In the shadows of our healthcare conversations, there lies a seldom-discussed but pervasive issue that disproportionately affects Black women: uterine fibroids. This common yet largely overlooked condition silently weaves its way through the lives of Black women at an alarming rate, diagnosing them roughly three times as frequently as white women and often manifesting earlier in life. For Black women, fibroids are not just a passing concern; they are a looming reality, with about half having experienced them by age 35, and a staggering 80 percent by age 50, compared to 70 percent of white women. These fibroids tend to be larger and more numerous, causing more severe symptoms and often necessitating medical intervention. The narrative of uterine fibroids is one of pain and resilience, of a struggle that remains unspoken for far too many. It is time to shine a light on this hidden battle, to understand the unique challenges faced by Black women, and to advocate for the care and support they deserve.
My name is Gabbie McGee-Kelly, I am a fully engaged, tax-paying, high-quality productive contributor to society… and I deserve a normal life.
For the past 20 years, I have navigated the world of entertainment as a singer, songwriter, jazz preservationist, and entrepreneur. I am a devoted wife of 18 years to a dynamic Black man, and together, we have been blessed with three phenomenal Black children. Known for my vibrant smile and my powerful vocals that resonate from a place deep within the soul of my experiences as one of Mississippi’s Daughters, I have cultivated a fulfilling life. Yet, beyond the spotlight and the applause, I've been silently grappling with the effects of fibroid tumors for over three decades. In just two weeks, at 45 years old, I will undergo a hysterectomy, a life-altering procedure that I never imagined would become a chapter in my story. As I stand at the precipice of my life's second act, in a world emerging from the shadows of a global pandemic, I am forced to put my dreams on hold yet again and step back to prepare for surgery and an eight-week recovery period.
As a black woman, I find myself ensnared by a daunting reality mirrored in the stark statistics that echo my experience. We black women bear the heaviest burden, holding the highest percentage of fibroid tumor cases in the United States. This alarming prevalence casts a shadow over our lives, yet it's met with an inexplicable void in preventative care for young black women because there isn’t enough research, there aren’t enough facts. My personal journey with fibroid tumors has been a relentless storm of depression, stress, and anxiety, yet this condition, debilitating in its effects, remains in the shadows, unacknowledged as a serious condition warranting treatment plans under the umbrella of insurance coverage. The irony is as striking as it is unjust, and it underscores a pressing need for change and viable solutions.
My life has been a journey of triumphs and trials, a tapestry intricately woven together with threads of joy and struggle. Born and raised during the 80’s in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, I invite you to imagine the state of healthcare systems during that time in the Deep South. Today, Mississippi retains its status as the poorest state in America, grappling with a persistently high poverty rate of 18.1%, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2021. This enduring poverty has cast a long shadow, exposing glaring disparities in healthcare, particularly among Black women.
I’ve had two full term pregnancies in my life and I regrettably still struggle with publicly discussing the two precious babies I could not carry to completion. In 2006 and as recent as 2015, by God’s amazing grace, I navigated the tumultuous path of high-risk pregnancies, emerging with the extraordinary gift of my three beautiful children. As I walk through the busyness of life, whether working, playing, or simply existing, I've faced the energy-zapping monster of chronic anemia, a consequence of my torrential periods that left me feeling more depleted than my consistently low iron levels.
The delicate dance that is my life requires careful planning of every aspect, centered around the arrival of my "monthly visitor," often leaving me feeling even more exhausted by the mere logistics of it all. But this pain extends beyond those frenzied "Busy Mom" moments. I've endured the agony of intimacy defeat. God bless my sweet and long suffering husband — moments when reaching the point of climax should have affirmed my womanhood and solidified a bond exclusive to us, only to be met with intense pain and cramps that stripped away the bliss and did everything to my mind but elevate my self-esteem. I've even resorted to morftifying “makings”; transforming multiple overnight pads into diapers just to make a simple trip to the grocery store. Indeed, for sure, and certainly, this has been a journey stained with my blood. I’ve created crime scenes all over the world — on carpets, mattress, car seats, sofas, office chairs… church pews.
Despite these unyielding challenges, I've found the strength to persevere. I've carved out a successful niche for myself as a touring jazz vocalist, working through with grace, the highs and lows of my career, even when faced with moments of fainting on stage due to severe blood loss. I am a devoted mother to my 16-year-old scholar-athlete twins and my vibrant 7-year-old daughter, who is following in my musical footsteps. In the face of anemia-induced exhaustion, I've found ways to manage, even if it means scheduling hydration therapy and vitamin infusions — treatments I pay for out of pocket because insurance deems them alternative and unworthy of coverage.
But as I brace myself for this upcoming hysterectomy, I can't help but think, rethink, and overthink the questions that linger. Why did it take so long for doctors to recognize that this was the best course of action for me? How has the United States healthcare system fallen short for me and countless other women like me? Why does there seem to be such a glaring lack of awareness and support for women living with fibroids, especially those not looking to have children? It's a narrative that begs for understanding and change, as I navigate this next chapter of my life.
It is my earnest hope that this essay strikes a chord with those who have the power to influence our healthcare system, I want to shine a light on the frequently unspoken hardships that women, including myself, endure on a monthly basis. For the past 32 years, my greatest desire has been to experience a sense of normalcy, to be free from the relentless and debilitating symptoms that have come to define my life. It is profoundly unfair for anyone to be forced to bear the burden of such severe and persistent bleeding month after month, and it is high time that our healthcare system recognizes and takes action to address the unique challenges faced by black women with fibroid tumors.
My narrative is more than just a collection of words; it stands as a powerful testament to the impenetrable spirit and strength that is characteristic of Black women. A testament to my strength as a woman. It is a resounding plea for action, urging our healthcare system to rise to the occasion and offer the support and care we require as we face this challenging journey. A much-needed change is long overdue—a change that ushers in an era of understanding, compassion, and decisive action.
I, like every Black woman, and every WOMAN, deserve a life of normalcy. We deserve to experience regular menstrual cycles that do not hinder our ability to live our lives fully— to age gracefully and leave this world with the reproductive organs we were born with. And so, as I bid farewell to the uterus that has served me well, but not without giving me hell— This victory is bittersweet, I know that while my personal battle with 'My Blood' may be coming to an end, I cannot allow my voice to be silenced. I will continue to advocate for my daughters, their daughters, and all daughters, ensuring that our voices are heard at every stage and that we all can live full, healthy lives as productive citizens; as productive WOMEN. Extraordinarily normal.