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Mama Roz’s Chronicles: Eleanor, The Miracle Baby: A Mother’s Labour of Love

Mother & Child

January 09, (THEWILL) – There is no emotion as strong and influential as a mother’s love for her child. According to Mary Ellen Christy, “very early in pregnancy, maternal love makes its presence known as a strong and instinctive force which creates a lifelong bond for mother and child”. From the beginning of time, mothers have made incredible sacrifices and have travelled selfless “journeys” to protect or save their children from danger. And so it was for Peace, who demonstrated an overwhelming and unconditional love for her “miracle baby” who was born prematurely and travelled an uncommon journey through life.

Peace’s Story

Peace peered through the glass at her tiny baby who had been delivered less than 24 hours before. She couldn’t believe that a human being could be that small. The baby was the height of a pen and weighed 570 grams (same as a small bottle of Heinz salad cream). Her fingers and toes were still slightly webbed. Born at 7 months, her daughter whom she had named Eleanor, meaning ‘bright shining light” or “God is my light”, was a premature baby. She had several tubes connected to her through which she breathed and was fed. Peace watched her baby like she was watching a fascinating movie. She watched her slight attempts to raise her tiny hand and her chest rising and falling as she laboured to breathe.

She thought of the events leading up to her arrival at the hospital in Atlanta. It had all been quite dramatic. Was it all for nothing?

Following a comedy of errors at the Nigerian hospital where she was receiving antenatal care, Peace had been hurriedly bundled into a plane and flown to the United States. Her husband, Michael and her close friends had executed an amazing rapid fund-raising exercise for the trip in less than 48 hours. She had arrived under the threat of pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition for pregnant women and was whisked through the airport and loaded onto a ‘screaming’ ambulance which transported her at breakneck speed to the hospital. Within hours of her arrival, she was in the theatre and was successfully delivered of her baby. Indeed, Peace’s survival in itself had been the first miracle.

Now as she stared sadly at her baby, Peace was convinced that Eleanor could not survive.  She mourned her loss and then turned to the nurse and said “you can switch the system off now”.

The doctor in charge looked at Peace and smiled compassionately. He invited Peace to his office and showed her pictures of a child who had been born as tiny as Eleanor. She had the same alien look and webbed feet. Then he showed her a picture of a young 26-year-old woman dressed in her graduation outfit. Her name was Melanie and she had just completed a Master’s degree.

“She was my first miracle baby who I delivered at the beginning of my career. I didn’t think she could make it either, but here she is a beautiful 26-year-old woman at her graduation”. He smiled at Peace again. “Don’t give up just yet. If there is even a 1% chance that Eleanor could make it, we’ll explore it”.

So, with renewed hope, Peace returned to her own ward and began the long journey of survival.

Three days later, Peace was discharged from the hospital. She had to leave without her baby and was counselled to exercise patience as everything would unfold “one day at a time”. Sad and introspective, she moved into a friend’s house and visited Eleanor every day from there. The funds she arrived with covered her trip and initial hospital expenses but she was financially unprepared for the cost of a long hospital stay. Even the daily transport to and from the hospital was a huge expense for Peace. One day on her way to the hospital, she broke down in the cab and wept at the frustration of it all. The driver was a kind Nigerian fellow. “What’s going on?” he asked. She told him her story and from that day he covered all her trips at half the price.

In time Eleanor was moved to a hospital where Peace could stay with her which helped her avoid the high transport costs. The government provided free food vouchers for new mothers to encourage breastfeeding so that was another cost avoided. But the health challenges were still there. Eleanor had 10 different diseases or conditions associated with premature babies.  It was expected that most of them would correct themselves in due course. She had a hole in her heart which was expected to close by itself over time. She also had chronic lung disease and a host of other conditions. Eleanor was a little fighter and she overcame most of them.

After seven long months in the hospital, Peace took her baby home with the feeding and oxygen tubes still attached to her. They were still in and out of hospital with one crisis after another but each time Eleanor conquered them all and the journey continued.

At seven months, Eleanor had started making some sounds which were a bit gurgled because her vocal cords were obstructed by the feeding tubes. Her voice was like music to Peace’s ears. As Eleanor grew and she interacted with her baby, Peace was amazed at their journey and her baby’s incredible fighting spirit. Eleanor whose parents were both from the Niger Delta, demonstrated the resilience and strong warrior spirit she had inherited from her ancestors.

