I am writing this while going through uterine fibroid flare-ups. It feels like labor contractions or the worst cramps you can possibly imagine. I learned that I had uterine fibroids in 2003 when I was 25—two years after giving birth to my daughter. Fibroids are benign growths, usually in a woman’s uterus, and most women of color have them. My gynecologist told me my fibroids were the size of almonds, so I ignored them.
I didn’t think about my fibroids again until my second pregnancy at 30 years old in 2008. It was a high-risk pregnancy because of where the fibroids were located; I also had placenta previa and gestational diabetes. I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy and was put on bedrest from five months until I gave birth to my daughter. She was born healthy by cesarean section during my eighth month of pregnancy. After that I had my tubes tied (tubal ligation) to prevent future pregnancies because I could not go through high-risk pregnancy again.
Before and after my first pregnancy, I was 5’3” and a petite size 4. After the second pregnancy, I returned to a healthy weight and size 4 and even frequently ran 5k races to stay active. Although I was diagnosed with prediabetes as a result of my prior gestational diabetes diagnosis, I was able to maintain my weight with healthy diet and exercise to prevent diabetes.
Years later in 2016 when my brother was murdered, I suffered with grief and stopped exercising. I began to struggle with my weight and a series of stressful situations—on and off for about 7 years. I gained 50 pounds and went up to a size 12/14. I attributed my growing pooch in my uterus area to being overweight and didn’t give it a second thought when my belly began protruding as if I was about 5-6 months pregnant.
I started having extremely heavy periods. I correlated it to turning 40, not to the fibroids unknowingly growing in my uterus. I also had forgotten that uterine fibroids ran in my family. My mother had fibroids; my great-grandmother and my grandmother had hysterectomies because of fibroids. I kept up with my yearly well-woman visits with no alarm bells from my GYN.
But I became self-conscious of my big belly. I hid it with bigger blouses and tops; I started wearing leggings every day. I continued to self-diagnose and suffer from occasional sharp, contraction-like pain (which I later found out to be “fibroid flare-ups”). When my periods got even heavier, I made an appointment with my GYN. She was my doctor during my high-risk pregnancy, so I trusted her expertise. (By the way, she was not a uterine fibroid specialist.) She told me that my periods were ‘not heavy’ because I wasn’t soaking through a pad per hour. She said I just needed to lose weight and asked me if I ‘hated walking or something’. So, I continued to ignore my symptoms.
From 2018 to 2021, I started having digestive issues: constipation, gas, and excessive bloating. I even had two unnecessary colonoscopies. My gastrologist ordered an ultrasound on my abdomen to see if there were any obstructions or blockages. I told the ultrasound tech that the pain was in my pelvic area not my abdomen. “That’s for your GYN to check out,” she said. My self-diagnosis of bowel and digestive issues were actually symptoms of the real issue: uterine fibroids. Finally in May of 2023, after my sister shared with me that she’d had uterine fibroid issues for years, I made an appointment to see a new GYN.
My new GYN ordered an ultrasound, and she discovered that my fibroids had grown to the size of large grapefruits or softballs! That’s why I looked and felt pregnant! They were pushing on my bladder and bowel area. Since fibroids can cause fertility issues and I was not interested in having more children (my tubes were tied for 15 years and I am 45), my GYN suggested a hysterectomy.
I was slightly reluctant, but then I remembered how long I suffered. I researched and sought a second opinion. It helps that my husband is super supportive of my decision to proceed with the surgery. He understands the pain and suffering I’ve been enduring.
I am extremely happy with my decision to have a hysterectomy. I know it’s not the best choice for every woman, but it’s the right choice for me. Writing this while actually enduring the flare-up was cathartic. My message to women—especially women of color—is to listen to your body when you know something is wrong; be your own advocate, even if doctors tell you otherwise; educate yourself on your ailment or diagnosis; and be sure to seek a second opinion.
Under no circumstances should you self-diagnose or ignore your symptoms or pain for so many years like I did. It is unacceptable for our symptoms to be ignored. Self-care is also listening to your body.Leave a Comment