Tuesday, September 20, 2011

the expected face of death

On my last visit to the orphanage, before we moved back to the states, I held a little baby girl that I expected would die.  I knew somewhere deep inside that hers was the face of death.  I remember whispering to her that day.  I whispered that Jesus was waiting for her, that it was okay.  That soon her pain and suffering would be over and that she would be home, truly home.  And completely and utterly loved.  Her name was Zawadi, meaning gift in swahili.

Zawadi, one week old and 3.5 lbs.  

She had come to the orphanage a little over a month before.  Her mother had died during birth and she was premature.  There was only a very small chance she would live and in most situations, babies like her would die immediately.  There are only three orphanages in that area of eastern DRC.  Two of those refuse babies, they are simply not equipped to handle newborns in the first place, let alone premature newborns.  The Save the Children Orphanage took her in, however.  She was less than 2 kgs.  She weighed 3.7 pounds.  The orphanage is next to a hospital.  They would do the same thing that the orphanage would do, they didn't have baby incubators or warming units.  The orphanage swaddled her in as many blankets as they could, they fed her full strength formula every 2-3 hours, and they took her temperature every hour for the first month.  And they held her.  All of this would have been impossible a year ago.  She would have died immediately.  A year ago, there was 2 mamas with 37 babies/children.  The babies were fed watered down formula three times a day.  They were left in their beds as the two women frantically ran around the orphanage doing the best they could.  But, in the end of May when little Zawadi came, it was a different place.  There was a chart on the wall for marking the times she ate and her temperature.  She was bundled and held close whenever possible.  Thanks to you, she was shown love and given food.  She was given a fighting chance at survival in the harshest of beginnings and places.

However, she didn't live.  I found out today that she died the day after I was at the orphanage.  I don't know how I wasn't told.  I think perhaps everyone thought I knew and that they had told me, it's also possible that death is expected, especially for a little one like her.  This whole time I had thought she was living against all odds.  We just received our quarterly updates on all the children with their photos two days ago and I eagerly scanned their photos.  Not only because I miss them all so much, but because I desperately needed to see her face, to have the physical proof that she lived.  I didn't find her face or her name on the list.  And I knew.  I knew she had died.

Sometimes, you do the best you can, and it's not enough.  Poverty is too extreme.  She was too little and weak.  She had been sick the days before I came.  When I saw her that day, I knew she was still really ill, and I talked to the doctor about their treatment.  It was too late.  They did the best they could, but she was an orphan (too much was already stacked against her), and one that was never expected to live.
If you read this post, you will read about the day I visited her in July.  I was worried about her and one other baby.  The other little baby, Benjamin?  He is alive.  My heart is grateful in the midst of pain.

It's hard to sit in my lovely house right now.  It's quiet and tears fall.  I want to rage against it all, against all the unfairness in this world, all the poverty and injustice.  The mothers that die in birth unnecessarily. Right now there is a fine hospital close to where I live.  If I was pregnant and was giving birth prematurely, I would go there immediately.  The labor would be slowed.  Or I would give birth.  If I started to bleed to death, the bleeding would be slowed.  Most likely, I would not die.  My 3 1/2 pound baby would not be sentenced to die.  She would be put in an incubator and warmed.  If she had an infection, cultures would be sent, tests would be done, she would be given the appropriate antibiotics.  Most likely, she would not die.  If death came to either of us, it would be completely unexpected and utterly shocking.

Death in eastern DRC is not unexpected.  You expect that if you are going to give birth you could die doing so, and it isn't shocking when it happens.  1 in 13 women die in birth (USAID report, 2010).  If your baby lives, you expect that that newborn could die, and you aren't shocked when it happens.  Infant mortality has improved only slightly from rates that were at 92 for every 1000 live births in 2007 (USAID report, 2010).   If your baby lives, you expect that your child could be one that dies, and though you mourn her death, you aren't shocked or surprised.  Under five (years old) mortality rate is 199 deaths per 1000 live births (Unicef, 2010).  DRC is fifth in line after Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, and Somalia.  It's expected.  Horrifically expected.

Some days it seems so little.  To give milk, to provide salaries so there are more mamas.  Sometimes it feels like you are giving a little small light of hope in a huge world of darkness.  Yet, I try to remember the other seven babies that came at the same time as Zawadi.  Seven babies that were going to die too.  Maybe they weren't so little, maybe they weren't premature.  But their mothers had died.  A death sentence.  Those seven little ones are alive today.  And they are alive because of that little light of hope.

I want to post their pictures.  The seven little ones that live with hope every day.  And I know that our work is not in vain.

Each of these seven little ones still needs sponsors.  Would you consider sponsoring one of them?

Francine (she needs one sponsor at $25/month) 






(I think picture taking was done at nap time!)  

All these sweet ones (aside from Francine) need two partial sponsors at $25/month or one sponsor at $50/month.  Please consider partnering with us and giving them a fighting chance.  

Feel free to email me at hmulford at gmail.com or visit our website at www.tumainidrc.org.

Thank you.  

Addendum:  I forgot a baby!  There are actually 8 babies at the orphanage right now.  I forgot Mugishu!

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