I had the opportunity to watch an incredibly moving and important documentary this week. "A Walk to Beautiful" tells the stories of several women in Ethiopia suffering from obstetric fistulas, caused by prolonged, obstructed labor that goes without treatment, their babies having died in the womb. The women (and young girls, too) are rendered permanently incontinent without medical care, and as such, become outcasts from their societies and even their own families.
Up to 5% of all pregnant women in the world develop fistulas, with a high incidence in places like developing countries in Africa where malnutrition is a root cause. Malnourishment causes insufficient skeletal growth, and thus the pelvises of many women truly are too small to safely deliver vaginally. This is true cephalopelvic disproportion, not the Big Baby Bull that is so often sold to women in our own American culture.
Here's the trailer:
Of course, watching this, I felt gratitude for living in a country and socioeconomic status where I have both quality midwifery for healthy, normal births with access to modern medical care for a complicated labor, should complications arise, and further for having grown up with more than enough nutrition to prevent stunted skeletal growth in the first place. But even more than that, I felt suddenly profoundly aware of another advantage I have that I take for granted every single day, one example of which I am exercising right now: the combination of information and connection to others.
The women in this video have been existing in emotional isolation, and sometimes near or complete literal physical isolation as well. They sometimes had no idea that there was a name for what had happened to them, or that it happened to other women, too. Literacy is an issue in itself, but even for those that are literate, information sources are scarce to say the least. They don't have an ICAN Facebook page. They don't have a bookshelf overflowing with empowering pregnancy books. They don't attend webinars. They can't watch "The Business of Being Born". They don't have a blog and a Google Reader full of birth-related material. They don't Tweet. (I certainly mean no disrespect to any of these things, participating in every one of those things listed myself.)
The Fistula Foundation, featured here in the film, provides not only treatment for afflicted women, but a safe haven. I was deeply affected watching these women, having been shunned and shamed for so many years (some from their early teens on, or younger), finally finding kindred spirits, finally a place of comfort and acceptance, a place to talk about their experiences. They are given not only care but caring company, for the first time since their unbelievably traumatic births. The camera captured some of the clinic's patients talking together about their stories, and I got the feeling that this may have been the first time they had ever been able to speak so freely about what had happened to them - and to someone who could really understand.
You can watch the full version below, and I hope that you do, but it's well worth purchasing the DVD to support the cause, or, if you watch online, consider making a donation to the Fistula Foundation, the organization behind this wonderful cause.