A Walk to Beautiful

Yesterday evening, Justin and I went to visit some friends up in Durham who recently had a baby. Their daughter Sam is beautiful and her mother has recovered just fine too. In fact, Courtney (the mom) plans to participate in a triathlon in August--about six months after she delivered.

I take comfort in knowing that one day I will give birth to my children in a clean hospital where there are doctors, nurses, and midwives. I know that if anything goes wrong during my labor, then I can rely on the medical personnel to give my baby the best of care. Unfortunately, millions of women across our globe do not have such a luxury.

Last week I watched the documentary "A Walk to Beautiful" that chronicles the prevalence of fistulas in Ethiopia. Obstetricians and midwives are rare in this poor African nation and even rarer in its countryside. Most women in rural areas have no access to a medical professional when they give birth---they just rely on the other women in the village to help them through the delivery. Now in many cases, both mother and baby are healthy after the birth; but in some cases, the woman languishes in labor that can last up to ten days. The child is often left stillborn while the mother frequently develops a fistula.

A fistula is a hole that forms between a woman's birth canal and one or more of her internal organs (either the bladder or the rectum). This hole is created after numerous days of obstructed labor and it causes permanent incontinence of urine and/or feces. Many women who develop fistulas are abandoned by their husbands and shunned by their communities. One woman in the documentary was forced to build an isolated hut away from her family members because they did not want to be close to her. For six years she suffered like this.

Yet there is hope for these women. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital was established in 1974 to treat women with this medical ailment. In the past 33 years, the hospital has treated over 33,000 women and boasts a 90% cure rate. But the work of the hospital is never done. About 100,000 Ethiopian women remain untreated while 9,000 new cases are introduced every year. The hospital faces an uphill---but not impossible---battle.

After the documentary ended, my heart was drained and I was humbled. How easy I take for granted the access to medical care in my life. How easy I take for granted my insignificant trials that are so small compared to others. And how helpless I feel when I realize there is not much I can do for these women beyond making a donation to the Fistula Foundation.

Life is so cruelly unfair and I wonder why I have been given so much and others so little.