It is no mystery that Black women have been hit the hardest by fibroids. According to recent research published in The International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, Black women are diagnosed with fibroids roughly three times as frequently as white women. While some women don’t experience any symptoms, for many Black women, symptoms are significant and severe, ranging from extreme pain and bleeding, to fertility problems and pregnancy complications.
For Black women wanting children, the latter two symptoms could strike a major blow. Indeed, fibroids are present in 5-10% of patients with infertility. If you’re reading this, I’ll bet you or someone you know has a personal story of fibroids and fertility problems. Perhaps, even fibroids and pregnancy loss. I certainly do.
My story starts in 2007 when I was pregnant with my first child. I was 27 at the time. I had actually announced my pregnancy at the 5-week mark, shortly after I got a positive test. Like many young women, I was a bit naïve about my fertility and overall ability to carry a baby to term. I assumed most of it was under my control. Sure, I knew of women with infertility problems. I’d worked with many of them as both a healthy living coach and trainer.
I knew that many women experienced pregnancy loss. But, honestly, I was not at all concerned about my risk. I was healthy. I was an athlete. My eating habits were pristine. Neither infertility nor pregnancy loss were on my list of concerns.
I’ve always said, “I’m going to have two boys and a girl.” And, after a relatively healthy and happy first pregnancy, in September 2007, I gave birth to a beautiful 9-pound, 6-ounce baby boy. I remember looking at my husband in the delivery room and saying, “Two more to go.”
I was not at all concerned about my risk. I was healthy. I was an athlete. My eating habits were pristine. Neither infertility nor pregnancy loss were on my list of concerns.
Now, it was actually during this pregnancy that I was initially diagnosed with fibroids. An ultrasound showed a large one, about the size of a baseball, just outside my uterus. Throughout the progression of my pregnancy, it continued to grow. But I didn’t sweat it. My OB-GYN assured me that it would shrink after childbirth. It did. She didn’t make much of a fuss about it afterwards, so neither did I.
Though a lot of my female clients had fibroids, at the time, I didn’t know much about them. So, after giving birth, I just went on with my life. I didn’t even revisit the issue—That is, until my second pregnancy. This one occurred sometime during early spring of 2011.
I distinctly recall having cravings for white cheeses like brie, blue cheese and feta. Up to that point, I hated white cheeses of any sort. Due to those cravings, I already felt an immediate bond with baby number two.
My husband and I were overjoyed. The timing was perfect, as I would give birth just before defending my PhD dissertation. Once again, I decided to make an early announcement—This time on social media. I remember one of my colleagues commented on how “brave” I was for telling the whole world at such an early stage. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that she had experienced recurrent miscarriages prior to giving birth to her son.
In a sad irony, my second child’s birthday would never come.
On July 4, 2011, as I packed for a family vacation, an overwhelming pain in my abdomen took me down to the floor. When I stood back up, my lower body was covered in blood. I immediately knew what was happening. I was losing my baby. My husband rushed me to the emergency room where I was immediately taken back to undergo an ultrasound. My crying was uncontrollable. My heartbeats were rapid.
I kept asking the ultrasound technician what she was seeing. She wouldn’t say a word. She said my OB-GYN would have to communicate the results with me. I knew the news was bad.
I ultimately learned that I’d not only lost one baby; I’d actually lost three. I was pregnant with fraternal triplets. I also learned that I had a total of three fibroids—One being the size of a grapefruit. Needless to say, both my surprise and disappointed were equally immense.
But, for some odd reason, I was able to console myself and control my grief by rationalizing that triplets weren’t a ‘traditional’ occurrence. I thought that perhaps my body wasn’t strong enough to carry such a load. And, that’s how I coped with the loss. As for those three fibroids; well, once again, my OB-GYN didn’t make a fuss about them. Though I knew in my heart that there was a link, I moved on.
From that point forward, my whole life changed. The notion of pregnancy no longer evoked happy thoughts. Instead, even the thought of pregnancy evoked fear and anxiety.
The next year I would suffer a second miscarriage. Coincidently, this one occurred weeks shy of my defending my dissertation—The time that I would have given birth to triplets. Six months after that, I experienced a third miscarriage. And, eight months later a fourth.
When it was all said and done, I’d had a total of four fibroids; one the size of a grapefruit and three the size of tennis balls. By this time, I was more than certain these fibroids were culprits behind the miscarriages. But my OB-GYN was disturbingly lackadaisical. She even suggested possible chromosomal abnormalities between my husband and me.
Unbeknownst to me then, I’d went into a deep, dark hole of depression. I felt isolated. I shied away from hanging out, or even talking to friends and family members. I regularly lashed out at my husband over the smallest things. I cried all the time. Too proud to seek help, I put all my time, energy and efforts into my work and workouts.
