Nampayio Koriata thought fistula would kill her so she tried to give birth to as many children as she could before meeting her ‘fate’
Nampayio Koriata was just 15 years old and in Class Eight when she got pregnant. Her cousin kept taunting her that she was not woman enough if she had not had sex. Being circumcised alone apparently was not enough to make her a complete woman.
And having grown up where talk about sex is taboo, she did not know much about the consequences. She got into an affair with a university boy and she got pregnant. It was Nampayio’s first sexual experience.
Adopted at two years, by a wealthy family in Ololung’a village in Narok county, the guilt of disappointing her adoptive parents who dotted on her haunted her, but she kept the pregnancy to term.
She sat for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations while heavily pregnant and scored 262 out of the possible 500 marks.
When the time to give birth came, Nampayio experienced birth complications due to prolonged labour and her vagina tore. After the delivery, the doctor sewed her back together and she was sent home the following day.
But Nampayio did not know the extent of the complication until she was given raw fat to cleanse her womb, a tradition in the Maasai culture, the result was severe diarrhoea until the episiotomy stitches broke.
Two days later, she realised she was no longer able to control her bodily functions. “That is where all my troubles began, when the stitches broke, I developed a hole between the walls of my vagina and rectum.
As a result, I passed air and poop through my vagina uncontrollably,” he says. The sound of air passing through her vagina was noisy. It was so embarrassing whenever she was in the company of family and friends. She would feel the urge to use the toilet, but before she got there, she had already soiled herself.
“As you can imagine, it was shameful as well as unhealthy and unsanitary and it caused me numerous infections. It also produced a foul smell and I frequently itched,” says Nampayio.
Ignorant and fearing stigma, she thought that this was a common problem affecting anyone after delivery, so she did not seek medical help. She started locking herself up in her bedroom hoping against hope that her problem would go away.
Her urge to quench her thirst for education led her to join secondary school the following year, but the story was the same. “I am by nature an active person, but with this condition I became less social because I was always afraid, I would regularly pass gas loudly or soil myself publicly.
The air that passes through was extremely loud and unpredictable and the poop came in liquid form with occasional small bits,” she narrates. One time, while in class, she passed stool and some of her classmates saw it.
They could not stop ridiculing her and from that day she quit school in Form Three. Life out of school was not any easier, but the urge to live a normal life gave her the strength to endure all and at 19, she got pregnant again and gave birth to another baby. Years later she got married and gave birth to three children.
“I knew that the strange condition was going to kill me, so I wanted to give birth to children fast before I die or lose my womb or something!” All this time, not even her husband knew about her condition.
She was afraid of being abandoned by her husband and so she devised all ways to hide and cope with the condition the best way she could. “I stuck to a particular diet, ate only in the evening, I never ate at parties, I always carried with me extra panties and sanitary pads and was always the last to leave the room,” she recalls.
She adds: “When passing wind, I would pull a chair so hard that the sound could disappear through the screeching noise”. For 12 years, Nampayio suffered from fistula alone, whenever she tried to tell a friend about it, they dismissed it saying it was a normal condition that she should just learn to deal with.
It is through her aggressive nature that she crossed paths with a certain non-governmental organisation in 2015, which helped her get treatment through a reconstructive surgery at Kenyatta National Hospital.
Now an activist, she says many women in the Maasai community do not know that fistula can be healed, they end up throwing themselves into solitary confinement.
Not only do the women suffer physically, many are abandoned by their husbands and families and shunned by their community. “Most women who suffer from fistula are isolated from the family home.
A house is built for them a distance away and food is served to them from there, they do not mingle with the rest of the family Lilian Oloituaa, a clinical officer based in Transmara West in Narok county admits that fistula is treated as a taboo subject in the region.
With little reproductive health education, this relatively unknown condition regularly goes untreated, as women believe the symptoms are normal after giving birth.
“Many women suffering from fistula do not dare to talk about it, the stigma forces women to remain hidden and think it can not be treated.
But working together, we can end the shame and the isolation because Fistula is treatable,” she said during a USAID funded PACE project of the Population Reference Bureau advocacy forum in Narok.
Nampaiyo has since gone back to school through the help of Lydia Masikonte, an aspiring women representative in Narok. She will be sitting for her Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examinations next year.