Ida was only 22 when she delivered her fourth child, Merelina. At that time, she was living in Mozambique and Merelina was assisted into the world by a traditional midwife in their village. Immediately following the birth, Ida bled heavily, but the bleeding slowed and she appeared stable. So, rather than seek medical help, Ida stayed in the village breastfeeding and caring for her newborn. Two weeks later Ida developed shortness of breath and it suddenly became clear that her health demanded urgent attention. Initially the family took her to a traditional healer who nursed her with herbs, but she did not improve. From there, her husband’s family took her across the border to Mchinji District Hospital in Malawi. Ida died at the hospital before receiving any treatment. Desperation and grief mixed. The family lived in deep poverty and could not afford formula for Merelina. After losing Ida they feared losing Merelina. The midwives at the hospital referred Merelina and her family to Joyful Motherhood for assistance. Joyful Motherhood only serves babies within Malawi, so Ida’s mother-in-law who lived in Malawi agreed support her father in caring for the newborn. And Merelina’s father moved to his mother’s village with his three other children.
Nurses immediately began visiting Merelina in her maternal grandmother’s home. They taught the family how best to care for Mereina, how to prevent infectious diseases, the importance of sleeping under bed nets, when they should seek care at a hospital, and how to prepare and nourish her with formula. During those early months Merelina grew well. At six months, nurses began providing porridge to supplement the food she started eating. At eight months nurses noticed that her growth deviate from the normal expected trajectory. This is common in households suffering food insecurity. Once a child’s diet transitions from milk to solids, they begin to suffer the hunger experienced by the rest of the family. Nurses educated Merelina’s family on the types of local foods they could add to her diet to improve her nutrition and the frequency of meals. Once again Merelina began to grow and develop normally. Over the monthly visits nurses watched Merelina learn to sit, then crawl, stand and walk. Merelina was finally discharged from the program just before her second birthday.
Most people in Merelina’s village where she lives with her grandmother and her father never expected her to survive. The experience of people in the rural areas is that babies inevitably die without a mother’s milk, regardless of the care and love provided. Merelina’s survival was a victory not just for her family, but for the entire community. Today Merelina’s grandmother continues to support her son in caring for Merelina and siblings (ages 10, 8 and 4) while he takes whatever job he can find to support them all financially.
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