Reproductive Health in the time of Reduced Autonomy
Back in May, when Politico reported the leak of the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, I sat in numbed silence. I laid in bed, terrified at my fleeting autonomy in the clutches of government. I felt somewhat relieved I lived in a state that supports abortion rights, but I had countless questions about the future of reproductive health and my access to it.
It was in this scary environment I noticed odd changes in my health. I suffered persistent abdominal cramping and spasms, a lack of appetite and chronic fatigue. I chalked it up to my history of gastrointestinal issues and the stress of working two jobs and trying to survive a world perpetually on fire. I turned to exercise, probiotics, and yoga; my symptoms and stress level subsided. However, two months later, right after the leak of Roe’s overturning became official, my symptoms came back with a vengeance. My go-to treatments were no match. I was in so much pain I barely ate and only slept about 10 hours in three days.
I knew I needed medical help, but I was so paralyzed by past traumatic doctor visits of being automatically told to lose weight without receiving care, I couldn’t bring myself to move.
After some convincing, my sister drove me to the emergency room where I sat in excruciating pain for roughly three hours before finally being seen. The back of the ER was hectic. The department was severely understaffed. When the nurse finally came, I gave them my pronouns—which the medical staff ignored—and described my symptoms. They ordered a CT scan to check for abdominal issues and appendicitis. Then they collected my fluid samples and gave me a painkiller and saline solution to hydrate me.
Hours later, the CT scan concluded I did not have appendicitis, neither did I have any bowel obstruction. However, the doctor did note my uterus was enlarged and inquired if I had a family history of fibroids. He advised me to follow up with both a gynecologist and a gastroenterologist. He diagnosed me with abdominal pain and gave me prescriptions for an antispasmodic and nausea medicine. I went home early the next day, took the meds and slept for more than two hours. But the pain returned a few hours later, more pronounced than ever, and it ignored the medicine.
Burnt out and confused, I went to a notably catholic hospital, where yet again I waited two hours to be seen. An impatient physician assistant—white and male—listened to my explanation and not only sighed with boredom while I talked through my agony, but condescendingly cut me off to imply I was suffering some sort of reproductive health issue. He checked no chart to verify my story, and he refused to rerun any tests from the last hospital. He blandly put me down for an ultrasound that would not be available for hours.
Frustrated, I returned to the first hospital and demanded a pelvic imaging. I spent most of my two hours waiting in the reception area, bawling my eyes out from pain and stress, before I was brought back to the ER to wait several hours for an ultrasound. After two sets of imaging, I was diagnosed with an enlarged uterus with a plum-sized fibroid sitting on it like a painful cherry atop a sundae. They recommended I explore nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain management and to follow up with an OB/GYN.
Relieved but anxious, I scheduled a follow-up with a gynecologist through the hospital’s LGBT+ Center to ensure my gender identity was honored. Despite the pride flag hanging in the facility, the medical staff failed to inquire about my pronouns and defaulted to using she/her. Worse, the nurse taking my vitals and checking my medical history seemed unempathetic and uninterested in my illness, as well as the white doctor.
Interactions with the doctor became progressively uncomfortable. She had an incessant focus on fertility preservation by freezing my eggs. Also, when I mentioned my lack of eating, she assured me my missing appetite was OK, as “I needed to lose weight and that my body needed to go into ketosis.” She spent the next few minutes discussing weight loss, not fibroids. And when I asked if there was anything I could do for the pain besides ibuprofen, she said “I don’t know because I no longer have a period.”
I left feeling even more confused and unheard. The medical system had truly failed me at the time when I needed it the most.
Presently, I am awaiting an appointment with a surgeon to potentially remove the fibroid, but I am using this down time to gather community support and resources and process how my experience fits into the bigger picture of what’s happening in our political climate. It goes without saying the medical system is plagued by desirability politics, whiteness and the unethical notion that Black femmes do not deserve quality treatment, but we must not forget how this goes hand in hand with the governmental attack on reproductive health and body autonomy of femmes, gender expansive folk and women.
My harrowing experience illuminated the blatant fatphobia, transphobia, and anti-Blackness but it has also revealed how medical care in “liberal” states like New Jersey is not immune to conservative viewpoints. The indifference from the catholic hospital and the gynecologist’s hyper-fixation on fertility over my health certainly struck a nerve. The overturning of Roe v. Wade isn’t just about abortions and red states—it’s also about the motives of individual practitioners and the negative impact on uterine and vulva reproductive health, especially for those of us who are further marginalized.
Post-Roe America has challenged my mental health and made me fearful I will never get the care I truly deserve. It will take a community that has experienced my suffering to fight for the resources and support we need and deserve.