Studies show that Black women rarely recognize symptoms of depression and other mental health issues. It’s the ole black superwoman syndrome, and I’d totally fell into it. On the outside, I was an exemplar of good health, happiness and success. On the inside, I was completely falling apart. I felt like a complete and utter failure.
Black women rarely recognize symptoms of depression and other mental health issues. It’s the ole black superwoman syndrome, and I’d totally fell into it.
In addition to depression, I dealt with anxiety, and frequently went through periods of anger, frustration, envy at other women who were having babies, regret, hopelessness, and even entitlement, often vocalizing how unfair it was that I had to go through this when I did everything right.
I exercised, I ate right, I took care of my body in all aspects that were under my control.
Adding insult to injury was all the unsolicited advice, comments and input from others. Since my son was 7-years old, people would say things like:
“You know it’s time for you to have a girl.”
“Hey, maybe you’re miscarrying because you exercise too much. Stop exercising and keep trying.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you. I never had your problems.”
I reached a point so low that I started contemplating suicide. I even attempted it once by sitting in a running car with the garage down. The only thing that snapped me out of it was the thought of my son coming home from school and finding me dead. This was the point at which I finally sought out help from a mental health professional.
Through therapy, it didn’t take long for me to realize I was grieving, and had been doing so for a long time, and also had been doing it all alone.
Acknowledging and embracing the grieving process was the most critical step to my emotional and mental healing. Through this ongoing process I began to accept my life for what it was, let go of what I couldn’t control, and find more joy and happiness along the way.
Miscarriage generally induces an intense period of emotional distress so it only stood to reason that recurrent pregnancy losses could result in long-lasting mental health problems. For me, this reality was further magnified by the presumption that I was doing all things right in terms of exercising, eating well, and taking good care of my physical health.
Given that I found myself experiencing recurrent miscarriages in spite of my good physical condition, I began to think that I was somehow cursed and perhaps destined for reproductive failure. These negative feelings and thoughts further magnified my ongoing depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, therapy helped me realize how erroneous my thoughts were.
Through therapy I also came to realize that my fibroids were likely playing a role in my mental health. This is a symptom that’s rarely talked about. Studies have shown that a large number of Black women experience significant emotional and psychological responses to fibroids, ranging from general worry and concern to fear, anxiety, sadness, and depression.
Empowered by this knowledge and also frustrated by the lack of insight from my OB-GYN, I decided to get a second opinion about my fibroids.
A large number of Black women experience significant emotional and psychological responses to fibroids, ranging from general worry and concern to fear, anxiety, sadness, and depression.
That was a great decision and one that confirmed my certainty.
I ultimately had a myomectomy during which all four of my fibroids were removed.
Just one year later, I suffered an ectopic pregnancy. As it wasn’t detected early, I had a lot of internal bleeding and had to undergo an emergency salpingectomy during which one of my fallopian tubes was removed. This would be my fifth loss. I was still in therapy at the time. I pushed through my emotions.
A few years later, I had another miscarriage. This would be my sixth loss. Surprisingly, I’d actually built up the mental capacity to better cope with the loss.
My mind and perspective had changed.
Despite the loss, through therapy, I saw how precious my own life was and started to cherish every moment of it—Even though my family was smaller than I’d originally hoped it would be. I began to cherish every single experience, no matter how small or large.
Might sound a bit cliché but in spite of all my pregnancy losses, I’d learned to find new things to cherish and be grateful for. I learned to understand that each loss was in order and not my fault. I learned to acknowledge that, even in the presence of that inevitable pain that comes with loss, there’s always room to live, learn, and grow.
The very moment I began to accept my life, my reality and these truths was the very moment I experienced a miracle and successfully conceived, and carried to term what would be another beautiful baby boy. That’s right, four miscarriages, one myomectomy, one ectopic pregnancy, a salpingectomy, and another miscarriage later, in September 2019, my 7-pound rainbow baby was born.
Life is full of unexpected surprises!
In sharing this piece, it is my sincere hope that my personal story of fibroids and pregnancy loss inspires at least one woman, especially one who’s experienced loss, in any form.
Trust that not a day goes by that I don’t think about the triplets I once carried, or how many of those eight little ones I lost were girls.
As women, especially Black women, it’s time for us to stop suffering in silence. We can’t continue to feel ashamed when discussing miscarriage and pregnancy loss. It’s more common than most know. It’s also time for us to stop asking all those personal, oftentimes, invasive questions, and offering up unsolicited, overbearing advice about pregnancy. You never know what a woman has gone through or is going through.
It’s important that we continue to learn more about what causes fibroids, their associated symptoms, and how they are treated. And, if you or someone you know has experienced fertility problems or pregnancy loss, with or without a presence of fibroids, understand that it’s no one’s fault and is sometimes inevitable, set aside time to heal, and seek out professional help if necessary, as grieving is real and very normal.