Most people think of birth injuries as something that only occurs to the newborn -- however, new mothers can also be seriously injured by unskilled hands, poor planning, and a general failure on the attending physician's part to act in a reasonable and responsible manner. In some cases, the mother's body can literally be almost torn apart due to obstetric fistulas.

What Is a Fistula?

A fistula is a permanent tear (unlike a perineal tear or an episiotomy -- which is a surgical incision designed to prevent a perineal tear) that leaves the new mother with an opening that can run from her vaginal area all the way to her anal area. Women afflicted with this horrible tear experience constant urine or fecal leakage (or both) with every movement. The unnatural openings are also a natural breeding ground for infections of many kinds -- with almost no way to prevent them.

Aside from the physical effects on a new mother's body, a fistula can have a profound psychological and social effect as well. It can limit the new mother's ability to function, affect how well she bonds with her new baby, and limit her from working or appearing at social functions.

Ultimately, the new mother will have to undergo treatment to make sure that any inflammation is controlled and any infections are handled -- and then she has to undergo invasive surgical treatment to repair the damage. Following the surgical treatment, she may have extended recovery time and have to wear a catheter or colostomy bag and rely on laxatives to make certain that she heals -- while still trying to tend to a growing baby!

Why Haven't You Heard About Fistulas Before?

Fistulas are rarely mentioned in the United States as a possible risk of pregnancy and delivery -- because they seldom occur in developed countries. While they are still relatively common in underdeveloped nations where young girls often become pregnant before their bodies fully develop and there's little chance of a doctor actually attending the birth, fistulas shouldn't be a real risk in any modern hospital.

Why Are Fistulas A Sign Of Medical Malpractice?

FIstulas are usually the result of prolonged labor that lasts 2 or more days and a vaginal delivery (or an attempt at one) when the baby is too big to be delivered that way safely. The Proper examination of the baby through manual palpitations of the mother's stomach and ultrasounds -- which are readily available in hospitals around the country and even in many doctor's offices -- should give the doctor enough warning that a baby is too large to attempt a vaginal birth. If those methods fail, then the prolonged labor should be a sign that there's an issue. 

A doctor in those situations should suggest -- or even insist -- on a C-section delivery in order to protect the health of both of his or her patients. Failing to do so would likely be considered a failure to exercise an ordinary level of care under the given circumstances.

If you've suffered a fistula due to childbirth, talk to a birth injury lawyer today about the possibility of a case.