By Lorraine Bee
Every year, my old white male gynecologist would ask me “Are you ready to have children?” Like many young women, I dream of becoming a mother. Yet, in this day and age, there is a pressure for women to have to prioritize their higher education and career building over having a family. The idea of simultaneously meeting, dating and marrying my future husband all while trying to get into law school while working to pay my crippling student debt seems IMPOSSIBLE. I am a young Black Madonna who has gone through the unsettling process of my mother being diagnosed with uterine fibroids, and later deciding to go through a partial hysterectomy. I wish Black women knew more about the racial disparity of Black Women with uterine fibroids, and the even wilder fact that Black Women of childbearing ages are choosing to remove their uteruses through a hysterectomy! My mother, who had already birthed 3 children, had the option to treat her uterine fibroids at a later age in her life, without the devastation of never being able to biologically have children again. Although I am not a medical professional myself, I came to write this piece for the many lovelies about this. Our health-care system constantly overlooks and dismisses issues pertaining to Black Women, so we have to do our own research and advocate for ourselves in cases like this.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
According to the American Journal of Public Health, Uterine fibroids are a common gynecologic condition among women and the primary reason for hysterectomy for United States women. Fibroids are noncancerous tumors that develop within the muscle tissue of the uterus. As noted by the Black Women's Health Imperative, 80 percent of Black women and 70 percent of white women will develop fibroids, yet some never cause any symptoms or problems, and many women will never know they have them. Black women may not even recognize that they have a problem until it becomes an unbearable cost. A 2012 national survey of women with symptomatic fibroids revealed that Black women were more likely to have other severe symptoms including:
Heavy or prolonged periods;
Passage of blood clots during their period;
Interference with physical activities;
Interference with daily and social activities;
Interference with relationships; and
Missed days of work.
It is crucial to be proactive about your health
Relationship Status: UNNERVING
Not to scare you with alarming facts, but Black Women are more likely to have fibroids, to develop them at younger ages, to have bigger fibroids, to have more fibroids, and to have more symptoms, as reported by the American Journal of Public Health. In addition, those unbearable costs I mentioned include the rate of hospitalization for fibroids is triple the cost for Black Women than white women. And this high rate could be because Black Women are more likely to undergo hysterectomy (removal of the uterus by surgery) for fibroids, SEVEN times more likely to have a myomectomy (surgical removal of one or more fibroids), and blood transfusions related to fibroid surgery are substantially higher among Black Women.
HEY HO, Hysterectomy IS NOT THE ONLY WAY TO GO
A procedure that can eliminate a woman’s ability to get pregnant terrifies me. While doctors praise the hysterectomy provides the most effective treatment for fibroids and eliminates any chance that they will return, Hysterectomy is NOT the only or the best option for Black Women. There are several nonsurgical treatments including birth control methods, oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices that can be effective at reducing heavy bleeding. Tranexamic acid is a medication that reduces heavy menstrual bleeding but does not interfere with getting pregnant. Several medications shrink the fibroids’ size. When surgery is required, newer methods, known as “minimally invasive surgery,” use small surgical incisions and small surgical instruments to remove fibroids while preserving a woman’s ability to have children. Even hysterectomies can be done using a less invasive technique, called laparoscopic hysterectomy. These minimally invasive techniques do in fact reduce the risk of life-threatening complications, shorten the time needed for recovery after surgery, but are so damn expensive it ain't an option for Black women. We need a plan to ensure equal access to minimally invasive surgery for all women needing surgical treatment for fibroids.
Rainybee's '3 POINT PLAN' to Productivity
Back in my undergraduate Model United Nation Days, my professor implemented the technique of a "3 Point Plain" to summarize our position on an issue and present a plan that could possibly be implemented by whomever reading this. I thought I'd bring it on home with D.E.N : Development, Education and an end to the Normalization.
Development of tools, aid, information, and guidance for decision-making specifically for Black women that will facilitate meaningful discussions about alternative treatments for fibroids and other public health issues. Health care providers, particularly the gynecologists who treat most women with fibroids, play an important role in this development when advising and guiding Black women as they decide on the best treatment for their fibroids.
Education is the key. I am no medical expert but I do hope this post was a start to your journey learning about this and open yourself to learning more about the many health issues affecting Black Women. I encourage you to read more, do your own research, and learn more to share with you learned with others, including your very own medical physicians.
And lastly, the END of the NORMALIZATION of our pain and suffering. With knowing the hard truth that most Black women at some point during their lives will have fibroids, this does not justify the symptoms one may experience to be “normal”. Many girls are raised to believe painful, heavy periods are just a part of life, as I was growing up. While my mother expressed to me her painful experiences of dealing with the symptoms of her uterine fibroids and as I bear witness to the same, I unknowingly assumed them to be normal. IT IS NOT. Black women, and all women, need to know that suffering from fibroids is not normal and you have a choice of treatment, despite what is normalized and said. With respect and consideration to your lifestyle, preferences of treatment, financial and personal life circumstances, and your desire for children when you choose, you have the right as a Black Madonna.
Ma · don · na
The Virgin Mary….or
An idealized, virtuous and beautiful woman