I was watching a documentary on infertility recently. My heart just wept for some of these couples that desperately wanted babies. I was particularly saddened by a black couple that had put a second mortgage on their home to help cover the costs of infertility treatment only to be left with a massive debt and no baby. Years before the husband and wife had met each other, the woman had suffered from large fibroid tumors that had to be removed surgically.
I thought about my own journey to have children. I was a young 22 year old college grad. I was engaged to a man I thought was my prince-come. He was incredibly handsome, my a gorgeous mahogany man. He was smart and ambitious and had two degrees in both mechanical and electrical engineering. As soon as I graduated I dashed off to Belize so that we could be wedded in marital bliss and begin our lives together. We didn’t want to start a family for several years so the decision was made that I would go on birth control. His sister-in-law took me to the pharmacy where she purchased her pills and I soon discovered that buying birth control in Belize is no different than buying a pair of shoes. You look at the selection available on the shelf, pick one, buy it and move on with your life.
That decision nearly cost me my baby making parts. A few weeks into taking those pills my life began to crumble – literally. The guy I thought was my prince-come ended up being my prince not-at-all. In the midst of dealing with my deteriorating relationship, I also started having massive bleeding issues. A Belizean doctor told me that I needed to continue taking the pills so that my body could adjust to the new hormones. I didn’t agree with his advice so I quit taking them. By this time my relationship with my ex-fiance was over and I flew back to the US.
A few weeks after returning to the US, the bleeding started again, so I consulted with a gynecologist who prescribed an ultrasound. It was discovered that I had developed fibroids. For the next year different attempts were made to reduce the fibroids, but they continued to grow. Eventually, the doctor decided that a myomectomy was necessary.
Just before my 24th birthday the surgery was performed. At my first doctor’s appointment following the surgery, the doctor solemnly told me that I might not be able to have children. At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal to me, since I wasn’t interested in having children. I had decided to throw myself full throttle into an international career. A good friend and I were making plans to move to the Europe in a couple of years for a French and Spanish language immersion program so that we could be recruited by foreign aid groups such as CARE, UN, CARICOM and UNICEF. This type of career choice wasn’t ideal for a woman with children anyway, so I accepted the bleak prognosis with a stiff upper lip.
Long story short, 4 years later my girlfriend flew off to Europe alone to begin her international humanitarian career with the UN and got married in the early part of the year and had a bouncing baby boy by the end of the year. My pregnancy was a huge unexpected surprise and happened with no effort. However, I recognize my story could have been very different.
Fibroids are a common health issue among black women and most of us know someone who has suffered with them. According to the WomensHealth.org black women are at a greater risk to developing fibroids than white women. The cause of fibroids is unknown, nor is it understood why the prevalence of this abnormality is higher in black women.
Despite the obscure facts about fibroids and black women we do have some level of control over our risk and the following list dictates some of the actions we can take:
- Be informed about fibroids and all health conditions common in black women so that you will know what questions and tests to ask your doctor
- Know your family medical history so that you will know if you fall in a high risk category
- Maintain regularly annual check up with our gynecologist
- Limit your intake of red meat and increase your intake of dark green vegetables
- Manage a proper diet and exercise regime
At this time medical research has not found a way to prevent fibroids. However, the good news is that early detection by a doctor, in some cases, can lead to a treatment course that will cause fibroids to shrink on their own, thus bypassing surgery.