So you know a thing or two about fibroids, but I’m going to break it all the way down so you can try picture how it works in the female body. I’m no doctor but this is a personal account for you to understand how uterine fibroids affect each body differently.
Fibroids are benign (i.e. non cancerous) tumors that arise from the smooth muscle and connective tissue of the uterus. Pause. Stop and touch where you think your uterus is. You may have casually placed your hand over your midsection so your palm covers your belly button. Actually, your uterus is much lower than that, it’s in the “v” area of your love below– located right behind the pubic bone . So that sensitive area of your body where a baby conceives and grows, can possibly harbor and nurture fibroid tumors. These uterine tumors can grow as large as a mini watermelon, cause pelvic pain, and carry a host of other issues. There are different types of fibroids as presented in the image below. Pedunculated, Subserous, Submucous, and Intramural. I mention the different types of fibroids because knowing this may determine the type of treatment you choose if you decide to do so. We’ll come back to explaining the types later.
As stated before, Black women are nearly three times more likely to develop uterine fibroids and suffer from the symptoms.
- Heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding
- Pelvic Pain
- Abnormal bleeding between periods
- Frequent urination
- Low back pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- A firm mass located in the pelvic, which can be felt by your doctor
Ya’ll know about my terrible ordeal with heavy, clotted periods and my strategies to cope with the bleeding. Let’s just say, I know ALL the pads out there that can help save your favorite jeans from an accident. But because my period didn’t surpass 7 days and I strangely managed the heavy flow, I didn’t bring it up with my doctor. I learned to bear my cross and deal with it. Mind you, I did do an annual exam and never did my doctor question my periods (so I didn’t think to bring it up) nor did she feel anything during my pelvic exam. But I also had frequent urination which I chocked up to me stepping my water game up. To be honest, even on days when I didn’t drink a lot of water, I constantly had the pressure to pee– sometimes, 3 times within the hour. But I counted myself lucky. At least my periods didn’t make me addicted to Midol, nor did I ever get cramps. Ever. So in my mind there was no problem, after all, a little blood ain’t never fazed no woman.
Well, frankly, it was A LOT of blood. Late December, I had to do a comprehensive blood test for work and my report came back with the following information.
My RBC (red blood count) was 3.8 and my hemoglobin was 8.1. I was severely suffering from iron-deficiency anemia and hadn’t a clue. However, the signs were there. Our apartment was on the second floor and I remember getting completely winded by the time I walked up one flight of stairs. I simply thought that my body was crying for a diet change and more Zumba sessions. I was chronically exhausted everyday but I thought my teaching job was just wearing me out. Finding out about the anemia was one thing– I can deal with supplements. But the fibroids were another.
I had just turned 27. The ultrasound reported an anteverted (tilted forward towards the bladder) uterus that measured to what was equatable to a woman who was 10 weeks pregnant. That explained why the lil tummy pouch that didn’t seem to budge. The report also spotted 3 subserosal fibroids in various sections of my womb.
This is a pre-surgery MRI. You can easily see two here but my reports always noted 3. The largest was equal to the size of a naval orange. When I did my surgery, my doctor ending up removing 5 and said there were tiny ones that she did not want to remove.
Here’s why that is important:
Intramural fibroids are the most common fibroids, grow within the wall of the uterus
Subserosal grow on the outside of the uterus and can cause pain due to size
Submucosal grow just underneath the uterine lining and can crowd the uterus cavity and lead to heavy bleeding and other serious complications
Pedunculated fibroids grow on small stalks outside or inside the uterus.
Positioning of the fibroid is important when knowing how it is interfering with your way of life. So having subserosal fibroids lessened my fear because apparently, they were outside my uterus so therefore, not interfering with my chances of getting pregnant. I could attempt to get pregnant and not worry that there was a fibroid inside the uterine cavity to compromise the fetus. We were offered the option to “maybe” remove them, they weren’t too big for surgery; get on birth control; watch and wait and/or get pregnant very soon. My husband and I decided to watch and wait. We would monitor the fibroids while we actively tried to get pregnant. A small part of me was still worried because I didn’t know how to shrink the fibroids or keep them at bay.
