Blog / Stories from the Field / एक नायाब बालक – A unique baby

एक नायाब बालक – A unique baby

Madhura Nirkhe
Senior Advisor
Published on July 25, 2024 |

Time and again, guests who visit The Antara Foundation’s (TAF) programs in the field have said: “You are doing God’s work!”
Kabir, a 15th-century Indian saint, and philosopher whose poetry touched the hearts of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs alike, had this to say about why humility is the true test of God’s work:
“जब मैं था तब हरी नहीं, अब हरी है, मैं नाही।”
(When my ego was present, there was no room for God; now that God is here, there is no sign of me)
It is moments like this that feed my soul every day during my time at TAF in rural Madhya Pradesh.
March 1, 2022
In a village in rural Madhya Pradesh
This is the story of a baby pronounced ‘malformed’ and asked by the local Parihar (holy man, also known as baba) to be kept hidden from the world. The baby needed special care, and guidance on nourishment for a cleft lip and palate condition; the family needed support and sound medical advice.
Priya Lodhi is a Program officer from TAF who looks after the geography where the village was situated. Priya received a call from the ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) about a village gossip during the Pulse Polio (immunization) campaign that there was a baby born with a hideous appearance. Priya went with the ANM to the baby’s village, where most residents belong to the Korku farming tribe. The house was in a remote hamlet with no network coverage. The mother of the newborn, Ritu Kumari (real name changed for this story), was registered in the Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) online portal. This is Ritu’s second pregnancy; her firstborn is three years old. Despite her remote location, Ritu had come for all four antenatal check-ups on the monthly Village Health Nutrition Day (VHND).
When Ritu went into labor in the middle of the night, they couldn’t call an ambulance since there was no network. Even when an ambulance is called, the road to her village is so full of potholes that the ambulance seldom reaches in time. Ritu had a home delivery. The family was struck with shock and fear when they saw the baby’s cleft palate. Ritu’s mother-in-law insisted on calling the local baba to conduct a ritual to help the malformed newborn. The baba strictly instructed the family to not reveal the baby’s face to any outsider for his safety.
Babies born with a cleft lip or palate need special attention. Poor suction caused by a cleft palate can make breastfeeding very difficult. When Priya and the ANM paid a home visit, the baby was crying. Priya put her finger near the baby’s cheek, and the baby showed a rooting reflex. The baby was starving. The mother said she had fed the baby. Priya asked the mother to nurse again, and the ANM observed that the baby had difficulty latching. Priya showed the mother how to express milk and patiently used a spoon to give the expressed milk to the baby. Priya showed the father the part of the under-developed nostril and lip, resulting in the cleft lip condition, and reassured him that this could be treated at the district hospital.
Thanks to initiatives by non-profit organizations, in due time, the baby can receive free life-saving treatment for cleft lip and palate and have a normal life and future. The ANM assured the mother that the ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) would accompany them to see a specialist at the district hospital.
The baby’s father was initially reluctant. When he saw the mother feeding the baby expressed milk with a bowl and spoon, he began to make arrangements for cow milk for the baby. Priya patiently asked him a few questions: “Does breastmilk cost any money? Do you need to travel to obtain breastmilk? Do you know that mother’s milk is the easiest to digest, and the baby will not fall sick while it is getting mother’s milk?” He nodded. Priya explained that even a child with a cleft lip and palate can be fed expressed breastmilk with effort and patience. As the baby gains strength, other feeding positions can also be tried to ensure that the baby gets all the benefits and immunity from the mother’s milk.
Priya and the ANM encouraged the family to seek the advice of a pediatrician and learn more about the success of cleft lip and palate surgery. What happened next was dramatic. The next day, at 4 p.m., an ambulance arrived in their village, and Ritu and the family proceeded to the district hospital.
Thoughts and Learnings
In the field, there are success stories, just as there are sad events that disappoint and frustrate. After each case study in our purview, we ask probing questions and strive to find “revealed” answers, address gaps and continuously tweak and enhance our interventions. For us, this was also an opportunity to educate the community about cleft lip and palate conditions so they can seek timely medical help for future cases.
It is all in a day’s work at TAF!

“The best solutions to complex problems often come from those closest to the issues.”