Distory presents stories of resilience and hope in the middle of a pandemic. What’s your Covid-19 silver lining? Tell your story. You might just start the spark that the person next to you needs to get going again after the pandemic. In the first part of an ongoing series, Distory spoke to a mother who tested positive for the disease. This is her story, shared just months after she started her struggle with the disease and a victory she savours to date.

In the first part of this series that seeks to highlight the positives around Covid-19 , Distory spoke to a mother who tested positive for the disease. This is her story on how she lived through the infection.

Covid-19, my baby and I: The Faith Kariuki story.

Faith with her baby. Photo Courtesy

I woke up one day feeling off. I had no specific symptoms. I thought I was fighting a common cold but this feeling persisted for days. One minute I would feel fine and the next I would feel extremely fatigued. By the 4th day, the symptoms became more specific. I suffered from insomnia, an irritated throat, a queasy stomach and general body malaise.

On the 5th day I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a bus. Literally. My joints were weak, every muscle was in pain and every step I took was painful. I also had this strange feeling in my chest that words can’t describe to date. It felt like it was on fire. Did I mention I had lost my sense of taste? Everything I ate or drunk tasted like water. One minute I would feel too hot, the next too cold. I remember this one day I slept in two sweaters, socks, a fleece blanket on top of my duvet and a hot water bottle.

I had learnt that a close relative with whom I had interacted tested positive for Covid-19. I also did test positive. Then my worries started. Not just about the positive test, but I had a growing fear that I would infect my husband, my three children and my nanny. My son had just turned five months. He was on exclusive breastfeeding and the thought of him getting the virus as well sent chills down my spine.

From the 7th day I started improving and the symptoms started getting mild. I took paracetamol for the pain and an antibiotic, you know, just to manage whatever infection that may have been lurking. The only thing that would give me some relief from most symptoms was ginger, lemon and honey concoction. I can swear by this drink now. It is not a cure, but the chai dawa hit a lot of right spots. On the 26th day from the date of exposure, I went back for another test. It was negative for Covid-19.

You see, when my son was 5 weeks old, he picked a viral infection from his sister who had just joined kindergarten. The infection persisted and we had to get admitted for close monitoring. We ended up in ICU for a couple of days.

When the first Covid case was announced in Kenya, we had barely spent a week out of the ICU. While still burdened by the experience at the ICU, we walked out into a world that was full of truths, half-truths and rumours about Covid- 19. The whole world was trying to understand it.

Yet, here I was nursing my son back to good health on nothing but breast milk. No fruits. No supplements. Just plain old breast milk even as COVID-19 numbers increased because exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months of life followed by continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feeding for up to two years or beyond. Breast milk supplies all the energy, nutrients and water my child needed for the first six months of his life.

It also provides at the least half of the child’s nutritional need from six to twelve months and up to a third during the second year of life. It provides total food security for infants especially the first six months of life

It was just one week after he was discharged from the ICU that the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the country. I was still numb from the 10 days of hospitalization, 5 of which were spent in ICU. Scariest thing a mother can go through is watch their newborn battle to breathe. But there is a God in heaven. I never slept for a whole month. Every minute was spent looking at my baby. Trust me, a mother can’t fall asleep when their child is sick.

The positive test came with its challenges. First, public safety announcements around Covid-19 required anyone who tests positive to self-isolate. I was no exception and I decided to isolate myself from the rest of the family. Well, this is easier said than done.

The reality and the complexities around families have made self-isolation almost impossible. Or at least impractical. I have three children; 7 and 3 years, and 5 months.

-FAITH KARIUKI

During the duration of the infection, I tried to express milk for my baby so that he could be fed by his father or the nanny. But babies are weird creatures. Weird in a sort of cute way. He knew something was up. He would cry so much as either of the two tried to feed him. His cries reminded me of the ICU admission. My heart broke for him each time he went into a wail. Eventually, I couldn’t stand it anymore and cut short my isolation.

Despite all these challenges, I was determined to continue breastfeeding. I soldiered on and my son never missed a meal. My milk supply didn’t go down. In any case I think I had more milk. Most of the time he fed while laying down because sitting was causing me so much discomfort. I tried wearing a mask while doing this but he kept pulling it down when breastfeeding.

My recurring nightmare was that I would infect him as he ate. I washed my hands frequently especially before and after handling him. We also kept disinfecting common surfaces and I tried as much as possible not to have physical contact with the rest of the family. Hand sanitizer became a must-have accessory in our home. Same as soap and running water. The sinks became, by default, our happy place.

My symptoms lasted a few days and weren’t severe. I didn’t have a cough which I believe helped a lot in controlling transmission to other members of the family. It wasn’t easy breastfeeding. Since I couldn’t isolate myself, the whole family had to stay indoors for 14days. Most of my Covid-19 symptoms were gone by the 9th day but the fatigue persisted. Even after the infection ran its course some symptoms continue to linger. None of my family members nor the nanny got infected.

My baby is now 7 months and enjoying solids together with breast milk. He is the cutest boy you have ever seen. Active COVID 19, the virus that can cause infection has not, to date been detected in any mother’s breast milk with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. It appears unlikely, therefore that Covid-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding or giving breast milk that has been expressed by a mother who is confirmed /suspected to have Covid-19.

Breastfeeding mothers should practice good hygiene during feeding by wearing a mask, washing hands with soap before and after touching the baby and wiping and disinfecting surfaces regularly to minimize infection. Mothers who get infected with corona virus while breastfeeding produce immune factors known as antibodies in their milk which protects the baby and enhances the baby’s immune response to the infection.

This shows that continuing with breastfeeding after testing positive is the best way to protect the baby from the virus. But those who are too ill to breastfeed should seek immediate medical help. Where possible, they can express milk and another member of the family who is not infected can feed the baby.

I believe speaking up will define how we fight the disease going forward. Yes, Covid-19 is a dangerous disease that can be fatal. But this should not stop us from sharing our stories. Who knows, your journey could just inspire the next person.

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