A Walk to Beautiful

Forget the Oscars (well, not entirely: Go, Juno, go!); the movie I really want to see is A Walk To Beautiful. Having already won several awards at film festivals around the world, the film follows five courageous women as they travel to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopa to find a cure for the obstetric fistulas they suffer from. Fistulas are an opening between the vagina and rectum or the vagina and urethrea which occurs after days and days of obstructed labor. In developed countries around the world, fistulas have become a thing of the past since the advent of cesarean birth (the last U.S. fistula hospital closed its doors in 1895), but in developing countries around the world, it’s still a very grim reality. Incontinent, with either feces or urine dripping from their vaginas, women with fistulas are often shunned by their communities, ostracized and forced to live lives of isolation. The cure for fistulas is a simple surgical procedure, but with access to modern health care often hundreds of miles away, the cure might as well exist on another continent. Just check out some of these facts:

    • For every woman who dies from pregnancy-related complications, 20 women survive but experience terrible injuries and disabilities.
    • In Ethiopia, there are 59 OB/GYNs and 1,000 midwives for a population of 77 million.
    • One woman dies from pregnancy-related complications every minute worldwide; 95% of them live in Africa and Asia.
    • More than 99% of The Fistula Hospital patients are illiterate. (The hospital teaches all patients the Amharic Fideles and the Oromiyffa alphabets.)
    • Number of patients treated at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital every year: 1,200
    • Number of obstetric fistula cases occurring in Ethiopia alone each year: 9,000
    • Number of new obstetric fistula cases resulting from childbirth occurring worldwide each year: 100,000
    • Number of new obstetric fistula cases resulting from childbirth occurring in the U.S. each year: 0.

The movie is playing at the Quad Cinemas in New York City right now, and has recently been extended through February 28th. I’m hoping to see it on Wed., and I’ll certainly write a review afterwards. Good stuff.

(Go Juno, go!)

This entry was posted in Complications, Issues, Labor and Birth, Midwifery, Women's Health. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Posted February 25, 2008 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    what horrible conditions to give birth in, we in the US take medical care for granted. We worry about trivial things like “am I a failure as a woman since my birth didn’t go as planned.” It doesn’t occur to most women to be concerned with real trauma.

  2. The Midwife
    Posted February 25, 2008 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, amazing how statistics like that always really put things into perspective.

  3. Posted February 25, 2008 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I want to hear what you think about this documentary…

    For me, I’m always a little amazed at one thing that gets left out of this issue: female genital mutilation. Obstructed labors cause tremendous harm to women and babies (including death), but I wonder how prevalent the rate of fistulas would be without this ritualized abuse. Between hygeine, obstructed labors and (to me a bigger reason) FGM, the rates of fistulas are only going to continue to rise.

    Why is FGM not mentioned hardly at all in these talks/documentaries/episodes of Oprah? Is it because it’s seen as some sacred sacrament that cannot be discussed or blamed for these outcomes?

    I don’t agree with the zero rate of fistulas in the US. I have personally known two women, after deep episiotomies (one with forceps) that had rectovaginal fistulas after their births. If it’s happening in US hoptial birth settings surely the rate is not zero, right?

    Anyway, I know I get ranty – I just can’t believe this issue either omits or downplays the role of FGM in the prevalence of fistulas in these communities. It’s not directed at you – just at the world at large. 🙂


  4. The Midwife
    Posted February 26, 2008 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    I know it’s not directed at me, and you do indeed raise a very good point. My thoughts on FGM have been mutating greatly through the years (see my latest post, where all prior thoughts were totally turned on their head), but I agree that FGM is only going to make obstructed labor worse. People probably shy away from it because it’s controversial and unsavory and violent, and why bring up a whole other ball of wax when you’re in the middle of trying to make an ultimately uplifting movie about fistulas? Anyway, I’m going to try to see the movie tomorrow, so I’ll let you know!


  5. Posted February 28, 2008 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I think that linking the two issues together would push the wimmin away from getting the medical support they need for their fisutlas. One is a physiological birth related concern. The other is a cultural, religious, familial, community concern. It’s loaded. It’s also infused with all sorts of power relations that haven’t completely been unpacked. As you know, I have serious issue with Western wimmin, white wimmin who shy away from speaking openly about so many issues in their own backyards, who mostly prefer to turn away from uncomfortable realities over here in north amerikkkan getting all righteous about issues that don’t directly touch their lives. It’s always way easier for us to work up a really righteous silence breaking rage when the issue on the table is someone else’s, also when the issue leaves us feeling so superior about the cultures we live in. When the tables are turned and we’re asked difficult questions about issues we’re not prepared to deal with, then the silence…is deafening.

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