Uterine fibroids affect Black women three times more than any other race. After being diagnosed, the filmmaker sets out to explore health inequities and find out why some Black women are as silent as the growth.
Directed by Taylor-Alexis Gillard
Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that develop in the uterus and can cause heavy bleeding and clotting between or during menstruation. If left untreated, they also can cause lower pelvic pain, enlargement of the abdomen, painful intercourse and infertility. In 2015, I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids and was told that I needed to remove the fibroid as soon as possible if I wanted to “be a mother one day.” At twenty-five, being a mother wasn’t at the top of my to-do list, but it certainly wasn’t at the bottom.
After speaking more with my doctor at the time, I was absolutely terrified because of my doctor’s approach and dismissal of my health concerns. This doctor only offered one solution for this diagnosis and that was to get a myomectomy, a surgical procedure to remove fibroids that is often compared to a mini C-section. I didn’t advocate enough for myself before agreeing to undergo surgery and later found out that my surgery wasn’t necessary at that stage. A second doctor told me that I could have used birth control to monitor my fibroid's growth and that is why I urge women to not only get routine checkups, but to also get a second opinion.
Although the conversation about fibroids and Black women’s health today is constantly changing, I wish I knew then how uterine fibroids would affect my life. Leading up to my own surgery, I wish I had more information about fibroids and how this condition would affect my body and my mind. I wish didn’t let fear influence my decision to rush into a surgery that wasn’t necessarily needed at the time. During my six weeks of recovery at home, I began to ask the women in my family questions about their medical history and uncovered that they also suffered in silence from fibroids. I wondered why they never mentioned this once as I thought about how to continue this conversation. Although I’ve tried to hypothesize my own theories on fibroids, the cause still remains unknown.
I created a four-part YouTube video series called ‘Bloom with Tumors’ where I spoke briefly about my experience with fibroids and shared it on my social media accounts. After receiving so many messages of encouragement and support, I knew that I wanted to take it a step further. Black women are often organizing, marching and protecting those around them, and I want to encourage them to unmute themselves, especially on topic of fibroids. I began thinking about the things that Black women might endure throughout their lives that could increase stress. Discrimination, mass incarceration and racism came to mind.
The other interesting factor was the use of chemical hair relaxers to straighten their hair so they weren’t seen as unprofessional, especially in work environments. I discovered that the harmful chemicals found in hair relaxers are not subject to FDA premarket approval and with continued use, the chemicals can enter the body through burns on the scalp from the relaxer. Those same chemicals have been shown to promote the development of estrogen in the body, which is something that contributes to rapid fibroid growth.
Even with current efforts, the research on fibroids remains scarce, as well as documentaries on this condition. The Silent Willow originally started as a documentary film via the Documentary Studies program at the New School to raise awareness about uterine fibroids, but after weeks of research I realized that these benign growths were a catalyst to a deeper conversation. Black women are three times more likely to suffer from fibroids than women from any other race, so why are some of us as silent as the growth? What are Black women experiencing more than any other race that leads
to these statistics?
After watching The Silent Willow, I hope the audience receives a better understanding of why we should listen to, care for, respect and protect Black women. I'm hoping that it will eradicate the stigma that surrounds women's health and encourage more Black women to feel safe and empowered to share their stories. I also hope that those members of the audience that are currently experiencing any health condition, walk away recognizing the power that we have by coming together as a community.