Deborah was 28 years old with a fifth grade education when she suffered from an obstetric fistula in 2017. It wasn’t until two years later that she found healing through our on-the-ground partner, Terrewode, and the first dedicated fistula hospital in Uganda.
Perfectly content with her four healthy boys, Deborah had decided to use family planning methods to prevent any unexpected pregnancies. However, her husband wanted a baby girl.
I had always wished to stop on the fourth child. But my husband pressured me into discontinuing the family planning method that I was using so as to conceive
When Deborah went to get her five-year implant removed the nurses were shocked and curious as to what sparked this action. Too scared to report her husband, she lied and told them it was her idea.
The nurses, unimpressed with her decision, never provided proper guidance on how to prepare for conception once the device was removed. Less than two months later Deborah was pregnant with her fifth child.
When I entered the second month, I had all signs of pregnancy. My husband learnt about it and he was so excited.
Deborah didn’t begin her antenatal care visits until she had started her third trimester. Too ashamed to see the nurses again, Deborah visited a lower level health center to ensure a medical card in case of an emergency delivery.
A couple of months passed and labor pains struck while her husband was out. After two hours of waiting for his return, her labor intensified and she had no means to get to a health facility. Deborah had no choice but to deliver at home alongside a traditional birth attendant (TBA).
It became obvious this delivery was going to be difficult and the TBA suggested Deborah go to a health center. With her husband still not home, she suffered through the night. He returned the next morning and rushed her to a health facility where she immediately underwent a caesarian section.
The doctors told me that the baby had damaged my uterus and the bladder… the head was too soft which couldn’t easily allow him to push through the birth canal.
Her baby was stillborn. Along with her damaged uterus and severed bladder, the prolonged labor had created a fistula that left her leaking urine uncontrollably.
Deborah had learned about Terrewode’s services from the health center where she delivered and a community volunteer, but her husband refused to let her receive treatment. For 12 months she was isolated and rejected by everyone in her life- including her own children.
My husband confused the children and all neighbors that I was an adulterous woman. They all shunned me.
On top of her suffering, Deborah’s husband began to brutally beat her for not providing him a baby girl. He used her condition as an excuse to get a second wife and Deborah lost everything.
I lost the land that we had bought together for our first-born son due to fistula. I lost even food crops to his second wife. I became nobody.
Now that her husband had taken a new wife, Deborah thought it would finally be safe to receive care from Terrewode. Just a day before surgery, her husband found out that she had sought out treatment.
Furious and threatened by divorce, Deborah declined life-changing surgery in fear of the repercussions back home. Before discharge, Deborah had met with the psychosocial counselor and revealed her domestic abuse, denial of property and freedom of association. The police had been involved in the past, but her husband was quickly released on police bond.
As a gesture of hope, the counselor offered to accompany Deborah home to engage with her husband. After a few counseling sessions with the couple, Deborah was able to return to Terrewode for treatment and received her life-changing surgery on December 2, 2019.
I encourage all women leaking urine to come out and seek treatment. We should also be part of the decision to have children not only your husbands.
Deborah has stayed in contact with Terrewode and plans to pursue an education in human rights and the justice system. She is currently on the list of survivors to take part in reintegration and hoping to develop skills in tailoring, fashion, and design through the empowerment program.