When she was born on June 26, 2013, weighing only 600 grammes, a little girl from Dangamvura high-density suburb in the eastern border city of Mutare, was named Glory which in other words means wonder, magnificence, brilliance and grandeur etc.
To her mother, Chipo Musapatika (35), the name Glory meant something more and was ideal given the life experiences life had taken her through. It was a way of praising God and Zimbabwe’s health system for saving her baby who was born prematurely and extremely tiny.
Weighing less than a kilogramme at birth, Glory could only fit into her mother’s palm and doctors were not too sure if she could make it. Many people who saw her also wondered if she would live to her first birthday.
Each day that passed as she lay in an incubator at Mutare General Hospital, a major referral centre in Manicaland Province and later in the Kangaroo Mother Care ward (KMC) was like a miracle as she also fought her war for survival.
Her parents never gave up on her. They put faith ahead of everything and prayed each day, her mother doing so countless times. Hospital staff also worked round the clock, to ensure the tiny bundle of joy would grow.
Reminiscing about how she felt after seeing her baby for the first time, Musapatika said: “Glory was tiny, the size of a DSTV remote control when she was born prematurely at 6 months. I was scared as I had three other children and none were like this.
“Up to six times a day, I would pray for her survival. In the pre-term ward, everyone looked at me. Maybe they thought I was insane. Some said praying for a baby that would die was a waste of time. They said babies that weighed more than Glory had not made it and were puzzled why I thought she would survive.”
For two months, Musapatika stayed at the hospital as Glory recovered in the KMC ward.
Glory and her mother Chipo at their Dangamvura home
The Kangaroo Mother Care programme is supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Zimbabwe and administered through the Ministry of Health and Child Care in all the country’s 60 districts – eight provincial and five central hospitals.
Musapatika, who was one of the first 71 mothers to use the Kangaroo Mother Care when it was introduced at Mutare General Hospital in 2013, said her daughter could have died had she not gone for it.
KMC is an alternative and cheap approach for premature baby-care. Continuous skin-to-skin contact is the key element of this treatment, as the mothers carry their babies on their bare chest, covering their little ones in warm blankets.
This process encourages the babies to start controlling their own body temperature and warmth, and also strengthens the emotional bond between mother and child. The mother’s heartbeat also reminds the premature babies to breathe as they sometimes forget to do so.
Without appropriate care, low birth weight babies risk physical or mental delays or impairments in life. They also risk death if specialised care and support lack.
Explaining how she ended up delivering prematurely through a Caesarian section, Musapatika said she had hypertension and placenta previa during her pregnancy.
“I started bleeding while doing household work at home. When I saw that this was not normal, my husband Jephry rushed me to the hospital where I was immediately admitted. My life was in danger,” she said.
When she was operated on, Musapatika was shocked to learn that the baby had entered the world at only 600 grammes.
“The doctors said Glory was too small and could maybe die. I was scared and thought I would lose my baby. Though I was very unnerved at holding Glory, I fed her through a tube using a small measuring cup. The nurses and doctors counselled me and I accepted what God had given me,” she said.
What upset her the most is that if Glory had died, her dream of having four children would have been shattered.
“When I had the C-section, I requested tubal ligation. The doctors tied my tubes as my husband and I only wanted four children. This made me pray harder for Glory’s survival even when I knew the odds that were against us,” she explained.
At one point she said, the state of her child resulted in her being depressed. The situation seemed too big for her but the support her husband gave her was calming.
“My baby’s name was always on top whenever the list of ill babies in the ward was drafted. Being in such a situation and in the KMC ward turned me into a ‘doctor’. I would know when she was not well and convey the messages to the nurses and doctors,” she said.
Having stayed in the KMC ward for a long time, there were moments when Glory and Musapatika were the only residents.
She would watch other mothers and their pre-term and underweight babies come, get help in the KMC ward and leave happily. More came, were discharged yet Musapatika and Glory were still in the ward. It was like their time stood still, and they had become part of the furniture.
“I felt Glory was not growing fast enough.
“I had become the ‘matron’ of the KMC ward. When some women had challenges that did not require the attention of the nurses, they would ask me to help as I now knew a lot on how to handle a pre-term baby,” she said.
When Glory was finally discharged, her departure from the ward was met with jubilation. Nurses and other mothers were happy. Glory was now 2000g and though still tiny, Musapatika was happy to leave the KMC.
At home, it was not business as usual. They had to pay special attention to Glory and also continue with the KMC.
The ritual of relatives and friends coming to see a new born was overlooked as Glory who was susceptible to disease was kept safe in their bedroom to avoid contact with many people. Those who brought presents did not get a chance to see and hold her. They just wished the family the best.
Glory’s first birthday in 2014 and the second in 2015 passed just like any other day. The family was still scared to celebrate though she was growing up well.
In 2016, her third birthday was finally celebrated, cake and cookies eaten by friends and family.
While she is growing up well and has reached her fifth birthday, one of her legs is shorter and she is due for a scan in Harare.
“When we made enquiries before the price increases, the scan required $600 at Baines. We have not raised enough. We are appealing for help,” she said.
Today, the little fighter is enjoying life like any other five-year old.
She runs around their house, breaks her mother’s cups when she demands to wash them, writes on the walls, chooses her own clothes, helps with laundry and house cleaning. She is in now in pre-school, has made friends – Kayla Mufambi and Diana Madima.
Her dream job is to do “shifts”, meaning she wants to become a doctor or nurse one day. At the back of her mind, she knows the role they played to save her life through the Kangaroo Mother Care programme.