Jul 19, 2015

Three years later....

"So great news," my PA exclaims as she walks in the room.  "You're not pregnant."

I let out a long sigh of relief.  This lets go of the inner ethical battle that would follow if I became pregnant with a baby I knew I could not carry.  I do not personally believe in abortion and I would want to keep the baby more than anything in the world but I am stuck living in a body that couldn't carry out a pregnancy.  I couldn't possibly hate more that "not pregnant" is great news.

It has been a loooong time since I've written any type of update on my health status or anything beyond loads of cute pictures of my beautiful daughter and happy snippets about her growth and development, silly quotes and stories, etc.  These are much easier and more fun things to share about.  I have written blog posts about my own journey at least a hundred times in my head and even published one about a year ago at this time but was asked to take it down (my health issues are not a fun or happy topic that people enjoy reading about - I know this and totally get it).  June and July are an intense mix of emotions for me every year.  It is summer vacation and time to "relax" with my daughter (if you really can relax with a three year old), a time to celebrate her (her birthday), and a time of serious nostalgia (especially now, thanks to facebook memories).  I reminisce about the instant love of meeting her, the unbelievable outpour of love and support from family, friends and even strangers during difficult times, and the unimaginable joy in the miraculous diminishing of Kenya's seizures.  I also remember (and often wish I could forget) the trauma of her birth experience and the hurt and pain that I never knew could even be possible.  I remember around three years ago today going from doctor to doctor to hear worse and worse news on my own recovery - and hearing about three years ago that I needed to "lay low" for a long time due to the extensive internal damage and to give myself three years to fully recover from her birth - and three years before considering another pregnancy.  I remember thinking three years was an impossible recovery time and this lady (while well-intentioned) was totally asinine.  Everyone I know recovers in less than three weeks not years.  They didn't know me.  I am a go-getter and one of the most determined people I know.  I would heal.  I would give every ounce of my being toward getting better and I would research every strategy, every super food, every therapy and work every day to be healed.  I would go to the best doctors and specialists and I would get better and go back to the DR and continue the work I was (and still am) passionate about.  There was no way healing would take me three years.

And so now, three years later, after seeing doctor after doctor and specialist after specialist and being diagnosed with a myriad of conditions (14 now I think), what is the outcome?  I can now say that I would give anything for that first doctor's "three year recovery" time to have had been true.  Instead I am told that I will never fully recover or that my "recovery" will be a lifelong process and battle. No matter how hard I work in physical therapy or how much treatment I get (right now it's electric stimulation and biofeedback every week which deducts over $400 a week from our HSA), my body will never be strong enough to carry another baby.  It will never be what it once was and I may never be able to do the things again that I once I loved to do.  Pain will always be a part of my life and things will progressively get worse with time so my focus should be on developing strategies and systems to prevent worsening of my conditions and to find meds and methods to manage the pain without screwing with my mind too much (speaking in a second language all day is challenging enough without drugs like Neurontin slowing me down).  Most treatments to consider are in clinical trials but because I have so many co-morbid conditions I don't qualify for any of these treatments and just have to wait a few years for them to get approved.  So for now, I continue to be a regular (and probably the youngest) at the Institute for Pelvic Floor Disorders where the receptionist calls me "Kris" and the nurses ask about Kenya.  I feel guilty talking about my experiences with the people around me because it makes me feel and seem ungrateful - ungrateful for Kenya's miracle, for all that I have been blessed with and for all the people who have helped me so I pretend I am okay and say I am thankful for the experience and understand God's purpose behind it all while many days I sob behind closed doors and yell about wanting someone to fix me already and that I just want to be normal again.  I snicker to myself when someone a bit heavier in my yoga class says "if I only had her body" (you would be wishing for those extra pounds back quicker than you could ever imagine if you only knew).  I don't personally (in "real life") know anyone else going through what I am so these past three years I have felt more alone and isolated than I ever have before in my life.  Whether for better or worse (I usually feel the latter), this experience has changed me enormously - physically, mentally, emotionally.  Some people close to me refer to Kenya's birth as "my accident" and have talked about me as Kristin BK and Kristin AK (before/after Kenya) because apparently I am that much different.  While most people in my current social circle never knew me "BK", I often wish that they did (God love them for loving and accepting this broken version of me unconditionally).

So why now, after all this time, am I choosing to come out of the dark with this horribly depressing self-centered blog post?  Because, as much as I might feel it, I am not alone.  Millions of women are going through the same thing I am (if you don't know any, it is because the vast majority, but not all, live in the developing world).  And while I have felt, more than once, that I would have been better off to have died in childbirth (sorry that's dark but true) - let me explain to you the differences between me and these women in Africa who suffer from some of my same injuries.

 While I and them have lived through inexplicable pain and suffering and had horrific birth experiences by less than skilled doctors, this is where the similarities stop.

While Kenya survived and is my miraculous, beautiful silver lining in this whole mess, these women's stories almost always sadly end with a dead baby and empty arms (this alone makes me fathom their will to live). 

While their husbands leave them immediately as they are no longer desirable, my husband has been my knight in shining armor and has been by my side every step of the way ready to deal with my emotional breakdowns and take care of me and Kenya on the days that are too painful to bear.

