Note: I wrote this blog last week with the idea being it would be published today. It is fortuitous that Jennifer was the baby chosen for this week. I needed the opportunity to look back on our journey/adventure with this little baby in light of the new addition to our family who I wrote about yesterday.
Jennifer joined our home in April, 2008. I was away in the States at the time and Tom and our Jennifer were called to a small hut behind the clinic. Outside the hut, under a makeshift shelter, lying right in the dirt was a young woman in the end stages of a terrible illness. Her parents were with her but despite their efforts, Tom was unable to have any type of conversation with her. Lying with her was a tiny baby girl—more dead than alive. Little Jennifer was completely listless. The grandparents explained that they had been feeding this one month old baby a porridge made from cassava (the root we get tapioca from) only twice a day. As a result her little body had almost completely shut down.
Tom brought her home and our Jennifer made a bottle of milk and began feeding baby Jennifer. Immediately her tiny eyes flew open and she started to gulp the milk. She came to life and seemed to be so thankful.
Unfortunately, whether due to health issues caused by malnutrition or disease, baby Jennifer still had a long road to recovery. Her body struggled to absorb nutrients and she had diarrhea nearly all the time. She also vomited regularly and when inserting an IV proved difficult due to the size of her veins she was admitted to a local hospital.
Nannies from the orphanage took turns staying with her as nurses are in very short supply here in Zambia. After a few days there had been no improvement and when one day Tom visited and found that absolutely nothing had been done that whole day to care for Jennifer by any medical staff, he told off the doctors and nurses and brought Jennifer back home.
Our Jennifer looked after her fulltime—a huge responsibility for a 17 year old girl. Our local staff began talking about how perhaps it was better to just send baby Jennifer back to her grandparents. She could die with them. But as my mother in law pointed out when she saw the picture below, “She’s a fighter—you can see it in her eyes”. We had to give her a chance.
About this time I returned from the U.S and while I had been in constant communication with my family over the 2 and a half months I was away fundraising and I had seen all the pictures of baby Jennifer, nothing could prepare me for how tiny and fragile she was. She cried a lot and seemed unhappy and uncomfortable.
I helped big Jennifer to look after the baby and did all I could to nurse her back to health. I did kangaroo therapy and probably one of the turning points for her was putting her on a fairly strict schedule. So much attention had been spent in getting nutrients into her and she had also most likely been so uncomfortable that sleeping wasn’t the peaceful time it should have been. In order for her body to fully recover she needed good times of rest along with regular feedings.
Almost immediately upon moving her to a regular schedule her whole personality changed. She became happier and much more peaceful.
She was also put on an antibiotic which is given as a prophylactic to children when it is suspected that their mother had HIV/AIDS. She does really well with this medicine and for whatever reason her body seems to need it. On the rare occasions that we’ve not given it to her she almost immediately gets sick.
Today you can’t even recognize the sickly baby that fought for her life over a year ago. Baby Jennifer is a happy little girl now. Amazingly, she reached most of her developmental milestones such as crawling, walking, etc. on time.
Right after she turned one year old she decided she didn’t want to be with the babies anymore and although she wasn’t walking yet she began spending time with the toddler group. She quickly learned to walk and now runs and plays so happily with them.
Our kids all enjoy baby Jennifer. While we
don’t shouldn’t try not to have favorites, when a baby has spent months in your home and you’ve watched that child develop and grow and you’ve invested in them there will always be a special bond.
Jennifer has a special relationship with Tom. It’s a bit of a love/hate relationship. More love on his side and hate on hers but we know she doesn’t really mean it.
When Tom returned from his fundraising trip to the States earlier this year he was so excited to see Jennifer that he scooped her up and hugged her. She responded by screaming loudly and clawing his face. We couldn’t even reprimand her because we were laughing so hard.
He has slowly been gaining her love back by bringing her pieces of chocolate.
Lesson learned for her: Treat a man terribly and he’ll bring you candy.