Eleanor loved to watch cartoons; her favourites were Mickey Mouse and Peppa Pig, particularly the big balloon episode. She always smiled when she watched the television and she was learning how to sit. Even though she was seven months old, in some aspects she had the development of a 4-month-old baby. But her character was forming which endeared her to her mother. Sometimes she would pretend to cry to get attention and at other times she would cry out of anger or frustration when she could not communicate effectively. Her sight and sense of smell were well developed and her weight was increasing every day; she was doing well and she smiled a lot. Mother and daughter were happy.

Christmas came and passed and Eleanor had lots of gifts from Santa. It was January 2016 and Peace was happy to discover after a recent visit from Michael, that she was pregnant again. She looked forward to giving Eleanor a sibling. Perhaps a baby brother who would ginger her and make her recovery more rapid. She dreamt of the things they would all do together as a family when the new baby arrived. By then hopefully Eleanor would be tube free and more mobile. Things were definitely looking up for their family and then suddenly out of nowhere, tragedy struck.

One day Eleanor had a running stomach and had been stooling all day. Peace decided to watch her for a day to see if it would subside as it wasn’t the first time. By the next day the stooling had reduced considerably but, in her restlessness, Eleanor had pulled out her feeding tube. A visit to the hospital rectified this and the doctors promptly sent her home afterwards. Peace had wanted to stay in the hospital for at least one more day but the doctor insisted that Eleanor would be fine. It was a public holiday weekend and it was snowing, the doctor really needed some rest so he sent them home.

The doctors had over the months, advised Peace to give her baby a heavy feed in the evenings so that she would sleep soundly through the night instead of waking up for a feed. So, before they went to bed that night, Peace fed her more than usual and put her to bed.

At 5am the next morning Peace woke up and noticed that her bed was wet. She put on the light and stared in shock at her child. She seemed to have lost tons of weight in just one night. She was emaciated and weak and was barely breathing. Checking her diaper, Peace realised that Eleanor had been stooling all night. The ambulance was called but by the time they came she had a very faint pulse. At the hospital the doctors tried to resuscitate her to no avail; beautiful Eleanor, the miracle baby was gone.

Peace cried and screamed as she watched them try unsuccessfully to revive her child. When they could do no more, they let her into the room to say goodbye but Peace could not accept that she was gone. She was nine months old and had come through such a difficult journey; she was a miracle baby and couldn’t possibly die.

She called family members and asked them to pray with her so that her child would rise again. She sat there holding her baby, refusing to let the attendants take her to the mortuary. Optimistic as ever, she still felt there was hope, even at this point. Surely, if Eleanor could survive all she had, then she could survive this too. Eventually the baby was prised gently from her arms and taken away to the mortuary.

In her anguish Peace totally lost touch with reality. The next day she called the mortuary attendants and asked them to cover Eleanor with a blanket because it was winter and she would be cold. Every day she called them with new instructions for Eleanor’s care. Understanding her pain, they did not argue but quietly accepted her directives. The doctors, worried about her mental state, sent counsellors and a support team to help her with her loss but Peace was inconsolable.

Eleanor was buried a week later. So many people had been following her story since she was born and they all shared in Peace’s grief when she died. Her friend Nneka, who was also traumatized by Eleanor’s departure, made all the arrangements for the funeral. Peace went through it like she was in a trance.

She didn’t know half of the people who showed up at the funeral. There were people from the Nigerian community in Atlanta, Nigerian students, nurses and doctors from the various hospitals they had stayed at and even the Nigerian Ambassador to the US. Everyone had been rooting for Eleanor, the miracle baby and now sadly, she was gone.

Peace thinks about Eleanor a lot and still mourns her loss despite having three more children now. The lost promise of the person she could have been and the love they might have shared as a family often occupies her thoughts.

She has come to terms with the loss of her child and sometimes tries to make sense of it. “Perhaps there was a reason all those events conspired to make this happen; the long public holiday weekend, the snow and the tired doctor or perhaps God just took her because He didn’t want her to suffer any more” she said as she talked about her first child.

Eleanor, the miracle baby will never be forgotten by the one person who loved and fought with her through her short life journey, her mother.

Peace lives happily in Abuja now with her husband and three lovely children. In memory of her daughter, she founded and runs an NGO which empowers the girl child.