WEST PERTH midwife Shani Adamson is aiming to raise $10,000 for a dangerous post-birth condition that leaves young African girls and women injured and shunned by their communities.
Ms Adamson found out about the condition “obstetric fistula” when she was studying midwifery.
The condition is almost unheard of in Australia because of our easy access to healthcare, but can happen during a prolonged obstructed birth.
The baby almost always dies, and the woman can be left with a hole (the fistula) forming between the vagina and the bladder or rectum.
The co-founder of the first fistula hospital in Ethiopia Reg Hamlin, who died in 1993, described the condition: “mourning the stillbirth of their only child, incontinent of urine, ashamed of their offensiveness, often spurned by their husbands, homeless, unemployable except in the fields, they endure, they exist, without friends and without hope. They bear their sorrows in silent shame. Their miseries, untreated, are utter, lonely, and lifelong”.
Ms Adamson says “some of them live in isolation for years, some of them stay curled up in a ball and don’t move, thinking if they don’t move it will go away”.
The other co-founder of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is surgeon Catherine Hamlin, now 93 and still living there, having performed operations into her 80s.
Ms Adamson says Dr Hamlin has been a huge inspiration for her and she hopes to be able to meet her hero.
She’s self-funding her trip to Ethiopia in November but hopes to raise the $10,000 to donate to the hospital.
“I wanted to contribute towards changing the lives of these Ethiopian women, and I’d love to meet Dr Catherine Hamlin,” Adamson says.
“If I could have dinner with one person in the world, it would be her. What I love about Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia is they don’t just repair the fistulas, they’re trying to educate these girls so they’re put through numeracy and literacy education while they’re there.”
They’re also training up local midwives to recognise and prevent this condition and get local women access to caesarian sections when they have an obstruction.
Ms Adamson said this cause spoke to her because, “I’m a woman, I have a mother and a sister, and it could have been any of us. We’re lucky enough to be born in Australia where obstetric Fistula is a thing of the past”.
She was extremely affected by the documentary A Walk to Beautiful, about five young women suffering from obstetric fistula as they try to restore their dignity and repair their life after having lost their babies and being so badly injured.
“It’s heart wrenching,” Ms Adamson says. “As a woman, I really can’t think of anything worse than this.”
“One of the big problems for the women in Ethiopia and those countries, is the girls are very young, they get married off and fall pregnant very young so their pelvis isn’t fully developed so that contributes to the obstructed labour.”
Last year she volunteered as a midwife in Tanzania, where women give birth in stark conditions.
“If I had to describe the conditions in Tanzania as to the resources there, it would be horrific…a lot of women here don’t realise how lucky and privileged we are,” Ms Adamson says.
Women giving birth in Tanzania have to bring their own sheets, and only have access to a bucket beside the bed as a toilet.
“They’re exposed, in pain, with no pain relief. Women literally push out their baby, they’re sutured up if they have a tear, they have to bring their own bed linen and take it away with them and walk off to the post natal ward.”
Ms Adamson is organising a quiz night to help raise money on Friday August 11 at the Mount Hawthorn Community Centre. Tickets are $22 each with tables of eight.
Book through eventbrite.com.au (search “Hamlin Fistula”) or if you’re not so good at quizzes you can donate directly at http://www.adventure-2017.everydayhero.com/au/shani-adamson-hamlin-fistula-ethiopia
by DAVID BELL