MAY IS AN EXCITING MONTH!
It’s Share MayFlowers Month
Highlighting Women’s Maternal Health and Fistulas
By Tracy Sher, MPT, CSCS, featuring Jessica McKinney, MS, PT
A great way to discuss pelvic health is to wear a special mayflower (in MAY and any other month) and when someone says, “that’s so pretty” or “I love that flower,” you can say: “thanks so much, I’m actually wearing this to support pelvic health awareness during Share MayFlowers month”. This can open up discussions relating to bladder, bowel, sexual and pregnancy-related physical issues. These issues affect women (and men) worldwide, but how do we discuss this openly? How about through a wonderful campaign to raise awareness!
I’m very excited to share this topic because it is very near and dear to my heart. On a daily basis I work with women who have pelvic health issues. They deal with conditions that they describe as alienating and embarrassing – conditions such as urinary and/or fecal leakage (even just with jumping rope), severe genital pain, or pelvic organ prolapse. Since 1994, I’ve also supported foundations that deal with tragic pelvic health issues worldwide – namely, female genital mutilation and deaths and disability due to obstetric fistula . I still get emotional to this day when I talk about this subject. Many women around the world are suffering, unnecessarily, due to maternal health conditions that can be improved or prevented with the right resources.
Highlighting obstetric fistula: Did you know that in poor, rural areas in the world some women endure prolonged labor (even up to 3-10 days) because no one is trained to do C-sections or other vital obstetric procedures?
* Many of these women end up pushing for so long and develop holes (fistulas) in the vagina and rectum AND have a stillborn baby (90% of the time).
* They are then often relegated to a small hut by themselves (or ostracized in other ways) and thrown scraps of food because the family doesn’t want to smell them.
* In many of these cultures, the woman is also considered evil and deserving for punishment.
* There’s a high rate of death, nerve injury, and severe incontinence.
Many of these women are essentially disowned after going through a severely traumatic and painful obstetric experience (I am crying even as I type this). The lucky ones make a trek for many miles while leaking urine and feces and make it to a charitable hospital, such as Dr. Hamlin’s in Ethiopia, to get necessary surgery. However, most are not so lucky and die or live a life of ostracism and constant leakage without hope. We must all raise awareness of these issues happening every day. Pelvic health needs a campaign. Pelvic health needs many voices. Pelvic health care is vital. The UNFPA statistics: Every day nearly 800 women die from complications of pregnancy. For every woman who dies, 20 or more are injured or disabled.
“Like maternal mortality, fistula is almost entirely preventable. Yet at least 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Arab region are living with fistula, and some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop each year. The persistence of fistula is a signal that health systems are failing to meet the needs of women.”
Here’s an excellent article about one of my heros – Dr. Hamlin. She is a modern day Mother Teresa, helping to eradicate fistuala issues in Ethiopia. This article highlights a sad story:
“Mahabouba Muhammad was sold at age 13 to be the second wife of a 60-year-old man. She became pregnant, delivered by herself in the bush and suffered a severe fistula. Villagers, believing Mahabouba to be cursed, left her for the hyenas. But she fought off the hyenas and — because nerve damage from labor had left her unable to walk — crawled for miles to get help. At Dr. Hamlin’s hospital, she underwent surgery and now is a nurse’s aide at the hospital”
The stories are so sad, but awareness to this totally preventable issue is tremendously important. There are numerous organizations working hard to change this all over the world. I encourage you to investigate an contribute to a charity or organization that supports the surgical repair of fistulas and the training to make sure this is eradicated. CNN Health Story:
“During the latest pregnancy, she was in labor for several days at home in a rural village before receiving medical care. Like many African women, she was malnourished and her pelvic bones were too small for a natural birth.
