The Ecuador earthquake’s miracle baby

My daughter was born on 16 April. It was a nice, beautiful day.

When the contractions started, my mother walked with me to the health centre. It took us one hour to get there. I was in so much pain that I thought I would deliver on the street. By the time we reached the centre, I was already in labour.

The baby was born at 3:45 am. She cried a lot and wanted to nurse. It was only when she latched on that she quieted down and fell asleep.

At sunrise, they sent me back home. My whole family was waiting for me there. I was very moved. Micaela Guadalupe was a little over one year old when I found out I was pregnant again. I was worried, but happy. I knew my family would support me.

A mother holds her baby girl.
UNICEF/UN018956/ArcosYajaira Altafulla, 24 years old, holds her daughter Milagro. The father of both her daughters is not taking responsibility for their needs, so Yajaira was planning to sue for maintenance once Milagro was born.

My husband and I separated six months ago. I was determined to move on with my life. I would think about how I would look for a job, finish my university studies and raise my two babies.

We used to live in a house overlooking the river, in a town called Boquita China. I have lived in that area with my family my entire life. We had separate houses but I would spend the entire day in my parents’ house. The whole family used to meet there.

I was in bed with my baby when the first tremor started. My eldest daughter has a hen who was hatching and I told my dad that the eggs will all break and there will be no chicks.

Then the shaking got stronger. I prayed to God to help me. I was in total despair. All the walls around us started falling. I asked my mum to get my other daughter who was with my dad in the next room. Thankfully, he had her in his arms, otherwise a wall would have probably fallen on her. When my mum stood up to get her, a wall fell on her and she was hurt. She crawled under the table and laid there half conscious. I was very worried.

My little baby was lying down close to where one of the walls fell down. It could have crushed her. It was like a blessing that she wasn’t hurt. I could barely move but I pulled her closer to me. She wasn’t crying and I kept thinking something happened to her. The walls kept crumbling. The light went off. It was terrible. I couldn’t find my shoes. All my family was outside. They were screaming and calling for me to come down. The tide had receded and we were all afraid that a wave would come.

I was in no condition to run, but something told me to stand up. My family came back in to check on me. I asked my sister to hold the baby. My brother offered to carry me on his shoulder but I told him I would be fine.

There was a little hill behind our house and we decided to climb it up to escape any waves. We didn’t realize that a house had fallen down and crushed other houses underneath it.

It was dark, thorns were hurting my hands, the shoes I was wearing didn’t fit but I was worried about my little baby. I kept praying to God to save her.

When we got up the hill, we found the houses flattened. Everyone was running. There were people caught under the rubble.

We kept going up. The ground was split open. Some put some planks for us to walk over. At some point a lawyer who knows my mother offered us a ride.

My mother was very worried about big waves coming and wanted us to keep walking to safety. I told her God put us through this. God didn’t tell us this was going to happen. Nobody knew it was going to happen. And a wave will reach us wherever we go. I would rather die here with my daughters close to our house. Someone told us to go to a nearby school.

This is our destiny. We are paying for other people’s sins. My daughter just came into this world and didn’t know anything about life.

We reached the school and stayed in one of the classrooms. More families kept coming in. There was not a single candle. My little brother had bought a sheet from the house and my baby and I slept on it right on the floor. I barely slept. There were so many of us in the room that I couldn’t even move.

I don’t know what will happen to us next. Schools will reopen in July and we will have to find another place to live, but I don’t know where. My house was completely destroyed. More than anything, I worry about my babies. There is a lot of dust which can hurt the little one, and the older one has a cold and diarrhea. There are lots of mosquitoes at night.

Here, people asked me about the baby’s name was. I had no idea what to name her at first. Someone suggested Terremoto and I thought no way I would name my daughter after an earthquake. Then I thought of the name Milagro. It is after all a miracle from God that she’s alive and safe.

Yajaira Altafulla is 24 years old and is the mother of Micaela Guadalupe, 2, and Milagro Sarai, 1 month.

As interviewed and transcribed by Najwa Mekki, a Communication Specialist in the Media Section of UNICEF HQ. Read more about the earthquake in Ecuador.

Recorded on May 4, in New Pedernales, Ecuador, at the 31 de Marzo School.




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