In 2003, at the age of 20 years, Caroline Kemunto discovered she was pregnant. The new wife was excited, elated at the thought of becoming a new mother – the dream of almost every woman. It was a smooth pregnancy -one that she enjoyed, and which thankfully, was devoid of any complications.
If only she could say the same of her labor experience.
“I began feeling the contractions when I was in the house before making my way to hospital as they increased in intensity. I thought that once in hospital it would be just a matter of minutes before I held my baby in my arms. But this was not to be for I continued laboring for two days with no baby in sight. It was only on the third day of my hospital stay that I finally delivered my baby though a vaginal birth. I was so exhausted by then,” she remembers.
But the worst was yet to come for the young mother.
“My baby was born dead. It was a boy. They told me that he had already died in my womb. I couldn’t understand it. Hadn’t I been feeling the baby kicking in my tummy all along? What then did they mean that he had already died in the womb?” she wondered.
When Caroline questioned the nurses about it, asking why her baby had died, their answers only confused her more.
“They told me that ‘death is common with childbirth’ in a dismissive tone, before moving on to other tasks. I was offered no explanation about my baby’s death. I never questioned them again about it as I felt as though I would be pestering them,” she remembers.
But Caroline’s problems did not end there. She soon noticed that she was unable to control her urine.
“I was wetting myself all the time. I was confused, because I had always been able to control my urine before. So what was wrong this time?”
Caroline however concluded that it could have been the stress of losing her first born child, and the shattered dreams of being a mother that could have been causing her to leak urine.
She returned home to her husband, hoping that the problem would go away once the grief had subsided.
But it never did.
Empathetic with her situation, Caroline’s husband advised her to wear washable napkins to contain her urine. But despite this, things were still never the same for her.
“Even though I wore napkins, sometimes the urine would leak and I would smell. I became scared of mixing with my fellow women in church, in women’s groups, at the market, at weddings, burials and other functions. When not out in the farm working, I preferred to stay indoors. My life for the past twelve years has been a very uncomfortable one,” says 32 year-old Caroline, who hails from Kisii, Nyanza Province, in the Western part of Kenya.
Caroline had developed a fistula during her prolonged labor with her child, who unfortunately did not survive.
It was however not all gloom for Caroline, for she was able to conceive and bear more children – two more sons and one daughter, who are today aged between 2 – 10 years.
“I must thank my husband for being supportive all through. I have heard of women with such conditions like mine, and who were deserted by their husbands. That however did not happen for me, as my husband has been by my side all through. In fact, he formally married me just three years ago,” she says.
Last month, her husband came home with some good news. It was an announcement he had heard over the radio on Egessa FM, a vernacular radio station of the Royal Media Services group which broadcasts in their native Kisii language.
“He told me that there were people coming to Kisii to treat women with conditions such as mine. He told me to go the Kisii Level 5 Hospital and register for the same, which I did.”
Caroline underwent a successful fistula repair surgery in September 2015, after having lived with the condition for 12 years. Her joy is evident.
“I am a very happy woman today. My life will finally go back to normal and I will be able to do so many things that I have not been able to do over the last decade. I will be able to accompany my children to school functions, I will be able to join my fellow women in functions such as weddings and chama’s, without any inhibition. Previously, I would only send my contributions to such kinds of activities, but not anymore. I will now be attending them in person. I am very happy and grateful to the people who offered me this treatment free of charge.”
Caroline was one of the 73 women who underwent successful fistula repair surgery at the Kisii Level 5 Hospital during the free fistula medical camp. The camp was sponsored by the Freedom from Fistula Foundation (FFF) and the Flying Doctors Society of Africa (FDSA) in collaboration with the Royal Media Services and the Kisii Level 5 Hospital.