Imagine discovering that you are pregnant with your second child: the anticipation as you and your loved ones prepare to welcome a new addition to your family. Imagine waiting for days in excruciating pain as you suffer an obstructed labour without the help of a midwife. Imagine travelling, almost unconscious, on a homemade stretcher for hours as you are carried to the nearest medical clinic, where your child is heartbreakingly stillborn. Imagine waking up and realising the ordeal is not over, and that you constantly leak urine now because of an injury, called obstetric fistula, that you suffered in childbirth.
This was Bijige’s reality.
In the small, isolated village in southern Ethiopia which Bijige called home, a midwife and medical clinic was considered a luxury. So, when Bijijge experienced a complicated labour, there wasn’t a midwife who could help her. After two agonising days of obstructed labour, Bijige was carried, unconscious, to the closest medical clinic.
Bijige was lucky to be alive. Heartbreakingly, her baby was stillborn. When she awoke at the hospital, Bijige realised that her ordeal was not over: she was incontinent. “When I woke up, I found myself lying on a soaked bed and asked the nurses what happened,” says Bijiige. The local clinic assured her that her condition would stop after a while.
It never did.
Eradicating fistula, a devastating childbirth injury
Obstetric fistula is one of the worst things that can happen to a woman or girl. It is a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum, and leaves the patient leaking urine or faeces – sometimes both. This internal injury is caused when a woman experiences a difficult or obstructed labour without any medical help. In places like Ethiopia, over 70% of women end up giving birth without a medical professional’s help – as a result, an estimated 31,000 women in Ethiopia are currently suffering from the indignity and trauma of fistula.
Still, there is hope for millions of women in Ethiopia: the devastation of fistula is preventable. A skilled midwife is able to detect any abnormalities, escalate care in a timely manner, and drastically minimise the likelihood of obstructed labour. Dr Catherine Hamlin understood that the key to eradicating fistula lay in prevention; that’s why she established the Hamlin College of Midwives in 2007.
To date, 190 Hamlin Midwives have graduated from the Hamlin College of Midwives with a BSc (Midwifery) degree. In over 50 Hamlin-supported midwifery clinics across Ethiopia, Hamlin Midwives are delivering thousands of babies and preventing the same childbirth injuries that Bijige needlessly suffered. In fact, there were zero cases of obstetric fistula in villages where Hamlin Midwives were working last year.
The reality of fistula
For almost 40 excruciating years, Bijige was incontinent. “I returned home with a heavy heart and grief. Day in, day out, my situation never changed at all. Urine flows uncontrollably while I walk, sit and sleep,” says Bijige. The impact of her fistula went beyond her physical injury: her husband left her, and she had to move back to her father’s home and raise her daughter alone. Because of her incontinence, Bijige was cut off from her community. “I felt ashamed of myself and wished I could die, rather than live in such agony,” recalls Bijige.
“Because of this injury, I never even attended my daughter’s wedding properly. I was completely dependent on my father and my daughter. Throughout that time, I started to believe that I would live with it forever and became completely hopeless.”
A cure for Bijige
Depressed and isolated, Bijige had given up hope of a cure for her fistula injury after three decades of suffering – until she learnt of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia. When she arrived at Hamlin’s Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, Bijige was embraced with open arms and respect.
“I am inside this beautiful hospital with loveable staff who give unconditional love and care for every one of us. I just regret that I didn’t know about the hospital earlier,” reflects Bijige.
The surgery to repair the fistula injury that had grieved Bijige for decades, took only a few hours. One week after her fistula-repair surgery, Bijige was ready to be discharged.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, Bijige was dry.
“Although I am an old woman and close to my grave, my cure means a lot to me. I will live the rest of my life without being anguished, ashamed and depressed. I thank God and every single one of you here at the hospital for letting me see the impossible become possible. You are life givers,” exclaims Bijige.
We can eradicate fistula
“Midwifery I believe is the answer – to put a well trained midwife in every village would soon eradicate obstetric fistula.” – Dr Catherine Hamlin
Too many women like Bijige suffer needlessly because of fistula – but that doesn’t have to be the case. This childbirth injury can be eradicated through highly-trained midwives providing life-saving care – but we need your help. With a community of generous supporters committed to creating change in women’s lives, fistula will be eradicated and we will achieve Catherine’s vision of a midwife for every woman.
Imagine if a Hamlin Midwife was present when Bijige was in labour – she could have been spared almost 40 years of needless suffering. Will you help prevent more childbirth injuries? Click here to make a donation.