The motherhood journey for 26 year-old Milkah Mailu from Kwale County in Kenya’s Coast Province has not been an easy one. A class eight dropout, Milkah fell pregnant at the age of 20 years. At that time, she was still living with her parents in a rural village in Shimba Hills.
When it was time to deliver her baby, Milka began experiencing labor pains while at home at 5am. She then boarded a bicycle taxi (boda boda) and began her journey to the hospital.
With no clear road, the path that the bicycle took were rocky, bushy and practically non-existent, making the ride and arduous one for the woman in labor. The bicycle dropped her off at a stop, after which she then boarded yet another bicycle, which would then transport her to the main road where she would be able to find a vehicle that would take her to the hospital. By the time the heavily pregnant Milkah got to the hospital, it was 4pm. The journey from home to the hospital had taken her 11 hours.
She would eventually end up having a caesarean section after the doctors established that a normal delivery would not be possible because her pelvis was ‘too small’. Unfortunately, Milka’s baby was born dead.
Four years later, Milkah conceived again. This time round, she was married and was no longer living in a remote rural area where infrastructure was poor. When time came for her to deliver –signaled by labor pains, Milkah quickly made her way to the hospital.
Owing to her previous birth experience, Milkah informed the nurses about her ‘small pelvis’ condition, advising them to take her for a caeserian section immediately. However, the nurses ignored her pleas.
Four days later, still admitted in hospital and in labor, the nurses, rather belatedly, realized that she was not going to delivery naturally, and realized that a caesarean section was inevitable. But as fate would have it, it was at the same time that the country was undergoing a crisis in the health sector as doctors in public hospitals had gone on strike. Unfortunately for Milkah, there was no doctor in the public hospital she was in who would perform the surgery.
Her family then decided to rush her to a nearby private hospital, where she underwent a caesarean section. Unfortunately, once again, the baby was already dead –something they told her was because she had been in labor for too long and the baby had died out of distress.
However, her problems were far from over.
“A few days after being discharged from hospital and without a child for the second time, I realized that I was leaking urine. When I returned to the hospital, I was told it was as a result of prolonged labor which had caused internal injury. I was further informed that I needed Sh30,000 to correct the problem. I could not afford this money, so I returned home dejected,” she remembers.
However, relief came from her friend who had suffered the same condition and had the previous year undergone a successful fistula repair surgery at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi. She informed her of a similar surgery that was to be conducted by the same people -the Flying Doctors Society of Africa (FDSA) in collaboration with the Freedom from Fistula Foundation (FFF) and KNH.
We met Milkah recuperating at KNH three days after her free successful surgery. The joy that she beamed was contagious.
“I can’t believe that I’m not leaking urine anymore,” a jovial Milka told us, adding that “my life is just about to get back on track.”
Milka told us that she has always been a hardworking girl, never one to sit idle. However, all that had changed since the loss of her two babies and the fistula she developed.
“Before my first pregnancy, I was working as a chef and waiter at a small restaurant near home, which enabled me earn and income and contribute to the household expenses. However, after I lost my baby, my morale went down as I mourned the loss of my first child. After I got married, I wanted to get back to the workforce after I had nursed my baby, but that was not to be. Even worse, I now had this condition that further dented my self-esteem. After the loss of my child and the leaking urine problem, I lost all form of dignity and became a very sad girl. However, now that I have already undergone the surgery at no cost, I feel as though a new chapter of life is starting for me. My dignity has been restored!”