“One Woman at a time. That is how we fight fistula. By restoring health and dignity to one. One woman with the will to survive. She is still waiting.” -The Fistula Foundation
Once we have given birth to our first child we join a sisterhood of mothers. We can relate to each other in a way that only someone who has experienced the bodily changes of pregnancy and birth can. As beautiful and miraculous of a process pregnancy can be, our bodies have transformed in ways that introduce humility as only gestation can.
As mothers we seem to be able to speak about personal things we would never speak of to anyone else. Breastfeeding, leaking milk, hernias, incontinence, episiotomy, my fellow mothers, we have all been there in some way. We understand. Personally, I shared my experiences with other mothers along the way through my four pregnancies and births, and one miscarriage in between.
Obstetric Fistula is not a pleasant topic, and not one that we as mothers talk to each other about, but it is a mother’s topic, and because as mothers we are sisters, we need to talk about it.
Obstetric Fistula is a hole that has opened between the birth canal and the rectum or bladder that is caused by prolonged obstructed labor. This leaves the woman leaking feces, urine or both. In turn these women are ostracized from their communities due to the smell. Ninety percent of these women become depressed, can no longer care for their other children or work to help support their families.
Many times they do not even know what is wrong with them, or the exact cause of their affliction, they think they are cursed. In countries and societies where giving birth is a badge of honor, these women have little hope. Of all of the problems and challenges that women face in developing nations, Obstetric Fistula is a relatively easy problem to fix. With surgery women can go on to live normal productive lives.
Obstetric Fistula is a disease of poverty that currently affects more than 500,000 women around the world. 48% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa give birth without any medical help at all. In countries where malnutrition plays a part in developmental growth, girls are married and give birth at younger ages. Even in their 20’s, which is the most common age bracket of Obstetric Fistula, their pelvis may not be large enough to birth due to having grown up malnourished.
In places like America, Obstetric Fistula was almost entirely eliminated with the availability of emergency cesarean section surgery, so it is not a problem we hear much about. The mothers who are affected by it, may have also lost their baby due to days of labor and difficult childbirth. Imaging giving birth only to lose the baby, and become physically “broken” in the process?
Now think of the humility you felt going through uncomfortable bodily changes during your own pregnancy, and then imagine the shame that would come from being continually incontinent thereafter. The feeling of shame plays a large part in these women’s lives, yet this is such a hopeful issue.
Obstetric Fistula is preventable when timely emergency obstetric care is available, and it can be fixed with surgery.
While in New York City last week for the Social Good Summit with World Moms Blog, I was able to sit down with Kate Grant, the CEO of the Fistula Foundation, to hear about the hope that the Fistula Foundation is able to bring to these women through the services they help to fund. She explained to me that for only $450 dollars a woman’s life can be transformed. That amount is enough to cover restorative surgery and post-operative care.
“The difference between despair and restored dignity for a woman suffering with fistula is $450 dollars.”
The Fistula Foundation helps fund 42 sites in 19 countries around the world helping to transform these women’s lives. Not only the women are helped, but their children, who have suffered by witnessing their mother’s rejection, poverty and misery. The Fistula Foundation has trained vitally needed surgeons, nurses and anesthetists, and donated monetarily to fund fistula hospitals and projects worldwide. You just have to read about patients’ stories to see the way these women’s lives can be transformed by surgery.
A Fistula Foundation grantee partner, the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Somaliland, will be featured in a segment on Maternal Mortality night two of the documentary film Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide [running October 1 and 2, 2012 on PBS in America]. Hopefully the movie, based on the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, will heighten the awareness and with additional donations brought forth by this issue, more women suffering from Obstetric Fistula can be helped.
As mothers and sisters, we need to be able to talk about these things, the things that may not always be comfortable to talk about. Awareness can become action, which can transform lives.