A week or two ago, a nurse at the local hospital told me a story. It was about an old grandmother who was sitting by her son, who worked at the health clinic. He noticed a foul smell. He started asking his grandmother questions and, after probing deeper and deeper, discovered that she has uterine prolapse. She has had it for 30 years and she had never told a soul until she told her grandson.
The nurse who told me this story pulled out her phone – she had a picture of the old woman’s prolapse saved on it. The women I’m meeting here who work on the issue of prolapse all have pictures of it on their phones. This seems odd, from an American perspective, to keep something so grotesque and horrifying on your phone. In addition to an invasion of privacy, it seems voyeuristic, looking at a nameless woman’s most intimate secret, her suffering on display.
A week later I would be seeing prolapse first hand at Care Women Nepal’s uterine prolapse screening camp. In pictures or in person, seeing the condition produces a visceral effect. The women I talked to all had very sad stories, though they didn’t think of them that way. They told them matter-of-factly, because that’s just the way life is. There was Maya, who is 62. She never went to school, and works in the fields. She developed prolapse after the birth of her 1st child – 36 years ago. She gave birth to 5 children since developing prolapse, only 2 now survive. After giving birth she only rested for 2 or 3 days, then she went back to the hard labor that has consumed her life. She was reluctant to talk about the ways that prolapse caused her suffering – but her daughter-in-law (who had made her come in for the camp) said she has bloody discharge, pain while urinating, and clear trouble walking and moving.
Then there was Satya, 68, who has been experiencing prolapse for 20 years. Of her 6 children, 2 have died. She also never attended school and does household and agricultural work. She gave birth to her first child at 16. Both she and Maya gave birth to all their children at home, never in a clinic. Satya told me that the prolapse does cause her pain and make it difficult to work – but she’s scared to get surgery because she’s afraid that any complications might make it so she can’t work at all.
After seeing prolapse in person and hearing the stories of these women, I began to better understand why the women I work with keep pictures on their phone. It’s precisely because they know it it produces horror and discomfort. That’s what they want. They want to horrify people, because they realize that horror might actually spark action. They want people to be as upset and outraged as they are that women suffer this way.
The grandmother at the beginning of our story did not have a particularly happy ending. She was brought to a hospital but the doctors said she wasn’t in good enough health to undergo surgery. By providing screening, facilitating treatment, slowly breaking down the stigma surrounding uterine prolapse, and motivating others to act, it is the hope of Care Women Nepal to give more women happy endings.
Posted By Katie Baczewski
Posted Jul 7th, 2014