finding hope and sharing it


Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 3:34 am
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My path

Seven years ago, after my first pregnancy, my body was damaged.  It no longer worked as it had before.  Whenever I ran, jumped or sneezed, I found myself wet with urine.  (It is incredibly humbling to share this with such a broad audience, but there is a reason I feel led to do so.)

Mystified, I turned to my close friends who also had babies.  Did this happen to them?  Is this normal?  No, they had no issues controlling their urine.  Just me.

In seeking help from my doctor, she determined that I have stress incontinence.  I never thought that term would apply to me, especially in my 30’s.  I had new limits.  New restrictions had been forced upon me.  I blamed no one…just tried to deal with it.

These limits increased greatly during the Labor Day weekend of this year.  I was at Alumni Camp at Camp Brookwoods with my family.  This is a new family tradition and we were all expecting a wonderful time.  It is a truly beautiful place and the kids are always excited to explore and experience God’s creation.  First stop…the beach.  We set out…

All was bliss until…whoosh!  I was soaked!  Totally soaked and there was no way I could hide it.  I had on khaki shorts that were now, to my utter embarrassment, frustration and discouragement, two-tone.  In the blink of an eye our plans were thwarted.  Having no other option, I watched my family go to the beach for some fun while I hurried back to the cabin to change clothes and regain my composure.

As I sat in the cabin wondering if this would happen the next time I took a short walk, my thoughts turned to my sisters with fistula.  Is this what it is like for them?  Is this what they face each day, all day?  As for me, I had a change of clothes and a corner market stocked withpads.  My sisters with fistula don’t have these options.  They constantly soil their one change of clothing.  They have no corner store to buy pads.  I found a way to stay dry.  I was able to avoid further embarrassment and discomfort for the most part.  Our sisters with fistula cannot do this as easily.

Is it a coincidence that I was called to speak out for women and girls who leak urine?

As the weeks have passed, my condition has worsened, limiting me more and more.  As frustrating as this is, I pray that I can use this trial to try (all I can do) to relate to those for whom I was called to speak; those for whom I work each day.  May I grasp a sense of their limits, even if only marginally.

As I work with my doctor to address my condition and consider my options, I get drive 15 minutes to her office then go home to my family.  Mostof our sisters with fistula are abandoned to exist alone.  I get to view surgery from the perspective of what timing is most convenient so I can get back to my active lifestyle.  For those with fistula, surgery opens the door to new life, not a mere improvement.

I know I don’t have fistula, but I leak all the time.  It keeps me from playing with our kids as I would like, makes walking our kids a half-mile to school a huge production, and now that my toe is cleared for running, I often cannot.  I know it is not causing me to be ostracized as often happens with our sisters with fistula, but it is keeping me from the life I desire to live.

I am not seeking your pity, but sharing how my trial can be used for good.  I hope my path will enable me to speak out with greater passion, hope and courage, as we seek to provide free fistula surgeries, identify ways to prevent fistula from occurring, and work to see this condition eliminated off the face of the earth! When this is part of my history, I pray I never forget my own embarrassment, frustration and discouragement.  May I use it as fuel for the fire burning within Hope for Our Sisters, as we work to enable women and girls, who have leaked for days, months, or years, become dry once again.

May one more woman or girl be healed this day…

© 2013 by Brooke F Sulahian


She Waits with Dignity October 25, 2013

Filed under: Hope — Brooke F. Sulahian @ 6:09 am
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Maria for blog

I had always read that fistula robs women and girls of their hope and dignity. This “fact” was challenged during my trip to Angola this summer with Hope for Our Sisters (HFOS).

Now don’t get me wrong. Obstetric and traumatic fistula are horrific medical conditions that lead to the isolation and abandonment of those suffering under its great weight. It removes all choice, as these sisters of ours are unable to do anything but exist. But, are their dignity and hope really gone?

On this trip, we met fifteen amazing women and girls who suffer from fistula. Their stories broke our hearts and their lack of options made us feel helpless at times. However, they were not sitting by silent. They were not ashamed to look us in the eye. They were able to talk about their hope of another child, working and even studying one day. They believed they would be well.

Where did this come from? This resilience in the midst of despair. This hope where hope should be extinguished. This dignity that fistula was trying so hard to destroy. It was inside them. How could this be? I believe I would have been completely crushed in the same situation. Destroyed.

One of my favorite encounters during this trip was with Maria*. We discovered she was 29 years old and the mother of two children. Her first husband died and her second husband abandoned her after she developed fistula as a result of her fourth pregnancy.  (Her first and fourth children both died.)

On the last day of our week in Angola, Jean Campbell, HFOS Board Member, and I checked in with the fistula patients to hold their hands, take pictures and say goodbye. We found Maria in bed awaiting surgery and, using basic Portuguese, asked if she would let us take her photo. Maria said yes, but then gestured to her purse. After I gave it to her, she reached in to find earrings and gracefully put them on.  It immediately hit me. She still had dignity deep down that fistula could not reach. This dignity was deep in her heart and soul. The hope that enabled her to face each day had been placed there when she was created. A hope and dignity that had been shredded by fistula, but not totally destroyed.

After this encounter, I considered the other sisters we had met and they had it as well. Pride in their one-room, dirt floor home.  Desire to try surgery “one more time”. Hope to have more children, study or work. Smiles and laughter in the face of total adversity. Strength in who there are. I was rocked.

Back in America, I continue to grapple with this. It is my desire to communicate with others about the horrendous hardships and limits faced by those with fistula, while at the same time, share how these sisters of ours have not given up. Another sister named Celia* lives as if already victorious, yet she has colostomy complications as she awaits fistula surgery. I will be working to grasp this amazing quality in these sisters for many days, months and years to come as I have long lived with comfort as a daily companion.

As for Maria*, I was delighted to hear that after surgery she was sent home DRY! DRY for the first time since early 2012. DRY and on her way to reclaim the life fistula tried to steal from her. May all of our sisters with fistula join her along this victorious path. May we remember the dignity within each one of our sisters.

*Their names have been changed to protect our sisters who so openly shared with us.


© 2013 by Brooke F Sulahian