Let’s be sensitive towards women with Obstetric Fistula


Sarah Omega (left), a fistula survivor and founder of Let’s End Fistula Initiative and former Gender CAS Linah Kilimo during the Let’s End Fistula Initiative’s 10th Anniversary in Eldoret town on October 8, 2021

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

This week, I came across a disturbing story, that of a woman that lived with obstetric fistula for a whopping 15 years. If you haven’t come across this term, obstetric fistula refers to injury that occurs during childbirth.

It is characterised by a hole between the birth canal and bladder or rectum, or both, and is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour where the woman fails to get timely, high-quality medical treatment. In Ruth’s case, the hole occurred between the birth canal and rectum, and she would therefore leak fecal matter, something she had no control over.

As you can imagine, her self-esteem and confidence took a nosedive, and with time, she began to experience suicidal thoughts. You would too if people avoided you and gave you dirty looks due to the horrible odour that followed you everywhere you went.

Or couldn’t keep a job because no matter how much you tried to hide it, your colleagues could smell you from a mile away, while customers recoiled from you. By then, Ruth had stopped laughing, since this natural and instinctive sound would lead to leaking of stool and gas.

Eventually, she became a recluse, avoiding everyone she knew and spending all her time indoors, wondering when this condition would heal – in her ignorance, she had assumed that all women suffered from this condition after childbirth, and therefore kept it to herself. But she could not lock herself away forever since she had a child to fend for and, therefore, had to look for work. She would go on to give birth to two more children, but the relationships with the fathers of her children were short-lived, since they could stand an adult that soiled herself.

It is bad enough that Ruth was only 20 years old when she developed this preventable complication and would only learn that it could be easily corrected with a simple surgery when she turned 35. What is worse, at least to me, is that no one bothered to ask her what was ailing her.

Not the men she was in relationships with and who abandoned her and their children without a backward glance, not the colleagues that ostracised and ridiculed her, nor the customers that would refuse to be served by her.

Instead, they all labeled her dirty and ill-mannered, yet had they been compassionate enough to find out what the matter was, rather than judge her, they might have gotten her help sooner.

And it is at this point that I would like to talk about a defect that many of us have – making assumptions about others and being quick to judge them. We will notice something unpleasant about someone we know, but instead of approaching that person and voicing our concern, we will instead diagnose their condition ourselves, rather, make conclusions, which we then share, (gossip is a more accurate word), with others who know this person. Imagine if this energy and time were spent talking to the source of the gossip.

I also believe that the gossip is no better than the person that observes someone they know going through a hard time but decides not to get involved. Talking from experience, many of us act this way because we are afraid of the responsibility, financial or otherwise, that we might be shackled with if we showed concern.

This, yet most of the time, what the person in need requires is a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on, or simply being pointed towards the right direction.

The writer is Chief Production Editor at NMG. Email: cnjunge@ ke.nationmedia.com