~ By guest blogger and photographer, Charlie Ainslie

Charlie traveled with One By One staff on a recent trip to Kenya. While there, she had the chance to join Dr. Mabeya in surgery at Gynocare to watch and photograph a fistula repair. 

So, it was my first surgery ever, and I thought I was literally going to pass out. But I got in there, and it was a lot different than I thought it was going to be. I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for what I was going to see. In 6 hours, it was more intense and less intense, scarier and more natural than I had ever expected. It was a total roller coaster of emotions. What I thought would make me queasy completely enthralled me, and what I thought would be simple to watch (sutures, and stitching up the patient), really made my stomach turn.

The one element of the surgery that I loved most was watching Dr. Mabeya do something that only takes a few hours, but completely changes the lives of these women, and he does it with such grace and dignity. He’s so humble, which I don’t understand, because he’s one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met.


Dr. Mabeya prepares Joy for surgery.

The surgery I got to watch was on a woman named Joy. Joy is 60 years old and has had fistula since 1982. She’s probably 4’10”, 90 pounds, really little. They rolled her into the operating room, and she didn’t look scared or nervous, just ready. I had no idea she would be awake the whole time, because they were going to be giving her regional anesthesia from the waist down. This made me a little anxious because I was going to be taking photos of her the whole time. As a photographer, my clients are always awake, but there was some relief thinking she would be asleep, so that if I got uncomfortable, or had to take a break, I wouldn’t make her uncomfortable. Little did I know, Joy being awake, not only helped my nerves, but brought her some comfort too, and created an experience with her that I will have for the rest of my life.

As much as I’d like to say I held it together the whole time and didn’t flinch once, there were moments, where I thought I was going to pass out. The few times…ok, the many times this happened, I thought it would be a good idea to go check on Joy, give her a few smiles and take some photos. I so badly wanted to reach out and grab her hand and let her know that I was in this with her. However, I didn’t know her comfort level, and the language barrier made it difficult. Instead I just stood by her, and without saying anything, Joy reached her hand over to my arm, placed it right next to me, gave me a smile, and stroked my arm for about ten minutes. I couldn’t tell who was helping whom more. This became my go-to position any time I felt nervous or light headed. I knew after that moment that Joy was someone extremely special, and I was so happy that she was getting treatment at Gynocare. I couldn’t think of a better place for her to be at that moment. I also knew that she would never get rid of me, because I had to check-up on her and make sure she was ok.

The next day we left to do field work for about week, and when we returned to Eldoret, I was happy to find Joy smiling and recovering at Gynocare. She remembered who I was immediately, and I sat down with her in the grass, held her hands, and one of the nurses, Zehara, interpreted how happy I was to see her in good spirits recovering. We took some photos together, which we printed and gave to her the next day, so she could have something to take home with her from our time together. She became my Kenyan grandmother, and I promised to visit her again when I return to Kenya. The next day, as we were leaving for our next destination, we also ran into her Regional Representative, Evans, who had found Joy during his outreach and had sent her to Gynocare for treatment. He was there to make sure she was doing ok. Between her incredible surgeon, amazing caring staff at Gynocare and support from her Regional Representative, I left the facility knowing she was in great hands, and that I would see her one day again, a repaired woman.


Joy and me at Gynocare while she was recovering.


4 Responses to “Joy”

  1. Brandy February 28, 2012 7:52 am #

    What a beautiful story; honestly moving me to tears. What an remarkable thing to be part of Joy’s wonderful, life changing story. Charlie, you are an amazing spirit and the work you helped to document in Kenya warms my heart and provides me with hope knowing there are still people out there making the world a better place and giving people a second chance at a healthy life.

  2. Cause February 28, 2012 10:28 am #

    Thank you for sharing this story, Charlie. What amazing people you encountered!

