43 year-old Juliet Muthoni is a vegetable vendor in her hometown in Nyeri County. She is a mother of three children aged between 5 years and 15 years. Her dream to bring to life her fourth child in April 2015 is however a painful memory etched deep in her heart.
It all began on the night that she went into labor, at nine months pregnant. Even though she was mentally prepared for the baby’s arrival, she hadn’t anticipated that her labor to come at night. The time was 9pm.
Juliet’s house was a considerable distance away from the main road and with no public means to get her to hospital at that late hour, she began to panic. Thankfully, her older sister lived nearby and together, they decided to brave the difficult and risky walk through the dark bushes, hoping they would get to hospital before the baby arrived. Thus they began the eight-kilometer trek to the main road, where they hoped they would get a lift from a Good Samaritan to the hospital.
The time then was 11pm and slowly, the two women walked through the dangerous thicket, hopeful that they would not meet gangsters or at worst, wild animals.
“We live right next to the Aberdare forest and often, wild animals stray into our farms. Our paths only illuminated by our small mobile phones. Even though we were very scared, all we could do was pray and hope for the best,” she remembers.
After a walk of about 30 minutes, Juliet told her sister that she could walk no more. She was too exhausted.
“My sister then spread a lesso on the grass and asked me to sit down. I said my last prayers because I was sure that I was going to die. I felt horrible, because I would leave my young children parentless. However, my sister kept praying and telling me to be strong.”
After laboring for hours in the dark, cold night, an exasperated Juliet eventually delivered her baby with the assistance of her sister.
“My sister had thankfully carried a razor blade and a string, which she used for the delivery. The only light she had for the childbirth was the dim light from our mobile phones. Sadly, my baby – a boy, was already dead,” a mournful Juliet remembers.
After the birth, Juliet became cold and started shivering. She was also bleeding heavily.
“As I lay there, I wasn’t sure if I was alive or dead as I kept drifting in and out of consciousness. By the grace of God, 6am found me alive and at once we saw light, we slowly walked the remainder of the journey –about 6 kilometers to the main road where we stopped the first vehicle that passed,” Juliet remembers.
At the hospital, Juliet would be admitted for a week. During this time though, she noticed that her urine would freely flow, and hard as she tried to stop it, she just could not. The doctors informed her that she needed to undergo some tests to determine the nature of her problem, and referred her to a private hospital.
When she went there, she was informed that the tests would cost Sh13,000 –money she could not afford. She accepted that her new life would be all about leaking urine.
One day, she and her sisters were seated together listening to a radio broadcast, when they heard something interesting.
“It was an announcement calling all women who leaked either urine or faeces –or both, to attend a free fistula camp at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. We could not believe our ears. I immediately travelled to Nairobi. That was in June 2015.”
Juliet underwent the free surgery and upon discharge, she boarded a matatu back to Nyeri.
“The matatu ride was rough and difficult, as I kept being thrown up and down. I was in so much pain from the fresh surgery and was relieved at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour journey.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later, she realized that she was back to the leaking urine problem.
One year later, in July 2016, she once again attended the free fistula camp sponsored by the Flying Doctors Society of Africa and the Freedom from Fistula Foundation. This time round, she planned to avoid travelling back to Nyeri immediately after discharge, until she was sure she had the doctor’s approval.
“I thank all the people who have made this surgery people, because my dignity has been restored and now I can carry on with my business –which had greatly suffered because of the fistula. I will now focus on raising my children again,” she says.