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Indian Express Stories of Strength

Facebook and The Indian Express bring you a series on those at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. From healthcare workers to government officials to innovators — a look at their day at work, their struggles and challenges.

Godsend Godmother: The psychologist who protected a high-risk baby

“All these thoughts of how I would take care of the baby never came to me, for some reason. I just knew that his parents are Covid-positive and that it would not be safe for him to continue in their care.”

July 26, 2020 8:21:35 pm

KOCHI: “When they gave the baby to me, he was only wearing a diaper. I received him just like a new mother receives her child for the first time,” Dr Mary Anitha PA chuckled over a Zoom call.

Dr Anitha, a clinical psychologist based in Kochi, has worked extensively with children, but her words hinted that her recent one-month quarantine stay with Unni, aka Elvin, is likely to remain an unforgettable chapter of her life.

In the first week of June, a message popped up in an inter-agency group for disaster management of which Dr Anitha is an executive member. A six-month-old child, whose parents have tested positive for coronavirus, needed a bystander. The child’s second coronavirus test result was awaited. If he tested positive, he could stay with the mother. If not, he needed someone to take care of him till a family member.

“I immediately raised my hand and said I will do it,” Dr Anitha said in an interview with ieMalayalam.com.

“I contacted the child welfare committee (CWC) chairperson who asked me to consult my husband and my three kids before making a decision. I told her they can be convinced. Still, she asked me to check with them. My kids were worried at first, but in the same tone, they told me to go ahead. ‘It’s a small baby, we can save him,’ they told me.”

After getting the nod from her husband too, Dr Anitha went straight to the Kalamassery Medical College Hospital on June 15 to complete the legal formalities and receive the child. Later, she learnt that the child belonged to the high-risk category and had some kidney complications.

But she didn’t fret over that.

“All these thoughts of how I would take care of the baby never came to me, for some reason. I just knew that his parents are Covid-positive and that it would not be safe for him to continue in their care,” she said.

And so that day, wearing just a diaper, Elvin rekindled a sense of new-found motherhood in Dr Anitha again. Realising that he’s only been breast-fed since he was born, she got in touch with the hospital staff who arranged formula feed and some baby-wear. The first day of quarantine inside the hospital room was a bit tough, she said, as she struggled to feed him. He went to sleep that night, exhausted and in tears.

“But the next day, he woke up to a new life. There was a change. He began responding to my songs and my chats with him. By the third day, he was smiling at me. Gradually, we became very close. I was there for him and he was there for me,” she said.

“We became so close that I could even distinguish between his cries. There was one when he couldn’t spot me. Another kind of cry when he was hungry. There was a third kind when he wanted to play. I call him a survivor because he actually rose up to level with me, rather than the other way around.”

Dr Anitha calibrated her sleep and bath timings according to his convenience and made him a schedule too. Every day at 6:55 am, he would be woken up and fed. At 7:30 am, she would make a WhatsApp video call to his parents to show them how he was doing. While his father was under treatment in Gurgaon, his mother was in Kochi. “I knew how stressful they would have been without their son, so I showed them how happy and safe he was,” she said.

She also spoke passionately about the changes she witnessed in him during their short stay together. “For any mother, celebrating a kid’s milestones is a huge draw. I got him when he could lie down on his stomach. But I saw him mimicking swimming with his hands. He would slant and try to sit. He would cock his head to a side and look for me. He would smile at me and I would smile back.”

By June 19, to her relief, Elvin’s Covid-result came back negative. They waited a few days to see if a family member would turn up to take care of him. But when none did, Dr Anitha decided to continue caring for him till his parents recovered. With the hospital’s permission, she got discharged and took him to an empty flat in her apartment complex. Things got a lot easier from then on. Her children and husband, who hardly stepped into the kitchen all these years, cooked meals for her and left them at the doorstep of the flat.

“It’s only because of their support that I was able to do this. I’m very thankful to them,” she said.

Finally on July 15, the D-day came when she had to bid farewell to Elvin. When the child’s mother arrived to take him back, emotional scenes played out at the apartment complex in Kochi. Dr Anitha said she had promised herself that she would not cry. But just as she handed over the baby, tears burst out. Her kids too, who had gotten deeply attached to the baby, began sobbing.

“I didn’t want him to cry because that would make me even more sad. I kept calling to him till he sat in the car and drove off,” she said.
Elvin’s mother later told The Indian Express, “The doctor was a godsend. Nobody would come forward to take care of a baby of a Covid-19 patient. I respect her as well as her family who supported her decision.”

Dr Anitha’s selfless deed during a time of extreme crisis won praise from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan too. In a Facebook post, he thanked her and said, “When humanity stands up burning bright like this, no pandemic or disaster can overpower us. We will overcome this and march forward with greater vigour.”

(With inputs from Nelvin Wilson and Shaju Philip)

Also in this series | A 2,000-strong volunteer team readies up to help with final rites of Covid-19 patients