The Racism in Gynecology: The Black Woman’s Womb has Never Been Safe

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

Maya Angelou

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The very core, fabric and being of American society is rooted in racism. In fact, racism is as American as apple pie. In 1776, when America made the declaration that “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, they were systematically enslaving, dehumanizing, and oppressing Black men, women and children, and would continue to do so in varying degrees for another 242 years. Nothing black has been spared from the torment of racism; not even the black woman’s womb.

J. Marion Sims is touted as being the Father of modern Gynecology. He invented the speculum, which is still used today for dialiation and examinations. He also developed the surgical technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, which is a severe complication resulting from childbirth. Many women were relived of their suffering due to Sim’s medical breakthrough, because vesicovaginal fistula caused constant pain and frequent urination. Unfortunately, all of these women were white.

J. Marion sims perfected his craft by expermenting on enslaved black women. He experimented on these women without any anesthesia because of the belief that black people did not feel pain like white people. He 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 experiemented on. She had just given birth a few months prior and could not control her bladder.  Brynn Holland explains:

Lucy endured an hour-long surgery, screaming and crying out in pain, as nearly a dozen other doctors watched. As Sims later wrote, “Lucy’s agony was extreme.” She became extremely ill due to his controversial use of a sponge to drain the urine away from the bladder, which led her to contract blood poisoning. “I thought she was going to die…it took Lucy two or three months to recover entirely from the effects of the operation,”

The women were completely naked, positioned on their kness, bending on their elbows as their heads rested in their hands. Sims experiemented 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 these women who are our ancestors endured. The torture, humilation, and physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma is unfathomable, unforgivable and unforgettable.

The black woman’s womb is not safe in the hands of western modern medicine. It wasn’t in 1845 and it isn’t today. Women in the U.S die during or after pregnancy more than almost anywhere in the world. But, “Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from complications during pregnancy or childbirth”. Black women have a higher incidence of developing fibroids, and the Journal of Women’s Health has found that, “African American women were significantly more likely to have severe or very severe symptoms, including heavy or prolonged menses and anemia. They also more often reported that fibroids interfered with physical activities”.

The US healthcare system is not a safe place for us to heal. There is a history of the black woman being deemed worthless and being treated like animals. There is a 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 over our health and the health of our wombs. Given the right conditions, the body is able to heal itself. We have the power to create the conditions where our bodies can heal and experience complete wellness. We have the power to experience womb wellness. African Holistic Health which has a body, mind, and spirit approach to healing is the answer. Proper nutrition, intermittent fasting, drinking water, vaginal steaming and healing the emotional wound of our past is key to our healing. We can do this. History has shown us what can happen if left in the hands of others.