A month ago, Kochi resident Dr PA Mary Anitha and 6-month-old Justin* were strangers to each other. The 48-year-old woman ran a fairly well known NGO - the Centre for Empowerment and Enrichment - in Ernakulam, while baby Justin* was under the care of his parents, who lived and worked as nurses in Haryana.
But two weeks ago, the pandemic upturned the baby's world too. And it suddenly brought him to Kochi and into Anitha’s life in the most unexpected of circumstances.
“Justin’s father tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month. He is still positive and is being treated in Haryana. His mother, who lacked a support system, then decided to travel to Kochi with her two kids. They reached on June 8 and she soon developed a fever and other symptoms. On June 9, she tested positive and has been isolated here in Kalamassery MCH since,” Anitha tells TNM.
While the couple’s first born - a two-year-old girl is being cared for by her grandmother in Ernakulam - Justin who was still on breast feed was left with his mother. Fortunately, the 6-month-old tested negative for the virus. The mother who was too weak to look after the baby and since the baby had a few health complications, contracting the infection from the mother had to be avoided at all costs.
“I don’t think any of their relatives volunteered to care for the baby. And doctors and nurses at the hospital on duty are hard pressed to babysit him as it is a full time job. So they looked around for bystanders. For a week, no volunteers showed up, perhaps fearing that they too would contract the virus,” Anitha adds.
The case then came to the notice of the district Child Welfare Committee (CWC) which also searched for temporary foster care for Justin. This is how Anitha came to know about the little one. She consulted her family including her three kids, who supported her decision.
The 48-year-old who was involved in many volunteer activities during the lockdown, decided to foster the baby herself.
“They could not find any volunteers for days and the child is too small, needs full time care. Most importantly, he has some minor health conditions, which requires extra attention to be given to him. So I decided to do it myself,” Anitha adds.
Mary Anitha and Justin in the isolation ward at Kalamassery MCH
“He is now comfortable with me and does not cry for his parents,” Anitha says, adding that she feeds him boiled milk and formula food, as he has no access to breast milk anymore.
“Initially, he seemed inseparable from his mother. But now he giggles when he sees me. We spend our time playing with toys and video calling his parents. I also get my husband and children to come on video call and play with him. He lets me bathe him and sing lullabies to make him sleep without any fuss,” she adds.
Anitha will hand over Justin to his mother after the latter recovers from the virus and tests negative. The 48-year-old then plans to undergo 14-days of institutional quarantine.
*Name changed to protect identity