Woman left by hubby due to fistula fights the stigma

Her husband would question her over the odour

In Summary

• Babs realised that her faeces and urine would all come out through the same opening

• She said women need to be given hope that the condition can be corrected

Angie Babs (standing) speaks during a workshop by Save a Woman Fistula Foundation in Nairobi
Angie Babs (standing) speaks during a workshop by Save a Woman Fistula Foundation in Nairobi

Angie Babs knew her marriage had not been the most perfect, but she did not anticipate that her husband would leave her, and particularly at her lowest of moments.

The mother of three told the Star her troubles started after she gave birth to her third child in December 2013.

She knew everything was okay and went back home happy with her bundle of joy.

But with time, she noticed she was not healing after having tears while giving birth.

"When I gave birth, I knew it was just a normal birth tear that would heal like the previous ones had, but this one was different," she said.

Babs realised that her faeces and urine would all come out at through the same opening.

She also noted a strong odour, which made her uncomfortable to sit among people.

She decided to go back to the hospital and explain her situation. The doctor told her that perhaps she was not sitting on hot water well, or she let the water cool before she sat.

"I ceremoniously sat on hot water for a long while, but nothing was getting better," she said.

Uknowingly, Babs was suffering from a condition called obstetric fistula, which primarily affects women, usually as a result of prolonged labour during childbirth.

It leads to tissue damage in the pelvic area and as a result, women with obstetric fistula often experience involuntary leakage of urine, faeces or both through the vaginal opening.

Babs was also advised to add bicarbonate soda to the hot water, but it failed.

She was also given some herbal medication, which changed nothing as well.

But something was changing in her household, her husband's behaviour. In those days, Babs noted their arguments were too many.

Her husband would question her over the odour.

"Why are you smelling ? Why are you like this?" her husband would ask, yet she had no answer.

Babs said her husband started sleeping out. Sometimes he would come back after three days, or maybe a week, it was all up to him.

And of course, he did not want to be questioned about his new habits despite leaving his family without food.

Eventually, her husband could not weather the storm and decided to leave them.

"At the time, I had no job. We depended on him fully, and in the days he would be away, he would leave us with barely anything," she said.

She could no longer support herself in Nairobi and had to leave two of her children with a supportive friend as she sought treatment.

"I had to go back home. My parents had died and I went with my youngest child to stay with my sister for a while," she said. 

Babs said even her sister could not withstand living with her in that condition, and she had to look for a place of her own and would survive off the support of well-wishers and friends.

While living alone, a friend told her of an NGO that was offering corrective surgery for women suffering from fistula.

That was in August 2014. When she arrived at the referral hospital in Kisii, the doctors first offered her counselling on her condition.

"That was when I got the corrective surgery. After the surgery, I was weak. I had no one to support me and sometimes, I would even sleep hungry. But I conquered!" she said.

Babs said in that period, her greatest support was her church groups and some friends from her former school.

"Though I would get very few visits, they called frequently to show their support," she remembered.

When she got fully healed, she went to get her two children from her friend in Limuru and started finding a way to support her children.

"Christianity has been my greatest pillar. God showed me my path and I have been hustling since then. I can say I am now okay," she said.

Babs said she is no longer in pain. She places so much value in sisterhood because women around her have consistently showed up for her at her lowest moments.

Two years ago, she met women from Save a Woman Fistula Foundation, and she felt the need to join them for they relate to what she has gone through.

The foundation, established in 2021, is committed to end stigmatisation against fistula. 

"I found women who had similar experiences. I felt I was part and parcel of some sisters and I knew I was not alone anymore. They have given me a shoulder to lean on," she said.

Babs hopes more women, especially in the rural areas, can be informed of the condition.

"You find even the nurses don't know what it is they are treating," she said.

"They keep giving you oral medication and encouraging you to sit on hot water and in the long run, you keep suffering."

"Fistula can happen to any woman. It should be a topic that is introduced even as a woman starts her antenatal clinic visits."

She said women need to be given hope that the condition can be corrected.

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