Heaven Sent

Baby Emma came into the world on this day four years ago. Although, maybe it was four years tomorrow. No one is quite sure if it was the first or the second of June 2012, only that she arrived very quickly… and that the next day her mother was dead.

Arriving at HOH

I was volunteering at the orphanage the day the tiny baby arrived. Dressed in a purple taffeta dolls dress that was too big for her little limbs and wrapped neatly in a chitenje and big blue blanket. Her father had ridden for eight hours, with his mother sitting on the back of the bicycle holding Emma, to come and ask for help. Emma was twelve days old. Her family could not get her to drink the cow’s milk that one of their neighbours in the village shared with them. They could not afford formula. Sitting in Agogo’s lounge room opposite the grieving family and sleeping baby, I was brought to tears. And it was in this moment, as the cliché goes, my life changed forever.

The arrival of little Emma signaled a shift in my understanding of some of the issues faced in Malawi. It cemented my relationship with the orphanage and the vision that one day these children might not end up in an orphanage, instead living their days with their family because their parents weren’t dying from illness, child-birth, malnutrition or disease. The arrival of Emma also brought a purpose back to my life. For the first few days of her arrival she was in my care, until we could arrange another caregiver for her. The first 24 hours were touch and go. She slept almost the entire time and was barely taking in any formula. After twelve days of life she weighed less than 1.5kg. One afternoon, while struggling to feed Emma, my sister suggested using a syringe. We filled it up to 5mL and squirted 1mL in her mouth. She cried out and in doing so gulped the liquid down. We did it again. And finally she latched her little lips around the syringe and guzzled the entire 5mL.

Bath time

Curling up with Emma that night in bed, the smell of soap and milk lingering on her skin, I listened to her breathing. Unable to sleep, in case the soft little puffs of air suddenly stopped. My heart ached. It ached for the loss of a mother who would never see her baby grow up. It ached for a little baby who might not survive until the morning. It ached for all the children I’d met and spent time with at the orphanage who shared a similar story to Emma, or in some cases, far more horrific stories of their own arrival into the world.

That night, my heart also ached for myself. As the intricacies of my life were thrust into the spotlight of my consciousness to finally start to deal with, I realized that I needed to care about something again. I’d fallen off the rails at home: I’d left a few relationships in the space of a couple of years; been in a domestic violence situation; I’d lost an incredible friend to a plane crash; and I drank enough everyday to keep the grief, hurt and memories at bay. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the most pleasant drunk person either. I’d turned into someone I no longer recognized and I couldn’t stand the person I’d become.

Another favourite chill out spot

Maybe Agogo had sensed this and that was his reason for bringing little Emma and I together. Maybe it was God. Or the universe. Or whatever greater force it is that is out there orchestrating these moments that ultimately change our lives. Whatever it was, I’m grateful for it. I am grateful that four years on Emma is healthy and happy and loving life.

Emma 3 years

While we live in different countries, and I don’t get to visit as often as I did in her first two years of life, Emma and I will forever be linked. She may not realize it yet, and every time I do visit I have to work to regain her friendship and trust, but Emma inspired a dream that will, one day, improve the lives for lots of other babies and children in Malawi. Each year a team of dedicated people, that grows daily, come together to change the lives of women and children in Malawi. Firstly, through the sewing project to teach secondary school graduates sewing skills that could allow them to generate income, which led to the sanitary pad project, and now the Emergency Baby Home. Each step has been devised in partnership with the young women of the orphanage, providing them with support to make the choices in their lives. The Emergency Baby Care Home is not just a place for orphaned babies to live, as ultimately the next generation of young women would like to live for a long time and watch their children grow old. It’s a safe space for women to meet, to learn about pre-natal and ante-natal care, nutrition and health for women, and baby care. It’s a safe space for babies whose mothers perhaps cannot look after them because the mother needs support and care herself or the baby comes from a particularly vulnerable situation and requires high-needs care.

By the time Emma grows up, hopefully she will have the opportunity to choose for herself how the rest of her story goes. Hopefully she will be educated and able to step up and question the choices available to her. Deciding what is best for her future and re-writing her families ending, so that she too doesn’t die in child-birth leaving a baby motherless in this world.

Emma 19 months

Happy 4th birthday Emma. May your life continue to shine brightly upon this world. xx

If you would like to help mothers in Malawi to live long and healthy lives, or babies – like Emma – in emergency situations please consider donating to the Emergency Baby Care Home fundraising campaign.

em and em

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