Since she wakes up until she goes to bed, Jane Pacheco focuses all her energy and resources on stimulating and taking care of little Milagros, her two-year old daughter. Her sisters as well as other family members, neighbours and Red Cross staff support her day after day. Raising a baby is not an easy task, especially if the child is affected by congenital Zika syndrome.

 ‘I’m very lucky because I’ve received plenty of support from my family’

‘I’m very lucky because I’ve received plenty of support from my family. My sisters have helped me a lot, and my neighbours and my dad too. They help me carry her, they take care of her when I feel overwhelmed, and they stand by my side. If for some reason I can’t take her to therapy, they do. My dad helps me with money for transport to go to therapy, while my sisters help me with the food and other items, so that my daughter has everything she needs’, says Jane, seated in the living room with her two sisters and a neighbour, in La Bolivariana, a neighbourhood of Santa Marta, Colombia.

Milagros likes chicken, vegetables, purées and rice. She’s been able to digest solid food for some months now. She enjoys to be lifted up, she loves tickles, and above all, she loves being in the pool. Thanks to Jane’s determination to provide her daughter with the best care possible, she is now receiving hydrotherapy to stimulate her motor skills. Milagros loves the exercises in the water and has made a lot of progress.

Jane also counts on her family’s support to give her daughter the physical stimulation she needs. ‘When they come home from the therapy, Jane teaches us how to do the stimulation exercises and we practice them. She explains to us how to move Milagro and reminds us that we need look at her in the eye while we are speaking that she learns to recognize us. Now that she started to walk, we keep her standing as long as possible to strengthen her legs’, says Grey, Jane’s oldest sister.

When my children were little, Jane was so loving and caring with them; now is our turn to be there for her. If she needs me, if she needs anything from me, I’m going to help her, I always tell her that. We were told that Milagros was not going to be able to walk. But we didn’t give up, we fought, and we’ve seen a lot of progress. Milagros is actually walking’, adds Magola, Jane’s youngest sister.

‘No one had ever asked me how I felt until the Red Cross arrived’

While she looks at her daughter taking her first steps, Jane, visibly moved, shares a very important moment for her and her family: ‘On 31 December, Milagros managed to stand up by herself and came walking towards me. We were speechless, because we had been told she was never going to be able to walk. I felt such an intense joy that I started to cry’.

Jane ran to tell her relatives and neighbours, and phoned a Red Cross’ staff member who has been accompanying her over the last months. ‘Now that Milagros can walk, I feel very happy. And I also feel good because they tell me that I’m doing it right. I feel a lot more motivated’, says Jane. 

Congenital Zika syndrome imposes a big emotional burden on families of children affected by this condition. From the day the baby is born, or even during pregnancy, women experience great anxiety and fear of having a child that would be ‘different’ and they usually don’t have access to the appropriate psychosocial support. Jane can count on the support from her sisters and other members to take care of Milagro, however the support she needs for herself is provided by the Colombian Red Cross, which focuses on both the child’s and the mother’s well-being.

‘The Red Cross has been helping me above all, giving me the support I need for myself. Before they came, I hadn’t spoken to anybody about my feelings and no one had asked me how I felt. And this is a very important thing. The other day, I suddenly woke up feeling scared, I was feeling really bad, and I started to do the breathing exercises they taught me. That made me feel much better. The Red Cross is helping me as much as my family’, says Jane expressing her gratitude.

 

In the picture: Dian Milagro and her aunt Magola.