Sunday, October 09, 2005

FROM LAST WEEK: "Nightmare for African Women: Birthing Injury and Little Help"

Nightmare for African Women: Birthing Injury and Little Help.

"What brings the girls to Dr. Waaldijk -- and him to Nigeria -- is the obstetric nightmare of fistulas, unknown in the West for nearly a century. Mostly teenagers who tried to deliver their first child at home, the girls failed at labor. Their babies were lodged in their narrow birth canals, and the resulting pressure cut off blood to vital tissues and ripped holes in their bowels or urethras, or both.

Now their babies were dead. And the would-be mothers, their insides wrecked, were utterly incontinent. Many had become outcasts in their own communities -- rejected by their husbands, shunned by neighbors, too ashamed even to step out of their huts." ...

A BRIEF HISTORY OF FISTULAS IN THE US: "Between 1845 and 1849, J. Marion Sims, M.D., conducted surgical experiments on slave women in his backyard hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. These women all had vesico-vaginal fistulas, small tears that form between the vagina and urinary tract or bladder which cause urine to leak uncontrollably. Through repeated surgeries (without the use of any anasthesia), Sims attempted to repair the fistulas. He is now remembered as the Father of American Gynecology, Father of Modern Gynecology, and Architect of the Vagina." [...] All of this experimentation on the bodies of slave women "on loan" to him from their "owners." ("On loan" because they leaked, because as sexual and reproductive labor/property, not as field labor or other physical labor, they were damaged.) The first uses of the speculum, successful (and many unsuccessful and repeated) fistula surgery, etc are on the bodies of enslaved women. "In the summer of 1849 he [Sims] operated on Anarcha, the first fistula case he had ever seen, and the operation was a success. It was Anarcha's thirtieth operation." ..

See Terri Kapsalis' Public Privates: Performing Gynecology from both Ends of the Speculum.


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