"God grant me the courage to change the things I can."
The second part of my daily prayer for serenity is about courage. While there are so many things I find I cannot change about my life and my body, I can help to change the outcome for millions of other women around the world. Women at risk for maternal/infant mortality, maternal morbidity, birth trauma, and severe birth injuries. In this prayer, I look to God as my first source of courage. And under God, I look to strong, courageous women like Mahabouba, who is a fellow survivor of the kind of birth trauma and severe injuries that occur everyday in the developing world. While our lives are as different as black and white, we are bound by our injuries and I wonder if our feelings about them have been the same.
I wonder if maybe, like me, Mahabouba felt an intense fear throughout her birth process as she knew things just couldn't be right. I wonder if maybe, like me, Mahabouba felt terror and confusion the first time she tried to stand and felt her knees buckle and found that her legs could not carry her from all of the nerve damage. I wonder if maybe, like me, Mahabouba felt horror as she felt all of her organs quickly sinking and falling down the first time she tried to take a step after giving birth. I wonder if maybe, like me, Mahabouba felt shame and humiliation the first time she found her clothing uncontrollably drenched in urine with nothing she could do to stop it. I wonder if maybe, like me, Mahabouba ever cried out to God and asked why hadn't He just allowed her to die in childbirth if it were to only turn out this way?
But this is where the similarities between Mahabouba and myself come to a halting stop. While my pregnancy was the product of love with my husband and soulmate, Mahabouba's pregnancy was the product of abuse and rape by the sixty year old man that her parents sold her off to for only $10. While I was elated by my pregnancy at the age of 29 that I had so desperately prayed for, Mahabouba found herself in a pit of despair as she was only 13 and was nowhere near ready for a baby. While my husband stood by my side through the aftermath of my experience and it's consequences, Mahabouba's husband was nowhere to be found (almost all women in the third world are left by their husbands after this experience as they no longer are considered to have any value due to their incontinence, inability to have sex or produce more children). While I was so blessed to such a beautiful baby as Kenya in my arms, Mahabouba woke up (after passing out from the pain) only to find a dead baby by her side. And while my family and what seemed to be the whole world were all there for me with open arms to support me in any and every way they possibly could, Mahabouba was shunned by her family and village as they believed she was cursed - so much so that they forced her to live in a small hut alone on the outside of her village where they hoped she would die of infection. But just to make sure did die, they sent wild hyenas to her hut to attack her during the night.
I can't imagine at this point how Mahabouba had any willpower to keep on living. Even amongst all my own blessings, I have found days where that willpower is hard to find. I believe this is the part where I would throw in the towel and say "come and get me". But fourteen year old Mahabouba had the willpower to fight off the hyenas with a stick all through the night. And the next day she had the willpower and courage to escape. Mahabouba still could not walk because of all of the severe nerve damage, so instead of walking she crawled. Mahabouba crawled, pulling herself with her hands and dragging her legs behind her, for thirty miles. She arrived days later nearly dead on the doorstep of a foreign missionary who took her in and helped her.
Unfortunately, the damage done to Mahabouba's body was irreparable. Her insides were so torn apart from seven entire days of obstructed labor against her small pre-adolescent pelvis that urine and feces flowed freely from her birth canal with nothing she could do to stop it. She had to have surgery to have a colostomy bag put in place and was bound to the hospital to monitor and care for it.
But this still didn't stop Mahabouba. Fourteen year old Mahabouba was illiterate since she was sold off into marriage and missed out on the privilege of attending school. So rather than spend her days crying in bed as I imagine I would do, she taught herself to read and write. With months of rigorous effort in physical therapy, Mahabouba taught herself to walk again (I can't imagine at what amount of pain as I still have pain walking 9 months post-partum and my injuries are nowhere near as severe as young Mahabouba's). And with time, Mahabouba went on to become a licensed nurse at the fistula hospital where she had her surgery and where she now gives her whole self everyday to restore the lives of other women like her.
Now, I can say without hesitation that I would never ever want the tragic outcomes that fell upon Mahabouba.... a dead baby, abandonment by her husband and family, rejection by her own community, and a body damaged beyond repair.... I would never ask for any of it, except one thing. The courage Mahabouba has to make a difference and focus on changing the things that she can. Mahabouba can't change her own outcomes, so instead she pours her whole self into changing the outcomes of those around around her, those stricken by the same unfortunate circumstances, that she might give them hope and a new life. I could only dream of changing and restoring lives in the way that heroes like Mahabouba does.
I don't know yet how or when or where I will do this, but I will pray for courage like Mahabouba's, to change the things I can for other women who are plagued with traumatic birth and life-shattering injuries. I will point Kenya away from T.V. icons to strong world-changing women like Mahabouba to build her strength, compassion, and character, and use Mahabouba's story as my daily reminder that the blessings I have are abundant and that we all have the power and the responsibility to change what we can in a world full of tragedies.
To learn more about women like Mahabouba, read "Half the Sky" and visit the www.halftheskymovement.org website. To help in the fight against obstetric fistula and join partners who fight for safer childbirth, see www.fistulafoundation.org.