Launched in 2014 thanks to support from Astellas Pharma EMEA, Action on Fistula has provided training to increase the number of surgeons treating fistula in Kenya, developed a countrywide network of hospitals offering free treatment, and has delivered free reparative surgery to more than 2,500 women suffering from this devastating childbirth injury.
When Salome sat down to speak with us, she confessed that despite living with fistula for seven years, this would be the very first time she had ever shared her story. Shyly, she said, “I have never shared my condition with anyone, including my husband, even though it was evident that he knew something was wrong with me but he never found the courage for us to have a conversation about it.”
Salome and her husband were married in 2010. She lived with her mother-in-law in their rural home in a small and somewhat isolated community in western Kenya. Her husband’s work required him to live in Nairobi, but he traveled home to his village for at least two days each month to spend time with Salome. When she became pregnant with her first baby, her mother-in-law gave her the best care and support that she could, making sure that Salome went for all of her prenatal visits. In most cases, her mother-in-law would even accompany her for these visits.
Salome describes the emotional day she went in to labor: “At around 10pm when I had already gone to my little house, I started experiencing labor pains. I was alone. The more time went by, the more the pain intensified, and I started getting frightened since it was my first experience. I wasn’t very sure with what to expect considering the fact that I had heard a lot of stories around childbirth and it was so clear that every woman’s story was different and every pregnancy was different. I made an effort to reach my mother-in-law’s house and immediately when my mother-in-law saw me she automatically knew the most awaited moment had come. She tried calling my husband’s phone but unfortunately it was turned off (something that most people do at night). We had to wait until morning for my husband to turn on his phone because he was the only person who was to give direction on what we were to do next. In the meantime, my mother-in-law was busy trying out everything to help me deliver my baby. Unfortunately, before daybreak, my mother-in-law suspected that my baby wasn’t breathing anymore.”
When morning finally came, her husband called to advise that she be taken to the hospital. But the decision had come too late. Salome had already lost her baby.
“Since that day, we never turn off our mobile phones especially at night, this is the lesson we learned the hard way,” Salome shared.
As a result of her prolonged obstructed labor, Salome had developed an obstetric fistula and had begun to leak urine. Her mother-in-law supported her and together, they made Salome’s fistula their family’s top secret. She became pregnant again, and had two successful deliveries after developing fistula. She said that seven years with fistula “flew by” because of the support she received from her mother-in-law and from her husband.
While delivering her second baby, she learned about fistula treatment through her birth attendant. She was able to access free surgery at Gynocare Fistula and Women’s Hospital, through Fistula Foundation’s Action on Fistula program.
As tears welled in her eyes, Salome shared, “Coming to Gynocare has made me realize how lucky I am because of the kind of supportive family that I have, and the fact that I have been able to have two babies, even with my fistula. My heart goes out for those women who were mistreated, chased away or abandoned by their loved ones. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for the young girls who will never have the blessing of being called a mother.”
- Population: 45,010,056
- Average Births per Woman: 3.54
- Female Literacy: 84.2%
- Population Living in Poverty: 43.4% (less than $1.25/day)