After hours of unsuccessful labor and not knowing how to perform a cesarean, the doctors used a scalpel to sever the baby inside the woman’s birth passage. Over the next few days, the mother delivered her baby, piece by piece”
“That young girl, who was 14 years old at the time, had been married at the age of 10 to a man aged 60. Her parents were convinced that if she were not married by age 11, she would be too old to be appealing. By age 11, she became pregnant. However, her body was not mature enough to carry the pregnancy to term and her baby died. Her reproductive system was also damaged significantly, causing an obstetric fistula that left her incontinent. Her husband’s response was to reject her, throw her out of the “marital” home. Her mother, however, brought her to the hospital, where the fistula was repaired.
Tragically, though, no one had ever come back to the hospital to claim that young girl. She had been abandoned — a year passed and she had nobody, absolutely nobody”
Please view this important video!:
What Can You Do To Get Involved to Help Women with Pelvic Health Issues Near and Far?
1. Wear a “Share MayFlower” flower and it will initiate discussion! Proudly display this symbol. We should get these discussions out in the open – let’s remove stigma, shame and embarassment. Encourage others to wear the flowers – have a basket of them to give away or purchase or share a link to the website to buy the flowers or #pelvicmafia shirts (more on that later).
2. Donate to a charity or organization that supports women’s and pelvic health – locally, nationally, worldwide. There are non-healthcare volunteer opportunities as well. There’s a listing of some of the wonderful organizations at the end of this post.
3. Volunteer to work with these charities and organizations at local offices or on site in rural parts of the world. Many types of healthcare professionals can get involved, OB/GYNS, surgeons, midwives, nurses, pelvic health physical therapists, and more.
4. Listen and ask how we can all help at community centers, hospitals, nursing homes, youth centers and more!
5. Host community talks and events about these important topics
6. Go online and share stories and videos to raise awareness (ahem…this one is easy to share). You can also follow women’s health organizations on social media sites. For example, you can do a search for #fistula or #endfistula on Twitter and see who’s talking about it.
7. Many more ideas… What’s yours?
Why Are Campaign Symbols and Signs Important?
When there’s a symbol or sign associated with a cause (local, national, or international) it helps deliver a strong, united message and brings people together!
If someone asked, ‘what’s the symbol for the breast cancer campaign?’, most people would say PINK RIBBON.
What is Share Mayflowers?
Share MayFlowers is a public health and awareness campaign focused primarily on the under-discussed topics of female pelvic and perinatal health, launched by Women’s Action Initiative, a 501(c)3 non-profit.
We want people everywhere to see the colorful mayflowers and think of pelvic health/maternal health awareness!
There are many wonderful organizations that support worldwide maternal healthcare, but we don’t have a unifying symbol (such as a pink ribbon). Why not ‘MayFlowers’ !? Throughout the month of May, ShareMayflowers campaign will feature blog posts and everyone is encouraged to wear the flowers! I’ll wear mine proudly and provide my patients, family, and friends to opportunity to wear them as well.
Who’s behind this campaign?
My wonderful friend and colleague, Jessica McKinney!
The Share MayFlowers campaign was conceptualized and founded by Jessica McKinney, PT, MS, co-founder and Director of The Center for Women’s Health at Marathon Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, LLC in Boston and Director of Women’s Action Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to perinatal physical wellness, which will be adopting Share MayFlowers as its flagship project. In her clinical role she provides women multidisciplinary care for pelvic floor dysfunction, perinatal education and rehabilitation, mental health education and physical wellness. Seeing their struggles (and successes!) on a daily basis has inspired her to bring these issues to the forefront of national conversations about women’s health.
Here’s the beginning of a great interview with Jessica.
Question 1: What IS Share Mayflowers?
Question 2: How Can Others Get Involved and Support This Campaign?
Question #3: What’s Happening on an International Level?
Did you know that Jessica travels to the Congo along with other passionate pelvic health physical therapists to help out many women there? Since 2009 she has been a partner with the hospital HEAL Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo) in the development of skills and resources for providing pelvic floor rehabilitation to women recovering from obstetric and/or traumatic fistula.
