When Dr. Mark Onyango Ojuong and Marcella Lilian Okoth were blessed with their second born child in 2016 they were elated. But as fate would have it, even before the baby celebrated her first birthday, things went amiss. Marcella and Mark narrated to HENRY KAHARA the devastating loss of their four-month-old baby and some of the lessons learnt from this traumatic experience.
There is probably nothing that unites a family more than a child. And so when Dr. Mark Onyango Ojuong, a veterinary doctor based in Nairobi, and Marcella Lilian Okoth, an accountant with Internet Solutions formally known as Access Kenya, bore their second born child exactly one year ago, they looked forward to happy times ahead.
“It was ten years since we had our first child and so everyone in the family was looking forward to the new addition. When the baby was born it was jubilation all over but little did we know that the joy would be short lived,” Mark Okoth starts off this interview.
His wife Marcella Okoth notes their child was well after birth and she nursed her for three months before resuming work at the end of her maternity leave. Things dramatically changed when she received a distress call from her house girl one afternoon while at work.
“I still vividly remember the events of that day. I had called my nanny at around 10am to find out how the baby was doing and was told she was okay but was still sleeping. And so when my nanny called me back at noon and said the baby was unresponsive I was in shock,” says Marcella.
A sudden death…
Marcella immediately called her husband, who was also at work, and they both rushed home to find their house girl shaken and helpless.
They quickly rushed their daughter to the nearest hospital where their worst fears were confirmed. She was pronounced dead. Grieved and shocked at the turn of events, they took their child to the mortuary where a postmortem was done later.
The results showed that the baby died after experiencing difficulties in breathing. According to experts, half of babies are at risk of suffocating in their sleep because they are put in cots with unsafe bedding, blankets and pillows. This was the case with Mark and Marcella’s daughter.
At first, Marcella suspected their nanny had something to do with the death of their baby and hoped the postmortem would unearth the truth. “I had never heard of babies suffocating in their sleep and so I thought maybe the baby fell and the nanny was trying to cover up,” she says.
Marcella and Mark buried their baby at their ancestral home in Nyanza but memories of her didn’t fade away from their minds. Her death haunted the couple so much that to it had to take expert intervention to help them cope with their loss.
According to Mark, death affects people differently. “Possibly, some people wondered why a young child’s death would affect us that much but I have come to learn that people mourn differently. Our daughter’s death was a big blow to us as we had waited for her for a long time,” remarks Mark.
This experience taught the couple to put all their trust in God because nothing else made sense to them and the loss left them feeling helpless and devastated. It was only by drawing strength from God that they have been able to move on, one day at a time.
Marcella says the death of her daughter taught her the importance of equipping nannies with skills on how to care for a child, as well as basic first aid skills.
“I had been with my nanny for eight months when the events happened. I assumed it was common knowledge that one needed to constantly keep an eye on the baby when she is sleeping and even turning her to check her temperature levels and that she is comfortable and breathing properly. To my surprise my nanny was unaware of this despite being experienced at her job,” remarks Marcella.
She is of the opinion that there ought to be short courses in local colleges where nannies can be trained on all aspects of childcare as well as first aid and responding to emergencies.
“The need for house girls in every home is a growing demand in Kenya and for people to be productive at work they need to be confident of their children’s welfare at home. One of the ways to do so is to have responsible, experienced and trained nannies to take care of their homes as well as their children,” she says.
Her advice to all parents is to take their time to scrutinise new nannies, as this is key to a happy family.
“If you can get a nanny who is advanced in education and has a heart for children, the better. The more mature she is the better. After you have employed a nanny try and spend more time with her in order to know her well and foster a good relationship. Most of the time employers don’t give their nannies the respect they deserve yet it is key for a good working relationship,” she says.
Marcella adds that at no one time should an employer look down on her nanny and if anything the employer ought to invest in her nanny by sponsoring her for short courses that will equip her to be better at her work.
If it were up to Marcella, women would get more time for maternity leave as she feels the three months given is not enough. “I am happy that today most companies in Kenya give their female employees three months maternity leave plus full benefits as recommended by the law but that is still not good enough,” she says.
She is of the opinion that even as the government of the day puts more effort to building infrastructure in the country, it also needs to look into social issues as they are key to the economy’s sustainability.
“Traditional values will provide a solid foundation to the future generations and the family unit is very important. For a country to prosper there is need for strong values to be instilled in children and this is best done early in life hence the need for an increment in maternity leave,” she argues.
Safe sleeping tips for babies
Put baby to sleep on his back. This is said to be the safest position for healthy babies to sleep. This is because babies are more likely to die of fatal sleeping accidents if they sleep on their sides or tummies. Additionally, babies put to sleep on their backs are less likely to choke on vomit than babies put to sleep on their tummies or sides. Once a baby can roll over, at around four to six months, it is recommended that you keep putting him to sleep on his back, but let him find his own sleeping position.
Do not cover your baby’s head while they are sleeping. Always tuck in the bed sheets securely so they can’t cover your baby’s head. Alternatively you could use a safe infant sleeping bag instead of blankets but the safest are sleeping bags with a fitted neck and armholes and no hood.
Share a room with your baby. It is recommended that have your baby in a cot in your room for the first six to 12 months. This will enable you to constantly check on him and ensure he is safe and confortable.
Avoid soft toys and pillows. Many babies have been said to suffocate after rolling on pillows or soft toys. It is therefore safest to keep them out of your baby’s cot. While at it, avoid allowing your baby to sleep on a couch or makeshift bedding without someone watching him as the baby can easily get stuck between pillows or cushions, or slip down until his head is covered by blankets and this can be fatal.
Always ensure your baby is attended to. As a rule of thumb, never assume that other people such as your nanny know about safe baby sleeping practices. Ensure you induct your nanny properly and demonstrate to her how to position a baby when sleeping. Also give her strict instructions not to leave the baby unattended for more than thirty minutes without checking on him.
Published May 2017…