Have you heard the story of Mahabouba Mohammed? In 2003, Nicholas Kristof, wrote about Mahabouba in his New York Times article:”Alone and Ashamed.” Today, I saw Mahabouba’s story through the eyes of Dr. Sr. Priscilla Busigye at the Maternal Deaths & Fistula Multi-Religious Forum:Faith Securing Maternal Health hosted by Religions for Peace and the United Nations Foundation. I listened with tears in my eyes to a child’s story of horror and an unbreakable spirit.
Sold into slavery at age 8, raped by her master at age 12, by age 13, Mahabouba was pregnant and about to give birth. In pain and alone, she was sent into the nearby fields to give birth. With the trauma of prior sexual assault and no medical care during pregnancy, childbirth, for Mahabouba ,resulted in a stillbirth, fistula, and additional injuries that made it impossible for her to walk. Horrified by her injuries and her smell, the man who fathered her child, ostracized and abandoned her to a hut on the outskirts of her village. The door of the hut was also torn off, in the hope that, when night came, she would be eaten by hyenas. With the help of a big stick and the unquenchable will to live, this brave child fought off the hyenas. When day came, she had survived the hyenas’ attacks, but she knew if she remained in that hut, she would surely die. Mahabouba decided to embark upon the journey of her life. She would crawl to the neighboring village where she had heard about an American missionary who might be able to help her. Crawling through the day and climbing trees at night to avoid becoming prey, 30 miles later, Mahabouba arrived at the neighboring village barely hanging on to life. The missionary immediately diagnosed her condition and drove her several more miles to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.
Mahabouba survived death and remarkably, she is now a nurse’s aide at the hospital that saved her life.
Painfully jolting, yet empowering and hopeful, Mahabouba’s story is one of millions. Mahabouba and others like her suffer, because by virtue of birth, they are born female…poor and uneducated in a third world country. Fistula, described by WHO as “the single most dramatic aftermath of neglected childbirth” does not have to, nor should it, determine the future of women who are marginalized in their communities. How can you learn more? What can you do to help?
How I Learned About Fistula
Just a little over a year ago, I hadn’t heard of fistula. It began when my church, Advent Lutheran (Advent) began a campaign to bring awareness to this issue. Stories of poverty and suffering are always heartbreaking and leave you wondering, “What can I do?” Yet, as Margaret Mead said “it has always been a small group of people that has brought about change.” A small group of people decided just a little over a year ago that they wanted and needed to do something because they believed these women deserved to live without pain, deserved to smile and deserved to live with dignity. Advent’s Maternal Health Initiative was born. A team of church members urgently began disseminating information, advocating and fundraising to bring awareness to women suffering with Fistula and to raise $20,000. On Saturday, December 11, 2010 Advent’s Maternal Health Initiative reached its goal of $20,000.
What We Should Know About Fistula
There are two types of fistula: Obstetric fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged labor and the lack of adequate medical care. Traumatic fistula is caused by rape and other forms of sexual violence.
Causes and Development of Fistula
Fistula can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of them include: prolonged labor without medical intervention, sexual violence, adolescent pregnancies, small birth canal and malnutrition (“malnutrition prevents a girl’s skeleton, and therefore, pelvis, from full maturation. This stunted condition can contribute to obstructed labor, and therefore fistula.”)
“Fistula develops when blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and the bladder (and/or rectum) is cut off during prolonged obstructed labor. The tissues die and a hole forms through which urine and/or feces pass uncontrollably.”
Problems Associated with Fistula:
- Chronic Incontinence
- Kidney Disorders
- Skin Infections
- Loss of Dignity
- Death (If left untreated)