Editor’s note: This post is by Mabel Bashorun, an avid advocate for fibroids awareness in the community. Unfortunately too many women are in the dark, or too private to discuss the issue, so for Women’s month, TAL is bring the topic out of the shadows. Stay tuned for a podcast conversation about fibroids between Mabel, Tanika Grey, the founder of The White Dress Project Organization, and me.
I remember learning about my menstrual cycle in 6th grade sex-education sessions. Our teacher gave each girl an index card to write questions on after each session. I frantically scribbled my numerous inquiries on the front and back of the card. My friend’s comment, “dang Mabel!” caused my cheeks to warm with embarrassment at my obsession to know more about my body. I was hungry for information about my changing body and knew that my mom, due to her cultural unease talking about such matters, couldn’t and wouldn’t answer them truthfully. My mama was the type to shy away from talking about serious matters, especially if she felt I was too young to comprehend the complexities of things.
I got my period at 12 years old. It was the day I was supposed to run a 5k for a school fundraiser. I went to pee before leaving the house, only to notice pinkish spots on my toilet paper. I hurriedly ran to my mother who was napping on the couch. I shook her from her slumber and thrust the toilet paper in her face in a moment of excitement and shock. (Now when I think about it, gross.) When her eyes cleared up to what she saw, she rushed with me back to the bathroom and sat on the edge of the tub, looked me in my eyes and said—”you know you can get pregnant now?” I slowly nodded my head but internally, I still didn’t get how sex and pregnancy worked. I was all the more terrified now that I was susceptible to miraculous conception. I worried about how I could stop a pregnancy from happening.
I went on to deal with womanhood monthly. I remember one day, I realized I hadn’t gotten my period for several months and I rushed to the calendar to double check. I had indeed missed my period for about 2 months. I broke down in tears at the fact that I was finally pregnant, not sure how, but fully aware that the absence of a monthly most likely meant that I was with child. I went with shaky knees to my mother expressing the terrifying news. My mother rolled her eyes and told me to go find something to do.
Eventually, I grasped the workings of my regular cycle, and naturally, it became an afterthought. But then things got strange. My periods, never accompanied by writhing pain or cramps, was instead, strangely heavy. Many mornings, I would shoot out of bed due to the rushing of blood coming from me and my mattress resembled a murder scene on occasion. Well, that’s hyperbole, but the tears of frustration were real when I urgently scrubbed my bedsheets clean in the bathtub. The heavy flow went on for months. Google told me some women have heavier flows than others. I tried to use a better diet to control it, and exercise was futile. Instead I resorted to heavy-duty pads, accompanied with adult diapers, sometimes. Super black jeans and extra pads were always ready in my car, just in case. I lived like this for years. This system worked for a while but eventually, I faced each month with grave anxiety not looking forward to my obscene periods, but there was nothing I could do about it.
A doctor’s appointment afforded me an opportunity to learn that my case was truly abnormal and that fibroids were plaguing my uterus. I was nothing short of shocked. A whole 26-year old me with fibroids? I was relieved to know that I wasn’t dying, but baffled that I fell victim to this condition. It was as if my body had betrayed me. I didn’t realize that black women of childbearing age were 3x more prone to getting fibroids. Why? Nobody knows. I spent a year avoiding surgery by trying to take care of my body, trying to get pregnant (I’m married now), and trying to remain stress-free. I was unsuccessful. One of my friends got pregnant and was eventually put on bedrest because of her troublesome fibroids. She was in and out of hospitals because of the excruciating pain she had her entire pregnancy. Her fibroids caused her to have a risky delivery as well. After checking in on her at the hospital, I came home and finally scheduled my myomectomy.
Eight out of ten black women have fibroids. Why? We don’t necessarily know. Cure? There isn’t necessarily one. In my opinion, fibroids is just another thing I feel black women have learned to deal with. Now, this ain’t your auntie Grace’s problem– fibroids can affect young Afropolitan you. Women tend to have fibroids and don’t show any symptoms, and get along in life just fine. Some women have fibroids and show numerous symptoms but aren’t aware until much later. Some women have fibroids, remove them, and they return again with a vengeance. Some women have fibroids and it terrorizes their way of life. After I learned about my case, I was all up and through my girlfriends’ uteruses. I begged people to check their bodies out; get a blood test, a scan, something. A few older women shared their bouts with fibroids with me and I marvelled at their stories. Then it hit me: Women aren’t speaking up enough.
After hours of trolling #fibroids on Instagram, I came across a pretty interesting organization called We Can Wear White. It’s a non-profit organization mobilized by black women to promote fibroid awareness in our community. I love the positive posts about female health and encouraging stories from other women who have faced private pain of fibroids. It became a great platform for me to connect with other women for hope in spite of the pain.
In Ghanaian culture, when something significant in your life has happened,-say you survived a terrible ordeal or you survived the riskiness of pregnancy and delivery- you and your family bind together to thank God on any given Sunday, and you wear white. White is the color of renewal, thanksgiving, victory, and triumph. It signifies that you’ve overcome. It’s a testimony.
My hope is that all women battling uterine issues may one day have their day to wear white in testimony to what they’ve overcome. But before that can happen, we must pay close attention to our bodies and the changes that happen over time. Don’t be afraid to speak up and don’t be afraid to advocate your health, no matter how much you think you have it under control. Use that insurance mama, sauce it up with some prayer, and go get your healing!