Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2011—2012 Forum on Adaptations
The Path of Suffering, Healing, and Recovery: Physical and Psychological Adaptation to Obstetric Fistulas in Sub-Saharan African Women
How does poor health place women in socially marginalized positions? Here, I use obstetric fistulas in sub-Saharan Africa as a case study. Obstetric fistula is a complication of unaided, obstructed labor, during which tissues tear, causing holes between the vaginal wall and bladder or rectum. Quite suddenly, women find themselves incontinent, and in societies where reproduction is highly valued, are shunned and seen as failures. An increasing number of hospitals provide free treatment for fistulas, as well as psychological healing through the solidarity of suffering. I will examine how women with fistulas reconstruct their illness experience and adapt to their condition in three phases: the punctuation of getting a fistula, the physical and psychological healing process, and reintegration into village life.