world for me to love Bella, or to bless my life for this time with Bella, or to bring me to a new window, to gaze through, and see a whole new demographic desperate for love, nurture, counseling, medical advancements, knowledge, and care.
F-i-v-e babies died that day.
There were 8 infants fighting for life when we started the day, and by nightfall, there were only 2 very worried mothers (alongside me) wondering how their own babies had made it through the day, and if they could survive the next.
Our hospital is not large. Our community is semi-rural, full of dirt-roads, open-air markets, villagers who ride taxi-bicycles, and farm other people’s fields to make a living. The maximum capacity of our hospital is 90 people, so you can understand that the number of babies represented here is large for a small hospital, and speaks nothing of what is happening in more populated hospitals in this country.
I walked into Bella’s room, and there was a dead baby lying on the counter. A nurse looked at me and said flatly. “I think its dead.” The oxygen tank was still feeding oxygen into the little body, but I placed my hand on the baby’s chest, held his tiny hand, and stroked his cheek. Cold. Still. Lifeless. Gone.
“Does the mother know?” I asked. No, she didn’t. They would tell her soon. “But she’s expecting it,” the nurse shrugged.
I looked around the room, “Where is Baby Costance?”
“She died this morning.”
I had felt that death. Day after day, I would walk by that little one’s crib and stroke her cheek, hold her little hand and sing to her as I sang to Bella. I never once saw the mother in the two weeks the baby was alive.
“That’s because, she was preparing for her baby to die. We told her not to get attached, because the baby might not make it; that’s why she never came in and held her,” the nurse responded to my contemplations.
Talk about a cultural shift, from my own culture where every potential medical advancement is available, and when no cure is known parents and doctors and nurses fight for the best trials and any possible treatment to extend life and find health, where parents cling to every second with their baby, inform friends and even strangers through blogs and internet pages, and get national prayer chains going with every hope for the miraculous. Yet here, where medical treatments are limited, and death is as expected as life, the very opposite occurs. Rather than hope and risk the wound, stay away from the child, and wait and see what the potential for survival is.
I couldn’t help but think about neonatal development and the power of the mother child bond, the need for nurture, for physical closeness, for human interaction, and yet, my ideologies were continents away from my actual surroundings.
I knew, rather thought I knew, who the third deceased infant was.
“The twin, he’s gone too? ” I asked.
I knew each baby well, often answering for doctors who came in before the nurses could look in their charts to answer dates the baby was born or who the mother was. It was not hard to look around the room and notice which crib yesterday held a baby and now lay empty.
“Wow! He’s still alive?” The doctor had laughed as he exclaimed the day before upon entering the nursery and seeing the tiny twin still breathing.
“Why would you say that?” I asked? Shouldn’t we keep every hope of life?
“Eh, the other twin died at birth yesterday, this one will surely die now too; it’s just a matter of time,” he responded.
I watched the monitors flashing warning signs, “Warning, temperature dangerously low!” “Attention: heart beat abnormal.” “Low oxygen.”
Aside from the oxygen mask, the other warnings were unheeded. Whether we have no capabilities to address the problems being shown on the screen, I do not know. I only know that as the warning lights and beeps kept flashing, the doctor and nurses continued about their work and charting. The heart line going flatter.
“The twin? Yes, him too, but we didn’t count that one. We knew he would die, so that didn’t count”
Make that 4 babies today then.
By the end of that night, one more of Bella’s nursery fellows died, leaving the nursery quiet with three babies clinging to life, and leaving me with no false-expectations that in this country a baby should be expected to survive.
I’ve inquired as to why in such a small community, we should have so many babies born with birth defects, malformations, severe prematurity, and poor heart and lung development. The local physicians attribute the problems to four specific causes. 1. Poor nutrition. 2. Lack of prenatal care and awareness. 3. Attempted self-induced abortions via poison, and 4. “traditional medicines,” a term that encompasses traditional roots, herbs and concoctions passed down through ancestry and including witchcraft. Often the treatments given to expecting mothers are actually harmful to the developing baby rather than helpful, yet people are more prone to believe what families and locals advise them rather than what is medically or scientifically proven.
I don’t really have answers. I don’t have solutions. I don’t have even a solution. This is why the days like these well up in my heart and seep out in my frustrations and become my accepted realities of all I am powerless to change.
But tomorrow, I’ll wake up, and when the daily activities the “musts” that need to be done are finished, I’ll walk to the hospital, open the little isolette, and cradle that beautiful little miracle in my arms, and breathe life, and songs and love and prayers for blessings, angels and God’s favor on her, all the while watching, and when I can, I’ll provide diapers, soap and lotion for another baby whose mother has no ability to obtain such simple necessities, I’ll show a mother how to use a disposable diaper, share some of Bella’s clothes with another preemie mom whose baby has been naked, and tell another mother how important It is to hold her baby and talk to him.
Maybe, just maybe a little sun shines through.