And then there were the babies.
January this year was a hard month for me, as I marked the due date I would have had if I hadn’t miscarried my baby six months earlier. It was in that hard place that I got an email that made my heart jump. The new baby unit had been opened in Kitovu Hospital in Masaka, Uganda, supported by River of Life.
We’ve supported River of Life for a while, but this story, arriving in my inbox at this moment, touched my heart. I felt so much joy for the many tiny lives that would be saved through this little baby unit and it’s specially trained nurses. And some joy was what I really needed that month.
Six months later and we’re pulling in to the hilltop hospital and walking along the swept pathways to the baby unit. It’s a small room – newborn babies don’t need that much space – filled with high tech equipment for keeping these vulnerable babies alive. River of Life has worked with the hospital to train and fund the nurses who work in the unit.
We met Brigitte, the Canadian nurse who together with Dr Sarah from the UK, has been working tirelessly to get this unit up and running in the hospital. She may be one of the most graceful women I met, so gentle but with an amazing strength to her. She introduced us to one of her nurses, a beautiful young woman. They hire them directly after graduation so they can teach them best practise in the unit. And the nurses grow to love these babies.
There were three premature babies sleeping in the unit at the time. While we stood there and marvelled at how tiny they were, Brigitte showed us how the equipment worked, how they monitor the babies. All this high tech equipment had been donated years earlier, but (for a number of complex reasons) no one had ever been trained how to use it, so it stood unused in a locked room, while babies died metres away.
We looked through the book that logs all the babies that come through the unit, and with some quick counting and Brigitte’s estimations, we worked out that since the Baby Unit opened in January, the number of newborn babies dying has dropped by around 75%. Can I hear a Hallelujah?!
As we came out the treatment room into the small reception room, a mother was bringing her baby back in for a check up. “They don’t really need to come back here”, Brigitte confided, “they could see a local healthcare worker. But they are proud of their babies and they want to show them off to us!”
Next door was the “Kangaroo Room”, a small ward where the mothers of the newborns stay. They try to ensure that the babies have as much physical contact with their mamas as possible during their stay, going skin-to-skin with them for hours every day, which is proven to increase the rate at which their health improves. Here was just one mama at the moment, with her prematurely-born daughter – all gangly legs and skinny arms. When we asked if we could take her photo, she gave the typical straight-faced Ugandan pose, but then someone spoke to her and she smiled down at her little girl with so much love and pride.
It was such a privilege and a joy to get to see this Baby Unit in person. I came home to Luxembourg later that week to the heartbreaking news that a friend of mine’s daughter had been stillborn while we were in Uganda. To lose a child, in pregnancy or infancy, is one of the most searingly painful things a woman can ever be asked to endure. And it hurts me as I discover more and more how many women do endure it. But this little Baby Unit in Masaka, Uganda, is helping to reduce the number of women who experience that grief. And there’s no much more important to me than that.
We visited the Baby Unit as part of our trip to Masaka, Uganda, where River of Life church works in multiple outreach ministries in it’s community. You can read more on their website, blog or facebook page, including details of how you can financially support them. Rasmus and I have been supporters of River of Life for a number of years, and we can highly recommend them to you.