This article is part of Uterine Fibroids and Black Women, a destination in our Health Divide series.
Meet the Author
Monica Day is the Director of Fund Development for the White Dress Project. She worked in politics for over a decade, advocating for small businesses and health care.
When you’re getting ready to walk out on the pageant stage, the last thing you want to think about is whether you have blood on your skirt. Remembering your mission statement? Absolutely. Making sure that your smile is as bright as possible? Definitely. Menstrual effluent? Not usually at the top of the list.
But in 2013, just a few months before I competed in the Miss Plus America Pageant, my menstrual cycles had gotten so heavy and unpredictable that I was at a crisis point. After talking to my doctor, I found out that I had an incredibly common diagnosis (especially for Black women): uterine fibroids.
Heavy, Painful Periods
I had always had some clotting during my period but never enough to be worrisome. Then, in the months leading up to the pageant, my cycles became unmanageable and incredibly painful. I would wake up at 3:00 a.m., doubled over in pain. The blood had soaked through a tampon and a pad and covered the black sheets of my bed.
I knew that I had to see someone about the bleeding and pain. At first, I thought that I just needed to go on birth control to deal with my symptoms.
When I described my symptoms to my doctor at my annual physical—extremely heavy flow, quarter-sized blood clots or larger, and severe abdominal pain that even Motrin 800 couldn’t touch—instead of brushing the pain and bleeding off as part of womanhood, she sent me for a transvaginal ultrasound.
The scan showed what my doctor had expected to find: a uterine fibroid. Specifically, a submucosal fibroid that was growing into the uterine cavity and pushing against my right fallopian tube.
My fibroid was the size of a grape. While it might not have been large compared to some, it was definitely making itself known by destroying my quality of life.
Together, my doctor and I decided that having the fibroid removed surgically (a procedure called a myomectomy) was the best choice for me.
Even knowing that uterine fibroids are common, it’s hard not to wonder—why me? Why is my body attacking me?
A Family History
As common as fibroids are—nearly 80% of Black women have fibroids at some point in their lives and 70% of White women do—it’s something that no one talks about.
After I was diagnosed, I learned that my aunt, with whom I’ve always been close, had a hysterectomy because of her fibroids.
She had never mentioned why she had had the surgery, only that she had always had very bad periods and cramps. In my naïveté, I accepted this and went on. Now, I know that fibroids are in my genes.
Removing my fibroid was a huge relief. My surgery was laparoscopic, so I only had a week or so of recovery—I participated in the pageant shortly after. My symptoms immediately got better after the surgery, but over time, they started to come back.
I returned to my doctor, fearful that I had developed another fibroid. That’s when I found out that I have another condition—adenomyosis. The condition is when the cells that normally line the uterus start to grow into the uterine wall.
Even though the adenomyosis is unrelated to my uterine fibroids, it’s had the same effect on my life. Now, my doctor and I are working together on how we’re going to address it.
Living with Fibroids
Dealing with fibroids is a horrible experience, and not just because of the pain. The condition also comes with so much uncertainty. Will this affect my ability to have children? Will I have bled through my clothes when I stand up out of a chair?
As common as fibroids are—nearly 80% of Black women have fibroids at some point in their lives and 70% of white women do—it’s something that no one talks about.
It’s also embarrassing and strips you of the ability to keep your mind on your work. It makes it so that you can’t feel free enough to be yourself in meetings.
When you’re constantly afraid of bleeding through your clothing, you withdraw, trying to protect yourself from the potential humiliation of dealing with the physical side of fibroids.
Speaking Up and Out
As someone who has worked in politics for a long time, keeping quiet isn’t in my nature. I started searching for nonprofits that were working to find a cure for fibroids. When I found the White Dress Project, it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I shared my story and got involved in advocacy because no one should feel alone and scared as they deal with a life-altering diagnosis.
I believe that education and awareness are key to creating the momentum that we need to learn more about uterine fibroids—including how to prevent and treat them.
Even knowing that uterine fibroids are common, it’s hard not to wonder—why me? Why is my body attacking me? At the same time, I feel lucky because I only had one fibroid.
Since I started sharing my story, I’ve had friends reveal that they have fibroids, too. One of them has 26 fibroids. Another is waiting for her health insurance to kick in so that she can have her fibroids removed. My sister has four fibroids and doesn’t have a plan to remove them yet.
Developing an open relationship with my doctor saved me a lot of pain and uncertainty. I hope that will inspire more women to advocate for themselves.
Don’t brush away period pain and heavy flows as just part of a “woman’s curse.” Talk to your doctor and find someone who will listen. Then, you can take the steps that you need to get your life back.