“You don’t have to go to the Congo to get involved” ~ Jessica McKinney
So, What’s the Deal with the #PELVICMAFIA Shirts and How Do I Get One!?
This is another great way to show a united support for pelvic health worldwide! We have colleagues all over the world wearing the t-shirts!
What is Ts for Vs?
“An ambitious bid (by an impassioned & frustrated pelvic/women’s health physical therapist) to ratchet up the visibility of sensitive pelvic health concerns internationally and to fund the projects supporting those concerns. Because believe it or not, it is ironically not sexy to fund humanitarian organizations addressing sexual health (and pelvic pain, and poo, and pee…). Buying from Ts for Vs gets these necessary conversations going.” Jessica McKinney
Let’s encourage everyone to wear their colorful MayFlowers during the month of May (and any other time) and #pelvicmafia shirts!! Support Share Mayflowers! This is a chance to talk about pelvic and maternal health – local or worldwide. We can share that there’s hope if a woman leaks urine when you jump rope, or there’s help if a women has pain with intercourse and more; or provide information about these worldwide issues regarding genital mutilation or obstetric fistula.
When someone asks you: Why are you wearing a #pelvicmafia shirt or compliments the mayflower – this is the perfect opportunity to explain that it is to raise awareness for pelvic health around the world.
Thanks for all of the incredible work you are doing, Jessica and all of my incredible colleagues around the world!!!
You can also donate at the Share MayFlowers website or many other charitable organizations such as:
Women’s Action Initiative with Share MayFlowers Campaign Hamlin Fistula USA United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and EndFistula.org (the campaign) Operation Fistula Worldwide Fistula Fund Fistula Foundation Freedom from Fistula
World Health Organization statistics: Maternal mortality: Every day in 2010, about 800 women died due to complications of pregnancy and child birth, including severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, hypertensive disorders, and unsafe abortions. Out of the 800, 440 deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and 230 in Southern Asia, compared to five in high-income countries. The risk of a woman in a developing country dying from a pregnancy-related cause during her lifetime is about 25 times higher compared to a woman living in a developed country. Maternal mortality is a health indicator that shows very wide gaps between rich and poor, both between countries and within them.
* There are many other organizations that help with Fistulas prevention and care around the world. Feel free to share more.
Please watch this video about obstetric fistula. When I first learned about this, it drastically changed my outlook on women’s health worldwide and I’ve been a long-time donor to Dr. Hamlin’s charity – Hamlin’s Fistula ~Tracy
Thank you very much for reading this very important post. I sincerely hope you have a better understanding about the tragic consequences of obstetric fistula – a condition that is preventable. Furthermore, please talk about important pelvic health issues relating to bowel, bladder, and sexual health. Many women are dealing with pelvic organ prolapase, urinary leakage (even with coughing, sneezing, and jumping), pain with intercourse, episiotomy and c-section scars and many other pelvic/ women’s conditions like this that are treatable with conservative measures.
(Thanks to Dustienne Miller for behind the scenes video director help during Jessica’s interview. The blooper reel will likely appear somewhere soon!)
PLEASE submit any #pelvicmafia t-shirt pictures and/or mayflower pics at the Pelvic Guru Facebook page or Tweet @pelvicguru1 ! Thanks for reading this and supporting this cause!
Tracy Sher, MPT, CSCS Private Practice Owner in Orlando, FL; Pelvic / Women’s Health Physical Therapist; International Speaker/Faculty, Founder of Pelvic Guru. Passionate about treating pelvic pain and all pelvic floor disorders – bowel, bladder, sexual function. Secretly hoping to be a circus clown or rock, paper, scissors champion some day. Connect with Tracy on Linkedin. Check out Pelvic Guru on Facebook or Twitter @pelvicguru1. * This was Tracy’s FIRST full video shooting production and editing. More of these coming up from conferences and meetings!