I remember vividly as young girl with bright future, getting married, having kids of my own and able to support my family. Being born in a small village which is 120 Km away from Gondar; the highest ambition of most girls of my age was a dream of being a mother who cares to her family and be successful. Fulfilling my dream I got married at age of 19, became ecstatic and start praising my lord for giving me for all what I asked for. Life became joyful with a blessing of becoming pregnant just one year after marriage in 2011.
My pregnancy was very healthy and peaceful, though the worst was yet to come. As I was a country girl and following all my extended family, I did not go to the health facility when I started labour with an intention of delivering at home. “After feeling restless for 03 days at home, I had to go to a nearby health center and spent another 24 hours of agonizing pain. Then, I was referred to Gondar university hospital. I had to be admitted in the Obstetric/Gynecologic ward immediately and they had to perform a surgical procedure called ‘Caesarean section’ to deliver the baby. Nevertheless, my baby was already dead in my uterus.’’
Birke’s face got gloomy when she recalled the suffering she had stumbled upon during her labour. She was not capable of controlling her urine and had to be catheterized after the surgery.
“I was completely worn out and semi-conscious for about one month. Everyone including my family thought that I was going to die. It is a miracle that I am still alive. I still do not recall what I have said to the nurses or my family during that time, it is also hard for me to remember what my reaction was when they told me I cannot control my urine.”
Although the Gondar fistula ward was on construction by then; the fistula surgeons had already started their activities. Birke was scheduled for an operation after three months because she was too weak and her body needed to regain strength. She was one of the initial patients who got examined and screened for obstetric fistula when WAHA started the obstetric fistula treatment in 2010.
Her family took her to her home so that they were able to take a good care of her for the three months before the appointment for surgery. Despite the teachings and the explanations given at the ward her family perceived the cause of the obstetric fistula wrongly.
“My family thought I developed fistula because of poor appetite and less movement only while I was pregnant…..”
Her husband used to come to the hospital when she was admitted. However, she did not want see him. The illness had turned her love for her husband in to a complete hate.
“I thought the fistula happened to me because of my husband. It was disgusting and frustrating for me to look at him. Therefore, I told him that I could not see him although he was coming to the hospital every day. Even though he was not willing to divorce me I insisted then got divorced…..”
Birke sees her ex-husband once in a while when she is out in Gondar town. Even after all this time, she blames him for developing obstetric fistula.
Birke in the Gondar university fistula unit office
“After 03 months I was admitted to the Gynecologic/Obstetric department for a surgical procedure. There and then comes the shocking news!!! I was told that I had a whole between my bladder and private part, which was caused as a result of the prolonged labour…”
Words can’t express what I felt; I taught the whole world was crumbling in front of my eyes. My deepest sorrow crunched my belly thinking for once joyful girl to be in a state of unknown future…”
Birke spoke about the type of the fistula she had, manifesting the outcome of the long time help and work in the fistula ward she had done.
“Thanks to the fistula surgeons, my operation was successful.”
Birke appreciates how much lucky the women in Gondar, including herself, have such care and treatment center available. She helped out the health care team in the ward as a patient assistant for about 4 years after her treatment; in expression of her gratitude for the treatment she had received.
“I would voluntarily make coffee or the beds for the admitted women and teach them when I was in the ward.”
Realizing her aspiration to help obstetric fistula victims and the importance of having a woman with similar experience; the fistula coordinator in the Gynecologic/Obstetric department offered her a chance to work in the ward. Birke was very pleased to continue helping in the ward even after being discharged.
“I was happy to stay in the ward and help. I would have agreed to continue helping the women even without monetary incentive. I felt so energetic that I did not want to rest.”
“I help out the patients when they go to the toilet, I will take them to the x-ray room or laboratory. I saw the patients as if they were part of my own family.”
“The patients also liked me very much. They took me as of their big sister or daughter who cares for them. They shared their deep secret with me.”
“Generally, obstetric fistula is the worst kind of illness that any kind women cannot handle. It hurts the mind and body of a woman. Even after surgical repair it is hard to get over the psychosocial impairment encountered as a result of the disorder. I even feel pain when I remember my situation years before, imagine how those women with Obstetric Fistula had suffered years hiding at their homes without treatment… We all must work hard to eradicate Obstetric fistula from Gondar, Ethiopia and from the world.”
Today Birke is 26 years old financially independent woman who is currently working as a Marketing officer and a focal person for the socio-economic reintegration program in Dabat established by WAHA for women formerly treated for obstetric fistula.
Birke selling the items produced by former fistula patients in Dabat production centre
“Being involved in the rehabilitation program is a different experience than working inside the fistula ward. In the ward my relationship was limited with the patients and the hospital community. It is exciting to work in the outside environment of the hospital. I get to meet different kind of people whether local or foreigners in addition to the former fistula patients engaged in the program at Dabat. I used to live inside the ward but now I am living in an apartment I rented with my own salary, pay for grocery and shopping…. I am an independent woman. I manage my own financial expenses with the salary I get from working at WAHA.”
The once bashful and the woman of very few words Birke spoke with delight and exhilaration written on her face endlessly about the life she has now. She sells the produced items by the former fistula patients inside the reintegration centre in Dabat. She is also the contact person of WAHA in Gondar. Thus, Birke follows on the expected work under the project to be completed in time. She sells the items tirelessly according to the flow of the customers. She is an eye for WAHA in Gondar.
“I sell different kinds of traditional scarves and basketries made by the team in Dabat. I try to explain about the project as much as possible whenever the tourists are coming near to the shop. Then I collect the money gathered from the sold items and deposit it in the bank….”
Birke hopes to continue her education so she took the national exam to enrol in college and get her diploma while working for WAHA.
“I am eagerly waiting for the score point of the entrance for college to be announced by the ministry of education…God help me this time I really want to continue learning and get my diploma.”
Birke finalized her story thanking for the opportunity she was given.
“I always praise the almighty and say to myself what a lucky lady I am! For a girl of a village who can be in a destitute situation if it wouldn’t have been for WAHA surgeons’ my place would have been on a street begging for my means of survival. Hence, I want to express my deepest gratitude for WAHA in letting me see the person I am today and seek more success in life. It is hard to imagine where I will be today if I did not get cured and given the chance to work….Thank you so much! May God bless you all! ”