When I visited them, they were already 2 months old, but the size of newborns. They were being cared for by their paternal grandmother who had taken in these boys she didn't even know existed until their mother passed away. She had to quit her job selling fruit to stay home and try and keep them loved and alive. She did it without complaining.
A newborn is a challenge for a mother with a husband, functioning mammary glands and a steady income. Esther had none of these. And two babies. She did all she could to keep them nourished, even trying her hand at nursing them, but settled on giving these small babies cows milk and thinned out porridge. When I visited them, several tins of formula in hand, they looked frail.
|Joseph, looked well loved but weak|
|His brother Michael, also looking frail|
A few months ago, we heard that the babies had come down with bad cases of malaria. None of us said it, but we were all terrified they wouldn't make it. Malaria is a common killer of children in this part of the world, children who are probably healthier than Michael and Joseph. But, with Esther's care and attention, they pulled through.
Last week had been 6 months of formula. We traveled to Webuye to visit the twins, and this is what I found:
|Michael, looking gorgeous and healthy|
|Joseph looking confused, but also gorgeous and healthy.|
We'll never know if the formula saved these babies, but it just might have.
Formula costs about 800 Kenyan Shillings ($10) a tin. To put that in perspective, a daily wage for a village laborer (for example, weeding a shamba or doing construction) is about 200 Ksh. But wages are hard to come by at all, and most people subsistence farm. Anyway, you can't find formula at all in the village but would have to travel to large store in a bigger city where it is often under lock and key. Without the help of my friend, formula would have simply been an impossibility.
I'm not sure the babies would have weathered such a serious sickness with only cows milk and thin porridge in their systems. In fact, their deceased mother's relatives recently visited the twins and were shocked to find them still alive.
In the national conversation about breastfeeding and the shame women are made to feel when they are driven to or chose to supplement with or solely use formula, we forget: formula saves lives. This fact was an abstraction until recently. While those of us in the wealthy world disdain formula, so many women in poorer parts of the world are dying to get their hands on that much maligned but life saving powder. Michael and Joseph just might owe their lives to it.