    • Hoang December 27, 2012 8:12 pm #

      Dear Stephanie,First I want to apologize for tkniag so long to respond to you. My middle child is going through a very challenging time and thus my own need to step into mom more fully and provide him with what he needs has trumped everything else for now. Like you, I am in the trenches of parenting young children and like many of the other faculty members of the Neufeld Institute, one of the primary reasons I am so immersed and passionate about Dr. Nuefeld’s material is because of the daily difference it makes in my own life.There are many things you touch on in your response that cut right to the heart of things. It seems that one of the most profound initial shifts that occurs for parents when encountering this material is in our understanding of and relationship to sadness. Our culture is so very spooked by sadness and we do everything in our power to run from it. When my children were young, I often got comments from people about what a good mother I must be because my children never cried. Little did I know what I was creating, and the ways in which I was impeding in their development by making everything work for them so that the tears never came. After overcoming my initial fears and cultural conditioning, what a relief it was to invite and embrace the tears, and find the place inside of me where I was no longer threatened by them. Now, rather than avoid them at all costs, my husband and I often silently celebrate with each other across the room when one of our children finally hits this place of futility, knowing that on the other side they will come to rest more deeply in our relationship and be a much easier child to parent.Your comment about feeling like you have known this material all along also touches on something Dr. Neufeld often speaks to, which is his desire to return parents to their own natural intuition. He often comments that we were never meant to be conscious of the dynamics he teaches about, as it was the role of culture to provide the conditions for a child to be deeply attached and in right relationship to the adults responsible for them. Because culture has broken down and is no longer doing its job, we now must bring what is meant to be deeply intuitive into consciousness so that we can make up for where culture is failing. While we are endowed with the instincts necessary to parent a child who is in right relationship with us, those instincts no longer work when dealing with the stuckness that has become so prevalent in the face of the breakdown of culture. It is when our instincts fail us in this way, that we must turn to the insight this paradigm offers to help us find our way through.In addressing your concern about how to build and maintain deep attachments with so many children, the first key is in your believing that you are big enough for all of them. So much of parenting is in finding the right posture, that of being the big mamma who is absolutely convinced that she is her child’s answer. If you can find the place where you believe you are big enough, you will naturally convey this to your children and it will provide them with some rest even when you can’t give them the kind of personal attention and time you wish for. I don’t mean to diminish the challenge you face parenting so many young children in the absence of the attachment village that was always meant to be there to support mom, it is immense. All of you must feel the futility and have your tears about how hard it is at times to have to share mommy.I encourage you to find little ways to resource yourself so that you can be who your children need. Often 20 minutes in a bath or on a walk by myself can make a huge difference for me when I am feeling empty. Finally, in preparation for your new arrival in February, putting some time and attention into building your attachment village could make a huge difference for all of you. We were never meant to do this alone. Please feel free to use this editorial as a place to grow your village. There is a wealth of resources here on the Faculty of the Neufeld Institute and within the growing community of people who are passionate about this work, that know what it is like to stand in your shoes and are more than willing to walk alongside with you and offer their support for the sacred task your are doing.warmly,Cindy

  3. Jasmen December 27, 2012 8:42 pm #

    Oh the bedtime piece! It semeed to me that just when I had my three children finally following a night time routine that flowed nicely for all of us, one of them would hit 12 or 13 years. Both of my daughters, at that age, became agitated, anxious and sleepless. I felt frustrated and I struggled to find what had disrupted their ability to relax and go to sleep. I discovered that, for both of my daughters at this age, when they went to bed, their day would replay in their heads. The world, for a while, was big and messy for them and this all flooded into their brain when they were alone at night trying to fall asleep.Once I realized this, I made a point of spending time sitting on the side of the bed every night. This required some scheduling but it was worth it. At first, I would say nothing, just sit there in the dark and rub their back, something I had done when they were tiny. Some nights, they would babble on about trivial matters and fall asleep rather quickly. On other nights, the junk would come out. Issues that were going on at school. Assignments that were coming due. Things that made them feel embarassed or unsafe on the school bus or in the hallways. Disasters in gym class. Sometimes they would cry. Those nights I’d sit on that bed for a long time before they could drift off to sleep. Sometimes I would have trouble going to sleep later, myself, struggling with the unfairness of their world or sorting through what I had just learned. It became a ritual for all of my children through the early adolescent years. There were seasons when it was needed more and times when barely needed at all. And they all moved on to not need me there for any more than a few moments at the end of their day.I have often wondered how I could have ever known what was going on in their life if we had not shared that quiet and private time when it was ok to say what was on their mind and in their heart. To let someone know what it was like being them. To unload so they were free to rest.

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