Black Woman Heal: The Racism in Gynecology

“History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again”

Maya Angelou

This is a special blog post because it includes excerpts from my latest book, “The Black Girl’s Guide to Healing: 10 Ways to Achieve a Healthy, Pain Free Period”.

The Black woman must take her rightful place as self-healer. She must master herself and her thoughts. She must begin to muster up the courage to trust her intuition when it comes to her body. As J. California Cooper (my favorite author) says, ““The only thing, no matter how long you live; that is truly yours, is your body”. Your body is all you have and there is no one beside you that knows what is best for your body. Especially not the white man and that is particularly true when it comes to our wombs.

The womb is the essence of your being. It is what makes you, uniquely you. It is where the wisdom and power of your entire being is held. The woman’s womb is the seat of her creativity. It holds the key to her magic, power, inherent beauty, and divinity.

When there is an imbalance or dis-ease in the womb, there will be imbalance and dis-ease in all areas of our life. It will manifest most readily in our physical health. But it can also manifest in our relationships, our finances, and careers. But a woman who heals her womb, heals her life. It is the center of your world. You must guard and protect it for all it’s worth.

There has been a seemingly unending assault on the Black woman’s womb.  Birth control, uterine fibroids, PCOS, cysts, excessive menstruation, endometriosis, infertility, and hysterectomies have become synonymous with black womanhood. It is as if we are born, we suffer, and then we die. Our wombs are not valued in the same way as white women.

J. Marion Sims is touted as being the Father of modern Gynecology. He invented the speculum, which is still used today for vaginal dilation and examinations. He also developed the surgical technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, which is a severe complication resulting from childbirth. Many women were relieved of their suffering due to Sim’s medical breakthrough. Unfortunately, the only women who benefited were white.

J. Marion sims perfected his craft by experimenting on enslaved black women without any anesthesia. The widespread belief amongst white society at that time and even today is that blacks did not feel pain like whites. In her groundbreaking book, Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington explains:

Medical journals and professional word of mouth had detailed the inhalation of ether as anesthesia since the early 1840s, and Sims knew of this, but he flatly refused to administer anesthesia to the slave women and girls. He claimed that his procedures were not painful enough to justify the trouble and risk attending the administration, but this claim rings hollow when one learns that Sims always administered anesthesia when he performed the perfected surgery to repair the vaginas of white women in Montgomery a few years later.

Sims experimented on 12 enslaved Black women. We know the names of three of those women; Lucy, Betsey and Anarcha. 18-year-old Lucy was the first woman he experimented on. She had just given birth a few months prior and could not control her bladder. 

The women were completely naked, positioned on their knees, bending on their elbows as their heads rested in their hands. Sims experimented on 17-year-old Anarcha 30 times over a period of 4 years before he finally perfected the fistula surgeries. I cannot begin to imagine what our ancestral mothers and sisters suffered. The torture, humiliation, and physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma is unfathomable, unforgivable, and unforgettable.

The US healthcare system is not a safe place for us to heal. There is a documented history of the black woman being deemed expendable and without inherent value. There is a documented history of experimentation and torture. Our wombs are not safe. We must become our own healers. We must love, respect, and trust ourselves enough to take complete control of our health and the health of our wombs. History has shown what can happen if we leave our healing in the hands of others, particularly our oppressors.

We do not have to relive the past. What Dr. Angelou said is worth repeating, “History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again”. We must face our history in this country with courage. We must face the systemic and institutional racism seeped in western modern medicine with courage. When we do this, we will gracefully snatch our wombs back from the very system that has destroyed it and begin to heal.

To read this chapter and more in The Black Girl’s Guide to Healing: 10 Ways to Achieve a Healthy, Pain Free Period click HERE

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