We have all come into this world because of a woman. When you sit with that fact, you realise how incredible it is. But in the process of childbirth, not all women are able to deliver their baby safely or without harm.
Australian gynaecologist Dr Catherine Hamlin, a pioneer for her medical work in Africa, wants to change that. The 94-year-old, who was named NSW Senior Australian of the Year for 2018, has spent nearly 60 years treating women with obstetric fistula, a horrendous childbirth injury that leaves women permanently incontinent.
Obstetric fistula is caused by obstructed labour during childbirth and leaves a hole between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum. This means it causes survivors to leak urine and/or faeces through their vagina, causing them to feel humiliated and often cut off from their community.
The reason you’ve probably never heard of it is because in Western countries, obstetric fistulas are virtually a thing of the past because we have access to effective maternal healthcare. But in countries like Ethiopia, more than 3000 fistulas occur each year with more than 70 percent of births take place without a doctor or nurse present.
As though these women aren't dealing with enough, 93 percent of obstetric fistula survivors also give birth to a stillborn baby, often after an agonising obstructed birth lasting days. You can only imagine what it feels like to suffer for days through an excruciating obstructed labour, lose your baby and then face the most horrendous internal injury just because you are a woman without access to effective maternal healthcare.
Yet while this situation might sound hopeless, it actually couldn't be further from it because with the right access to maternal healthcare, obstetric fistula is entirely preventable. Having access to a well-trained midwife and an emergency c-section can stop obstetric fistulas from happening in the first place.