After Zika: a mother's story

After Zika: a mother's story


Gleyse Kelly da Silva was seven months pregnant when an ultrasound showed her unborn baby's head had stopped growing.

Her 3-month-old daughter Maria Giovanna has microcephaly, a deformation characterised by abnormally small heads that can also include brain damage.

The condition is suspected to be linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency.

. Recife, BRAZIL. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

"When I found out she had microcephaly, like every mother, I was scared," Silva said at her home in Recife, eastern Brazil.

"I never imagined my daughter could be born with a defect,” she said. “I was afraid of the consequences she could face."

. Recife, BRAZIL. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

The Zika outbreak has been declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organization. Recife is at the centre of a crisis overwhelming local health authorities.

My colleagues and I spent a day with Silva and her family, watching her look after her daughter.

. Recife, BRAZIL. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

When we arrived, she was anxious having strangers at her home. She held her baby throughout the interview.

"I think this is characteristic of mothers with babies with microcephaly," Silva said. "Mother and child are always connected to each other."

. Recife, BRAZIL. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

The 27-year-old toll-booth worker says that after the scan and further tests, she was warned her daughter may have been infected by the virus but, like many pregnant women, knew little about it. She searched online to find out more.

"I only learned more about it after my daughter was born. There was no talk of this here (before)," she said, adding she still had "confused" knowledge of the virus' effects.

. Recife, BRAZIL. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

Silva said she became ill in April for several days: she got a fever, suffered itching and a rash on her chest and back. She also had pack pain.

What potential problems her daughter could face in the future are as yet unclear.

Here, Maria do Rosario holds her granddaughter Maria Giovanna.

. Recife, BRAZIL. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

Silva went home with Maria Giovanna soon after the birth. Doctors took the baby's blood samples as well as liquid from her spine for tests. Silva and Maria Giovanna's father Felipe Marques are still awaiting the results.

"When I saw her the first time I cried," Silva said. "I saw my perfect daughter and thanked God. It was a feeling of love, happiness."

. Recife, BRAZIL. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

The whole family has been supportive towards the couple. They treat Maria Giovanna as they would any other baby. The couple have registered for state support and are waiting to receive it.

For a photographer, such an assignment is delicate. You have to be respectful towards the family.

Taking pictures of Silva with her baby, I did not just want to do a photo essay. I felt I had a responsibility to share their story and highlight the problem fast unravelling in Latin America and the Caribbean.

. Recife, BRAZIL. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

Silva has set up a phone-messaging group with other mothers whose babies have microcephaly. They share experiences and support each other.

She is hopeful that her daughter will not suffer any severe consequences in the future and that Maria Giovanna will grow up to walk, talk and play with other children.

"I cannot believe it when the doctors say she will not walk," she said. "I need to believe that everything will be all right."

(Editing by Brian McGee)