Maria didn’t know she had suffered from the Zika virus until her baby was born with microcephaly. Now her child is receiving care and support through the local church.
Every time there was a major event in Maria’s life she remembers one thing—she was alone. When she had to quit school at the age of 12 and start working, she was alone. When at the age of 13 she was raped by her employer and became pregnant, she was alone. Later, when Maria was 19 and pregnant with her third baby, she once again felt alone. Her husband worked as a truck driver and he was away for months at a time, and her family lived many hours away in a remote village in Guatemala.
So when she heard about Compassion’s Survival initiatives at La Semilla church, she was excited to be part of a group of women who did activities together while receiving care for their babies.
“I was four months pregnant when I started going to the program,” Maria says. “My favourite story that I learned there was about an important mother in the Bible, Mary. We even share the same name. She became like a role model to me.”
At the time, she didn’t know how important Mary would become to her. When she was six months pregnant, she started feeling ill and her whole body ached.
“I went to the hospital and the doctors gave me pills for a urinary infection,” Maria says. “I did not think much of it because I often got ill.”
What Maria didn’t know was that she had contracted the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that began to sweep across Latin America in 2015. At the same time, doctors started to see an increased number of babies born with microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than normal due to abnormal brain development.
Maria rested for several weeks until she got her energy back, not thinking much of it. When, at nine months pregnant, Maria started having contractions, she walked to the nearest hospital. But they sent her home, saying she wasn’t ready yet. An hour later, she was in labour in earnest and couldn’t walk back to the hospital. Her husband called the Child Survival Program tutors Vilma and Noemi, who arrived quickly and called the fire department for help. They waited for hours, but the firemen never arrived. They tried to get a car to move her to the hospital, but it was raining too hard, and the muddy roads were impassable.
“Vilma and I decided that we would help Maria bring her baby into the world,” says Noemi. “At 2 a.m. she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy whom she named Bryan David.”
Maria was happy to finally have her baby in her arms. It was the first time in her life that she was surrounded by people who loved her and supported her.
“For the first time, I felt that I was not alone,” says Maria. “All my life I’ve felt very lonely. But now that I am in the program, I feel supported by the sisters.”
After several days, Vilma started to have worries. “I held Bryan in my arms and noticed that he did not respond to my hand gestures,” Vilma says. “His eyes moved around and he could not focus on one object. It made me suspect that there was something wrong.”
The Survival staff arranged for Maria and Bryan to travel two hours to Guatemala City for a series of tests. Doctors found that Bryan was blind, had hearing problems and had microcephaly as a result of Maria having Zika during her pregnancy.
“The doctors explained that my baby was different,” Maria says. “They mentioned that he was going to have many more troubles in life and that he might never walk.”
Maria spent more than seven months going back and forth from hospital to hospital, hearing about all the things her baby was not going to be able to do. Meanwhile, the staff from the program were determined to find all the possible ways to help Bryan. They found an organization in Guatemala City that would help Bryan with specialized therapies, and the program covered the transportation costs and accompanied him to the therapies.
Bryan and Maria now travel five to six times a month to Guatemala City for Bryan’s therapy and medical checkups. They’ve started to see progress in his movements. Bryan also receives special therapy during the home visits from Vilma and medicine for his respiratory problems.
Beyond the physical help they have received at the program, Maria has learned to place her trust in God and find strength in the example of Mary.
“Mary was the mother of a special baby, just like me,” Maria says. “She had to be strong to fulfill God’s purpose in her. She and the staff at the program taught me that special babies have special purposes in life. I just pray and promise to do my best so that one day Bryan is able to walk and be a happy child.”
Words and photos by Isi Salazar