While I may not feel like it on some days, I still hold infinite value as a woman and person regardless of my empty womb and my inability to bear more children.  These women are immediately deemed worthless as they have no purpose in the world now that they cannot have more babies or serve their husbands.  By their community's standpoint, any value they previously held has been stripped away.

While my friends and family (and strangers) reached out and showed me an UNREAL amount of love and support and took me in without question (while dealing with all my issues), these women are literally SHUNNED.  Let explain what I mean by shunned.   While I can burst into tears if someone even looks at me the wrong way or says something semi-critical, these women are not only ridiculed and treated like dirt but they are literally exiled from their communities.  Their families kick them out and refuse to speak to them as they have been "dishonored" and their situation is usually viewed as a curse.  They are put into a hut on the outskirts of their villages and are literally left there alone to die.  Yes, in 2015, this actually happens.  Right now, this is happening.  Even as I write it, I will never fully comprehend it.  To read more that I've written about this specific situation and the act of shunning in another post, read here.

While I am in a state of the art facility which is specialized in treating my rare injuries and providing surgical intervention (if I ever choose to take it), these women have zero healthcare or medical resources when they need them.  They are literally left to die of infection.  They can't run to Walgreen's to get what they need and they don't have health insurance or any doctors who are trying to help them.  They are literally alone.  And while I complain about my rate of healing, I truly have healed 100000x more than they have (I do consider myself totally healed from my own obstetric fistula). 

I could go on and on with these comparisons, but the point is that my suffering is NOTHING compared to that of these women and I have SO MUCH when I look at what they have.

While I would be a liar if I said I really do thank God every day for allowing this to happen to me, I do believe He allowed to happen with a purpose.  I don't believe that His purpose in this was for me to suffer in silence and cry behind closed doors, even though this has been the easier option over the last couple of years.  I have a purpose to fulfill in my suffering and while I can make excuses about how busy teaching is and I'm not sure how to help or where to fundraise or that I might offend someone or make them uncomfortable, the truth is that I have just been scared.  Scared to share my story, scared about what people will say or think about me.  But that excuse is unacceptable.  It is unacceptable because women are dying right now as we speak.  Even worse, there are women who are wishing they would die because the conditions they are forced to live in are unspeakable.  And there are millions of them who need me to be their voice.

Three years ago after being made aware of these atrocities, I made contacts and started speaking out on behalf of the Fistula Foundation.  I stood in front of groups of strangers at colleges, meetings and wherever else people would take me in and spilled my crazy story and encouraged people to raise awareness and make a difference in the world of maternal healthcare in the developing world.  But then I got to know people in this community I live in.  And somehow the people around me who I respect, admire and look up to are much scarier to speak in front of.  And some people don't want to hear it - they have told me this.  But I am an ambassador for the Fistula Foundation.  I signed the dotted line and committed myself and I am committed to helping these women.  Sharing my own story is part of this process.  I don't think that just sharing generic facebook posts and donating every so often is good enough when I know I am capable of so. much. more.  I, and you, have the power to transform these women's lives.  For around $450 (what I spend on healthcare in a week these days - thank God for insurance) we can change their lives forever.  How, you might ask?  It would be another post entirely to explain all the details (you can get all those here), but physically these women are in a million times worse state than me - surgery for them would allow them to come back into their own communities and actually have a life again.  $450 to restore a woman's life forever.  I would love to tell you more about how we can do it and teach you all about obstetric fistula and maternal healthcare issues and how these women's lives can be saved (and no it doesn't have to involve any actual vaginas or trips to Africa or graphic/disturbing pictures - while the college nursing students got the full version of my presentation, I promise to keep it G rated for you ;).

So if you want to help me, or you want to help these women, here are some things you can do:

*(My first, and very favorite, option) - Help me host a screening of the documentary "A Walk to Beautiful" and fundraiser for the Fistula Foundation.  I would love to do this with you!  I can host it in my living room but it would be a very tight squeeze to fit maybe 5 of us, but if you want to help host one of these, pleeeease let me know!!  If I can come speak to your college class (ahem, women's studies, public health, nursing, etc.), church group, team, or just group of friends, send me a message.  While I'm not the best public speaker you'll ever hear, I do have a very important and valuable message to share, and the documentary is excellent.

*Go to Fistula Foundation and get involved - this could just start with donating a small amount of money or buying a gift in honor of these women from their online giftshop.  It would be an honor to me too. :)

*Educate yourself and share with others - follow Fistula Foundation on social media - you can sign up to do this here.

*Sign up to be an ambassador with me! (actually this is my favorite option) - you can do so right here.

*Start a crowdfunding project.  Actually I'm just finding this option so I will too - you can donate to mine here.

*Anything else you can think of!!  I hope that someone somewhere might move to Africa and decide this is their mission (sometimes I wish I could but I'm not about to go back to school for midwifery) - I would love to know if this is you!!

Your participation will help girls like this beautiful one whose life was shattered by giving birth at the young age of 16.  Now, at 18, she can smile because Fistula Foundation has given her life-altering surgery and saved her life.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading and being a part of my journey.  I avoided writing this for a long time because I thought it would make me feel sad, but I actually feel energized and excited of what good might come from it.  If even one woman can be helped by my story, it will all be worth it. :) Please tell me if you decide to get involved in this cause - it's such an important one and I'd love to know about your participation!!

With lots of love, hope, and gratitude already,