Obstetric Fistula

We are extremely blessed in this country and everywhere else in the West. Although we sometimes complain about a lack of choices in birth, or having C-sections performed on us unnecessarily, or having other interventions forced or coerced on us, we really have it very good when it comes to childbirth, compared to the majority of the women in the world. While we can wish for ours to be better, we should also take some time to think about the millions and millions of women for whom it is worse. Much worse.

In many parts of the world, girls are married, or prostitutes, or forced to have sex at young ages. And they have children starting at young ages. In America, it is rare and is a crime — not so everywhere! In many parts of the world boys are prized and girls are neglected. I remember reading several months ago about a woman in India who had twins, and her doctor told her that she couldn’t breastfeed both of them — that she wouldn’t make enough milk, which was almost definitely hogwash — so she opted to nurse the boy and give the girl formula. There was a picture accompanying the article of the woman holding the twins who were several months old — a fat, healthy boy, and a starving, tiny girl. I assume that the woman couldn’t afford formula, so diluted it too much, or something. A few days after the picture was taken, the girl died — she looked like she hadn’t grown since birth, while her brother looked nearly twice her size. It sickened me.

In such countries, it is typical for men to get the best health care, while women and children get the dregs, if anything. I remember another article I read years ago (I think after the first Persian Gulf War, or perhaps when humanitarian aid came to some Arabic or African country that was in the middle of a war or famine or something), in which Western health care workers came to a village to treat the sick, give vitamins or antibiotics or what-not to those who needed it, and they were astounded by what they saw — the men who were generally healthy anyway lined up first, forcing the women and children out of the way. It was “might makes right”, so the sickest and weakest were pushed to the back of the line. The doctors and nurses then went to the end of the line and started there, or just told the men that they would have to wait until the women and children were seen. We in America and much of the West are used to the line “women and children first,” and we generally practice it. We take it for granted that those who cannot defend themselves are defended by and promoted by those who are stronger; and that those who are the sickest and weakest among us are put first in line for help.

In many countries, there is a lack of food and/or nutrition — many times not because of a famine, per se, but because the country’s rulers refuse to dispense food that they have at their disposal to the people, usually because they are of the wrong ethnicity, clan, or tribe. Sometimes it is sheerly a lack of food — poverty is rampant in many areas, and some children starve to death or suffer malnutrition. One man I know from India was malnourished as a child, and his teachers thought he was mentally retarded and told him he would never be able to learn. After that, circumstances in his life changed and he began to be well-nourished (I think Christian missionaries took pity on him and took him in and fed him), and finally began to be able to learn, and not only was he not mentally deficient, but he went on to learn English fluently, and is now the director of several orphanages. Some missionaries to the Philippines I know were dismayed to discover that it was not uncommon in their area for children (usually girls, being less prized than boys) to become blind due to a lack of vitamin A in their diets.

In many countries, girls are routinely ritually mutilated by having some or all of their external genitalia removed. “Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.” Long-term complications can cause problems during childbirth.

We know nothing of these things. But they all contribute to many women developing an obstetric fistula during childbirth. It can be prevented. It can be cured. The UN article I just linked to says that the surgery for repairing such a fistula is $300. In this Christmas season, when you’re wondering what to get for that person who has everything, I’d suggest a charitable donation made in their name to a worthy cause. This is one such, but there are very many different causes that are equally worthy.

(When you give to a charity, make sure that they not just support a worthy cause, but are legitimate (many scammers pretend to be charitable causes), and that the majority of money they receive goes towards the cause. Some organizations have such lavish offices and outrageous salaries that very little money actually goes to help the people you wish to help. I actually don’t like the UN very much, and think that they waste a horrible amount of money, so feel free to find a better organization to support.)


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