How Talking About Taboo Topics Saved My Uterus
By Shamiko Reid
My mother had me at 16 years old. I consider myself to be the child it took a village to raise. I’ve always been inquisitive and fortunately, most of the people in my life have answered any inquiry I tossed at them.
One of the members of that village was my mother’s older sister. She took it upon herself to be everything to me that she needed as a child and felt she didn’t receive. She needed an open and honest source of information. Sex and the female body are such taboo topics in the Black community that all some people know is that one day everyone’s saying you’re cute and the next, everyone’s saying you’re fast.
Fortunately for me, my aunt talked to me about my body and sent me resources to do my own exploring. In the 5th grade, she gifted me “The Body Book for Girls” which talked about puberty and physical development and came complete with illustrations. I later got in trouble for bringing the book to school because some less mature folk got to passing it around for the pictures.
The real key, however, was her willingness to share what her body was experiencing as her body was experiencing it. Although my mom considers herself an open book and always told me the importance of knowing my partner’s medical & mental family history before laying down with them because, “if you get pregnant, those things get passed down to your children,” she never really seemed quite comfortable sharing what was going on with her in the moment.
So many Black women are pillars of their communities, yet suffer in silence and then suddenly pass away, leaving their families with medical bills and questions to a huge puzzle and no one to help them connect the dots. Then, when they themselves become symptomatic, they are left playing guessing games, wondering if this is what their loved one was going through before they died.
When I was younger, my aunt had a hysterectomy. I remember hearing words like fibroids, hemorrhoids and thyroids before I ever really knew what they meant. I recall the time she took making a decision and her frustration with the doctors not being able to find an alternative to surgery to ease or end her pain. I didn’t fully comprehend her experience, but the value was in knowing that it existed.
A couple of years ago, I started experiencing discomfort during sex. I couldn’t explain it, but I had been exclusive with my partner long enough to know that it didn’t have to do with him, but rather something inside of me. Though I know I can, I don’t like discussing sex with my elders, however I do feel comfortable enough to ask questions when I need to.
By this time, I knew that a hysterectomy was an operation to remove a woman’s uterus. Instead of asking about sex, I asked my aunt why she had a hysterectomy. There are several reasons for uterus removal. She told me she removed hers to to remove her fibroids. Fibroids are noncancerous growths in or on the uterus. TV and radio advertisements are filled with “Remove fibroids without surgery” commercials these days, so I had a better understanding of those as well. Then I asked, “How did you know you had fibroids?” and my aunt shared with me that she began having pains during sex with a partner she had been with consistently & exclusively and she knew it wasn’t them.
Wow! It was the exact same thing I had been experiencing! Knowing that information was a game changer. A couple of months later, I met with a new gynecologist and was able to include “family history of fibroids” on my paperwork. When my gynecologist asked if I was having any issues, I felt comfortable sharing my discomfort during sex. I no longer felt like maybe I just ate too much or not enough before being intimate. I knew this discomfort could be my body’s way of telling me something more. After all, sharing with a doctor is how my aunt confirmed her fibroids.
The doctor asked me to return for an ultrasound/sonogram. The ultrasound technician discovered a single, small fibroid on the left side of my uterus. She said it was no larger than the nail on my thumb. My doctor was convinced that change of diet and Vitamin E could reduce it in size, avoiding any need for surgery.
I am lucky. If my aunt hadn’t been open about everything she’d gone through, I might still be dismissing my sexual discomfort as a stomachache; as if I had gotten in the pool without waiting 30 minutes after eating. There’s still so much to be clarified about why fibroids develop. I’m just grateful my aunt chose to break the cycle of silence by not hiding her hysterectomy in shame. If she hadn’t created and nurtured the idea that it was safe to discuss uncomfortable topics with her, specifically about my body, I might still be in the dark about my fibroids.
I also learned I have a heart-shaped uterus during that appointment, which is apparently something most women don’t find out until they’re pregnant and it contributes to conditions that could complicate pregnancy. I walked into that doctor’s appointment prepared to ask the right questions because my aunt cared enough to know that her life story is tied to mine, and sharing vital information about her life improved the quality of mine.
Ms. Reid is the creator of DaaamnDaddy.com, a platform that addresses people's relationships or lack thereof with their fathers and the impact it has on who they are and how they show up in the world. Through her platform she discusses social issues such as mental illness and domestic violence and creates safe space for others to have their voices heard. It is her goal to expose people to the shared experiences that inform our everyday habits and introduce them to people and other resources to break bad habits, generational patterns and change the trajectory of parenting for the better. She is a Jersey Girl, a Howard Woman & a Forever Educator.