The parents of a baby girl who died from listeriosis seconds after being born have described how the tragedy impacted their lives.

Nomonde Mahule was told during labor that her daughter would not survive as delivery came too early.

The baby was born prematurely at 25 weeks and cried out briefly before passing away. Nomonde was admitted to a hospital in January 2018 and discharged after two days. A few days later the hospital called to tell her she had listeriosis and she was told to get medication from a local clinic.

Nomonde and her partner, Sibusiso Mogale, live in Mpumalanga, South Africa. They were expecting a baby when she contracted Listeria. Nomonde also has a 5-year-old daughter and recently had a baby girl.

The 24-year-old said February and March 2018 was an emotional time as she suffered from grief when she looked at her belly that once carried her baby. The sight of another pregnant woman or baby also brought back feelings of hurt as she recalled the loss of her baby.

The listeriosis outbreak began at the start of 2017 and ended in September 2018 with 1,065 confirmed cases and 218 deaths. It was traced in March 2018 to a ready-to-eat processed meat product called polony made at a plant in Polokwane run by Enterprise Foods, which is owned by Tiger Brands.

Domestic and work impact
Mogale said the pair had a few names in mind but hadn’t decided as they thought they had more time.

“The preparation we had done was the clothing and certain baby stuff we bought for our daughter and moving to a bigger place because we were initially staying in a one bedroom apartment and then we decided to move to a bigger apartment for the sake of the baby,” he told Food Safety News.

“It was devastating for both of us and tough for Nomonde’s daughter because she couldn’t understand as we were a bit distant. She would want to play, like she used to before, but sometimes when you played with her, as the memory of what had happened was still fresh, you would break down and you don’t want to cry in front of her because she wanted to know why you are crying.

“It is hard to lie to her about something so serious. She would remind her mum now and again where is my baby sister as we had already told her and she had seen the lump on my wife’s stomach.”

Mogale lost his job in electrical engineering after taking time off due to the tragedy.

“It was tough but I think the fact that we were able to support one another helped. I couldn’t handle it at work, I was crying every day, I wasn’t doing my work, I didn’t want to be in the office and was constantly trying to speak to someone. But now that we are alright I am starting to apply for other employment but it is tough I won’t lie. I think that was the toughest period for both of us because we spoke about it only to realize we had never been through such a huge ordeal. For me it was a life changer in more ways than one.”

Cravings while pregnant
Nomonde’s favorite food during pregnancy was polony, especially chicken polony. Now she avoids cold meat and fast foods and has started drinking bottled water.

“We were not eating a lot of polony before but as soon as she got pregnant Nomonde started craving the chicken polony so we bought it quite a few times. She would sometimes eat the polony on its own without putting it on bread or with a salad,” said Mogale.

“Since the incident we’ve tried not to have it but we are told things are back to normal. We are a bit reluctant in terms of buying Enterprise. It is a product that is loved by a lot of people, I myself love Enterprise polony, viennas and Russians but I am just a bit scared right now.

“It is a scary thought but we had no idea about listeriosis, why was the product on the shelves? It could be any other brand from here on, we could try and avoid Enterprise products and then another product becomes a problem.

“As a company they should be more careful because they are distributing products that are consumed by people that are working. I lost my job because of a product that my wife consumed and we lost our baby together. For people to buy their products it needs to be people who are employed.”

Nomonde began feeling abdominal pain in January last year. However, as it would come and go she believed it was a normal pregnancy symptom.

“I went to see a GP who ran some tests to check what it was as he wasn’t sure and he gave me some medication and said come back if the pain persists. So we went and then in the afternoon the cramps had become more painful so I couldn’t sleep and then I went to the bathroom and I saw blood. We went to see our GP in the morning, he sent us to a gynecologist at the Mediclinic Nelspruit. When we got there I already had labor pains so they admitted me and ran a few tests and said I would have a premature baby because I was not due by that time, I was approaching five months,” she said.

She cried twice and that was it
Mogale said at first they were not sure if it was listeriosis or another infection.

“They gave her medication to see if they could slow down the birth so at least she could reach six months. So they tried to keep her in the hospital for a couple of weeks so the premature baby could be born with a higher chance of surviving,” he said.

“I was with her at the hospital and then I left going back home because they said she was going to sleep over. About an hour later she called me and said listen I am going to give birth the doctor said the baby is coming right now, so I went back to the hospital. The doctor did warn us there was no way that the baby will survive, she can be kept in an incubator, but it is not going to help as the baby is not strong enough and her organs are not fully developed.

“I got there and she was already in the delivery room. In our culture we wanted to give her a proper burial, so as soon as she was born, she cried twice and that was it. She passed on a couple of seconds after being born.”

It is important people talk about what happened and don’t try and deal with it alone, according to Mogale.

“It is not easy at all but the best thing you can do is support one another and if you don’t have a partner, family members can support you, don’t try and deal with it on your own. More than anything try to speak about it because it does help, even if it is your friend, a family member or colleague at work it does help the more you talk about it and you can also assist somebody else who doesn’t know when you talk about it. A lot of people in our community couldn’t believe that we went through such a thing, they had heard it from the news on TV far from us and suddenly it is right here.”

Mogale said the pair are now looking to the future as they have recently had a baby girl.

“Right now it is growing as a family, my wife wants one more kid, she is hoping for a boy, but I am happy with the two we have now as we have a girl who is a few months old. I want to travel a lot with my family, I am the dad and am surrounded by females so I want to teach them a bit, let them be independent and get a tombstone for our baby girl by the graveyard. I want us to get married, she wants a big white wedding so I need to get a job and save up money,” he said.

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