As I mentioned in the previous post, this time of year is especially perilous for young children and infants. Unfortunately, this became even more evident this past week.
Two of the women in my village, with whom I have become quite close, each lost a child. These are babies that I have held and carried, so the reality of how succeptible to sickness and death these children are has hit hard.
One of the infants that passed was from a set of one month old twin boys. When I first met the twins, I was shocked at how extremely tiny and fragile they were for their age. Their mother explained to me that she was having trouble feeding both of them as she could only breastfeed from one side as her other breast was infected.
Sidenote: Breasts are a very common sight here in Mali. Since they serve the purpose of feeding a child, there is no 'taboo,' so they are whipped out and exposed very regularly.
It is my guess that one of the reasons a twin passed was partly due to malnutrition. The mother had bought a bottle and supplementary powdered milk, but when she showed it to me, it was an ordinary sugary powdered milk, not an infant formula. I tried to reinforce that breastmilk was the best source of sustinence for the babies, but...
When I visited to give my condolences, I noticed that the surviving twin look emaciated. As he stared at me with his sunken eyes, it was both frightening and heartbreaking. I could clearly see his protruding ribs and hip bones- it seemed as if he wasn't carrying an ounce of fat on his tiny frame. I have never ever seen a skinnier baby. For a month old, he looked like a dying, decrepit old man.
The baby was still having trouble breastfeeding, but this time, thankfully, the mother showed me baby formula. I got the hint that she didn't know what to do- as she couldn't read the instructions on the cannister- so I became her guide. I showed her how much water to boil, how much formula to add, and explained that she had to wait and check that the mixture is not too hot before feeding the child. I gave instructions on how many times a day to feed the baby and that she had to wash (with soap) and sterilize the bottle after each use. After I made the first batch, we attempted to feed the baby- which was made all the more difficult as the bottle was broken and would not screw shut. As the mother held the child, I placed the bottle's nipple into the baby's mouth and poured the formula little by little. I was afraid that the baby would not accept the formula as most prefer their mother's milk, but thankfully, after some coaxing, the baby drank it all.
I have become invested in this child's well-being. I want him to live. And it is depressing that that is the first priority- that a child has to struggle to survive and live. But, that is very much the reality that each newborn faces here en brousse in Mali. I visited the baby every morning since then and will continue to do so, hoping that everyday he is eating, gaining some weight and simply living.