What causes fibroids?
So understand that our uterus is one of the first organs to manifest symptoms when a woman’s hormones are out of whack. There is still not a sound reason as to why fibroids happen and why it plagues black women. There are suggestions that it is genetic. It’s also written that being overweight or having high blood pressure may increase the risk. You may have heard the argument that hair relaxers can be the culprit and there can be some truth to that. Mind you, I had not put a relaxer in my hair in almost 10 years when I was diagnosed with fibroids. There has been extensive research that estrogen dominance is linked to fibroid growth. Having excessive estrogen can compromise the body which perpetuates the growth of fibroids. This is why they stop growing once a woman reaches menopause, no hormones to feed it. This information really puzzled me. I was told to take birth control to help with the heavy periods but birth control has been linked to making fibroids grow. Also, pregnancy is a ripe time for your hormones to hit the roof so getting pregnant wouldn’t solve the problem, actually, it could easily cause the fibroids to grow. I had never taken birth control and wasn’t about to start, but deep inside, becoming pregnant at this point scared me. I didn’t want my body to go through war.
Vitamin D deficiency can promote fibroids as well (I later found out I was excruciatingly deficient of Vitamin D… Ghana here I come). Obesity is another factor related to fibroids that I will express in a follow up article about health, diet and fibroids. But here’s another one: stress, ya’ll. Putting time and energy into things that weigh us down can manifest internally.
A year went by. I welcomed great news of my friend’s pregnancy. She was showing like a 5 month mama although she was barely done with her first trimester. Fibroids. Girlfriend was in and out of the hospital then eventually on bedrest for 6 out of her 9 months. She was always in pain and I know, her spirit was crushed. I saw her laid up in the hospital bed, grim with pain, her eyes questioning the entire situation. I stopped trying to get pregnant and decided to schedule surgery to remove the fibroids. By the time I scheduled surgery, my period flow hadn’t changed much and my fibroids had grown significantly.
A myomectomy is the most popular route to treating fibroids. Please read here for other forms of treatment. There are many ways to remove fibroids. An abdominal myomectomy is akin to a C-section, where they cut into the abdomen, open you up and remove the fibroid. I had a laparascopic (robotic) myomectomy due to the placement and size of my fibroids. This option cuts down on recovery (2 weeks), preserves my fertility, and is minimally-invasive (my scars are like three little mosquito bites on my stomach). When my doctor gave me the post-surgery report, she said I had more than 5 fibroids, not just the 3 on the ultrasound. I have heard of this before– an ultrasound doesn’t give a comprehensive look at uterus, it’s just a starting point.
I won’t lie, recovery was very easy for me. The first few days were hellish but I pushed through the pain and made sure I walked every day. I was off the woozy meds by day 3 and made sure I took advantage of smoothies and soup to speed up my healing. God has been faithful to me through it all. But that doesn’t overlook the apprehension, fear, secrecy, suffering, and silence I’ve endured about it all these years. For a while, it was like, I have fibroids, yeah, so, most black women have it. I’ll deal with it, get the surgery and keep it moving. But it’s so much deeper than that. The decision to have surgery was not an easy one. I was selective about friends I told because I was nervous that the African community would try to conclude their reasons as to why I haven’t had children. I was extremely sensitive to the issue because I didn’t want to tamper with my body and I was worried about future conception… it’s just a lot ya’ll. But talking about it has been cathartic. I do hope that more women will advocate for research that provides concrete answers for our plight. Because the longer we sit around “dealing with it”, the less likely there will be a course for action on an issue that impacts us.
Next up: A deeper look into diet, health, and holistic measures for treating fibroids
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 TAL is bringing the topic out of the shadows. Check out our podcast conversation about fibroids between Mabel, Tanika Grey, the founder of The White Dress Project Organization, and me.
Mabel Bashorun is the Ghanaian-American goddess of charm. Who doesn’t she know? She keeps a packed social calendar and serves as an occasional (read: noncommittal) staff writer and podcast host for This Afropolitan Life. Reach her on the innanets @MabeTheBabe