September 29, 2011
13 year olds learn about fistula
The Republic of Chad has been plagued for years by war, an influx of refugees and ongoing violence between different rebel factions. Neighbouring Sudan has seen hundreds of thousands fleeing its Darfur region. The need for international humanitarian aid continues unabated.
In Chad, one in 11 women dies of childbirth or pregnancy. As we toured our first school groups today through the Refugee Camp exhibit we set up in Quebec City, I am reminded of this reality. The kids I guided are 13 years old and they wanted to hear a story about someone their age – to better understand the reality of a refugee.
I was immediately reminded of Fatima who arrived accompanied by her mother at the hospital to give birth to her first child. She had been in labour for two days in the refugee camp prior to being transported to the hospital. Fatima’s baby was trapped in her pelvis and her labour had become ineffective because her uterus was tired. We were able to help Fatima have her baby. Sadly, he was stillborn.
This journey had been too long for this new life to travel safely. Fatima was sad to hear this news and, in her grief, she also learned that her body had been damaged by this long birthing process. Fatima had a fistula.
We explained to Fatima that a fistula is a complication where there is a new opening between her bladder and her vagina which causes urine to leak uncontrollably from her vagina. It’s a problem we rarely ever see here in Canada because women have access to care for labour and birth. She would need a specialised surgery in order to have her fistula repaired.
Lucky for Fatima, there was a fistula project started by Médecins Sans Frontières in a neighbouring city. Otherwise, it is not uncommon for women to live with such a condition for years, maybe for life. They are isolated from their community because they smell; rejected by their husbands because they did not bear a live child; and have difficulty becoming pregnant again due to infections that ensue from this complication.
The kids from my tour were shocked. Many of them didn’t know anyone of their age to be pregnant, let alone suffer such a long road due to the challenges related to childbirth.
I’m a midwife, comfortable dealing with medical issues like these but not so experienced when it comes to discussing them in public. These students reacted to Fatima’s story in a perfectly understandable way, one which will hopefully give them greater insights into the many challenges facing women who lack adequate access to the kind of care that our organization provides.
(Nathalie Pambrun is a midwife from Manitoba, now based in New Brunswick)