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Life after fistula: from a survivor to a campaigner

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 18 Oct 2011 14:08 GMT
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MAPUTO (TrustLaw) - After giving birth to her rapist’s child, Sarah Omega from western Kenya developed a fistula, or hole in the birth canal, which made her incontinent. She lived with this debilitating injury for 12 years before learning that it could be treated.

Obstetric fistulas are created when women are in labour for many hours without getting a Caesarean section. Tissue dies due to pressure from the baby’s head and a hole forms through which urine and/or faeces leak.

Now 35, Omega is working to help thousands of other Kenyan women living with fistula get a second chance in life. Speaking to AlertNet at the International Obstetric Fistula Working Group meeting in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, she tells her story below:

 

“I was raped when I was 19. He was a religious leader and the rape was my very first sexual encounter. In the neighbourhood, there was a funeral and we attended. It was 11pm and a girl asked me to go and buy some sodas for the guests. We went to a shop and found it closed. She told me we could buy the sodas from another shop. We went. Two men were following her and they started chatting.

When we went through an entrance, I realised it was a bar. I was just very green from the village. We went through a door and this man pushed me into a room. That’s when I realised it was a lodging.

I tried to shout but the man was too strong for me. I tried to make noise to raise an alarm but he ended up choking me. I must have fallen unconscious because I just found myself in the same room the following day in a pool of blood.

I became pregnant. When it came to the time to deliver, I was at home alone. I laboured for over 20 hours by myself because I didn’t have the bus fare to get to the nearest health facility.

When I got there, I was left unattended for around 19 hours. By the time the gynecologist came, I had already lost my baby. So I was referred to a mission hospital where I delivered, through Caesarean section, a stillborn baby boy of 4.8 kg.

Three days after the operation I realised I had uncontrolled leaking of urine. The medical personnel came. All I heard were whispers. I didn’t know what had happened to me because no one was kind enough to help me understand my medical state.

At home, life was never the same again. The world was so cruel. I felt that I was being punished for being a woman. Because of the bad odour of urine, you are isolated. You are treated as an outcast. Even the people that once loved and cared for me rejected me.

After living with it for 12 years, it reached a point where my mind couldn’t contain all the happenings in my life: the rape, the pregnancy, the loss of the baby, the leaking of urine. Nights were my moments of shedding tears because of the pain from the genital sores.

I ended up suffering depression that landed me in a psychiatric ward. My neighbours admitted me after they found me in my room one evening. I was naked. I was going around speaking like a mad man.

With the help of the psychiatric doctor, I learned of obstetric fistula repair. In May 2007, successful surgery was done by Dr Hillary Mabeya, a surgery that reminded me again of what being a woman felt like.

When I went back home, I realised that I was alive again. When I looked around to see people of my age, I realised they were far ahead of me. Some had good jobs. Some were married. I didn’t know what to do with the new life. I wished I still had the fistula because it helped me to live in another world. I ended up suffering depression again. I got hospitalised for two weeks in a psychiatric ward.

I realised I had something to offer. I decided to devote my life to help other women who are suffering in silence, the same way I suffered in silence. I went from door to door, from one village to the other. Having gotten my life back, I count it as a second chance in life.

This year, I got employed by One by One (a U.S.-based charity dedicated to the eradication of fistula). A few weeks ago, we launched a programme called Let’s End Fistula where we brought in 31 volunteers from western region. They find these women [with fistula] and they bring them in for surgery.

I finally found a man who really understands me and I am getting married on 3rd December. It’s a precious gift. I’ll have an opportunity to be called a wife and I will be called a mother. I am so happy that there is life after a fistula.”

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)

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