Womb War: Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues Among Women of Color
Five health care providers. Four ultrasounds. One MRI. Ending a birth control regimen. Six months of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Six-month course of liquid iron. Maca root supplements. Blackstrap molasses. Apple cider vinegar with the mother. Womb realignment massage. Fasting. Prayer. Meditation. Raspberry leaf tea. Two-part hysteroscopic (vaginal) myomectomy. Geritol. Starting new birth control regimen. Green tea supplements. Vitamin D supplements.
Since 2011, I have been experiencing the symptoms of uterine fibroids (myoma). These symptoms can include heavy menstrual cycles and blood loss that may lead to anemia. Other women have experienced severe cramping, complications with fertility, irregular menstrual cycles, and significant protrusion of the pelvic area.
I went to class one day in 2011 and had to leave early with a scarf wrapped around my waist, despite the fact that I had the appropriate sized tampon for the normal periods I was used to. I bled through a super tampon in an hour, when four hours was my prior normal. Over time, that bleeding would become heavier – saturating a super plus tampon or a menstrual cup plus an overnight pad in an hour. On more embarrassing occasions, I have had to jump up in the middle of teaching, leave work entirely, and sometimes clean up someone’s upholstery.
And, I was tired. I attributed my fatigue to recently starting a doctoral program and working two assistantships in addition to my course load. I was sure to get eight hours of sleep each night, but I often felt like my energy just was not where it used to be. I developed a serious craving for ice, a specific form of pica called pagophagia, but I had no idea this was associated to the other symptoms.
I went to my first health care provider, and they scheduled me for an ultrasound. They found the fibroids, told me they were typical in Black women, and suggested I take a “wait and see” approach. I went to my second heath care provider a year later. They scheduled me for an ultrasound, conducted some blood work, and presented me with some options for surgical procedures and a prescription to take liquid iron.
As a researcher, I began investigating alternative methods of treatment, because I did not want to undergo surgery if I could avoid it. I was also frustrated that none of my health care providers could tell me where fibroids came from or why Black women have the highest incidence of them. I named all that I have tried in the first paragraph, and I recently began the last three after reading about some small pilot studies with promising results for the latter two. But I am beyond frustrated, for my sisters in this struggle and for myself.
Science remains behind when it comes to women, and for women of color the lag is even greater. Understanding the mechanism for a myoma’s development without the origin is not enough. Knowing that Black women are three times more likely than White women to develop fibroids and more likely to have symptomatic fibroids without knowing why is not enough. My research has led to the hypothesis that for Black women, vitamin D deficiency may relate to our overrepresentation, but I want to know more.
Promoting hysterectomy, rather than rapidly advancing science around other forms of less invasive treatment has been a concern of mine as well. I have several family members that have had fibroids and hysterectomies. I appreciate that my most recent procedure (hysteroscopic myomectomy) didn’t require surgical incisions or a significant amount of down time, but it was largely ineffective. The next step may be a more invasive myomectomy, but the most difficult part about that is that the surgery is a treatment, rather than a cure. Fibroids can return, and for many Black women they are likely to. Also, for a woman who would like the option to have children one day, other less invasive procedures are ruled out for now.
The most frustrating symptom is its impact on my ability to enjoy the type of sex life I want at this stage in my marriage. As a sex researcher, I know just how wonderful and healthy regular sex can be. When one out of five women with fibroids feel less sexy and feminine, I know my work can really mean something. This is why I am creating a program to help women reclaim their sensuality regardless of the barriers they may be experiencing. This is also why I am going to be investigating how fibroids have impacted the lives of women of color and being more transparent about my journey along the way.
Right now, my meditation is for patience as I wait to see how this course of Vitamin D, birth control, and green tea extract impact the size and symptoms of the fibroids. Right now, my prayer is spoken directly to this mountain… “fibroids you must go!” It’s been an all out war, but I’m weary. When I get to that place I rely on active faith and trust the process by releasing it all to the Holy Spirit. I’d love to hear what others have done or do.
FOR A FREE INFOGRAPHIC ON FIBROID RESOURCES FOR WOC, CONTACT ME AND SAY “I’D LIKE THE INFOGRAPHIC” IN YOUR MESSAGE., by : Dr. Candice Nicole