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  • Lady Problems

  • Faith Adiele
  • What’s a Nigerian-Nordic-American girl to do when she develops fibroids in rural Iowa? Battle the American health care system or summon Nordic mythology and traditional Nigerian medicine? While at the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop to write a book about meeting her African father and siblings as an adult, Faith Adiele develops a medical condition that can be interpreted—and treated— completely differently according to her three cultural backgrounds. Frustratingly, each tradition suggests that Adiele herself is responsible for her condition (and potential barrenness) for having violated gender or racial norms. While wittily detailing her struggles with doctors determined either to remove or to use her uterus as a Midwestern teaching tool, she draws parallels to history: her Nordic family’s immigration experiences, her Nigerian family’s independence struggles, and the fate of women, the poor, and folks of color in American medicine. Adiele takes a clear-eyed, sharp-tongued look at healing, from Western science to a good metaphor to Nigerian healers advertising the cure for “Lady Problems.”

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EXCERPT

Though the four or five tumors inside my womb (one the size of a grapefruit) are supposedly benign, their behavior is not as friendly as the word suggests. It’s difficult not to interpret their actions as downright hateful. One shoves angrily at my back, forcing me to sleep upright against a bank of pillows, like a princess. Another hunkers against my bladder, malicious, sending me constantly loping for the bathroom to strain and strain. Two clutch high, one churning whenever I eat, the other morose as a prisoner, twisting on its stalk and cutting off its own blood supply. The unconfirmed fifth one waits on the bench, ready to go in if any of the first string tires. 

            They’re not only angry but slightly mad, the result of a single cell gone awry that keeps reproducing itself. Enamored of its smooth musculature, its beauty reflected in white on the glistening pink walls of my uterus, it creates an entire veined community to keep itself company, a family of narcissists. Me, me, me! I wonder if I am to blame somehow. The Selfish Artist, Independent Woman. Worse still, I’m my mother’s only child. The irony of their presence, the fact that their actions mimic those of a fetus, is not lost on me, the Single Girl Writer. Modern Career Woman gives birth to something less than useful. 

            I didn’t come to graduate school, almost ten years after finding my unknown father and siblings in Nigeria, to get tumors (one the size of a grapefruit). I came to write about finding my unknown father and siblings in Nigeria, and about being raised by my Nordic immigrant mother and grandparents, and about what a bad sister I am, unable to make myself return to Nigeria. So the change—heavy, painful periods that last two weeks at a time and that a parade of blond doctors at Student Health ascribe to the stress of moving to Iowa, where nothing ever happens, stressful or otherwise—irritates me. Do something, my friends goad, and reluctantly, I go online. It is my responsibility to myself, as a Good Modern Woman. I need to be informed, proactive, wary of Western pharmaceuticals, eager to know the worst.  

            The preliminary symptoms suggest fibroids, which the Surgeon General’s online medical dictionary (so that’s what a Surgeon General does!) defines as benign tumors that grow in or on the uterus. Tumors! The threat of the word slyly undercut by the soft promise of benign. How is that possible? How can something be both frightening and friendly? Explain! 

            The General continues: They are often embedded in the wall of the uterus but may also be attached to the outside, or to the inner lining. I can’t picture this, though it’s intriguing: An army of uninvited children clinging to all sides of the womb like passengers on a Mammy Lorry, babies tied to their backs, toting live chickens and those red-and-blue striped Ghana-must-go bags, careening down a Nigerian road, headed for disaster. They can be any size. The largest recorded fibroid weighed 140 pounds. Take that to the Iowa State Fair! Forget about County’s Biggest Boar and Life-size Butter Sculpture of the Last Supper. We’ve got a tumor the size of its host.

Raised to rack up bonus points, I memorize the other names for fibroids: uterine myomas, fibromyomas, leiomyomas, leiomyomata uteri. I settle on uterine myomas as the most foreign of the pronounceable options. I’m not yet ready for the casual familiarity of fibroids (Hello, I’m Fibroids; I’ll be your cross to bear this evening). Fibroids sounds too ordinary, too acceptable, and I haven’t accepted any of this. 

            There are pictures for the Modern Aware Woman, a road map to our bodies. In the drawings, my womb is an inverted triangular racetrack of rutted, pink roads, bulging with cottage-cheesy pendulums like the egg sac of some monster insect. The photographs are worse—shiny, pink globs of tissue with obscene purple veins and outbursts of frothy pus. I close my eyes and scroll down, repulsed by the inner workings of my body. 

            I’m thinking about birth and after-birth, about how my father’s people the Igbo used to bury a newborn child’s umbilical cord and placenta beneath the taproot of a newly-germinated fruit tree, confirmation of how we come from and return to the earth.  In Igbo the word for land is the same as for the goddess of the land, Ala. Ala, the one responsible for fertility of both the land and her children on earth, whom she curses when an abomination, such as the birth of twins, is committed. 

            I’m thinking about having children.

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READING GUIDE

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Faith Adiele

Faith Adiele was born in rural America to a Nigerian father and Nordic-American mother. The PBS film My Journey Home documents her travel to Nigeria to find her father and siblings. She holds a BA in Southeast Asian Studies from Harvard University, an MA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, and MFAs in Fiction and Nonfiction from the University of Iowa. Her memoir about becoming the first black Buddhist nun of Thailand, Meeting Faith (W.W. Norton), received the PEN Beyond Margins Award for Best Memoir.

Adiele’s writings on spirituality, travel, and culture have been widely anthologized, and she is co-editor of Coming of Age Around the World: A Multicultural Anthology (The New Press). Named as one of Marie Claire magazine’s “5 Women to Learn From,” Faith has been the keynote or featured speaker at universities, churches, and community centers around the world.

Her honors include the Millennium Award from Creative Nonfiction, and 15 residencies in 5 countries, including a UNESCO International Artists Bursary to Italy, the Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada), the Sacatar Foundation (Brazil), the Yaddo Corporation (United States), and the MacDowell Colony (United States). A contributor to O: The Oprah Magazine, Yes!, Essence, and Transition, Adiele is Associate Professor in Creative Nonfiction at California College of the Arts in the Bay Area, where she is completing Twins, an epic memoir about her heritage that will complete the story begun in the PBS film.

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AUTHOR EXTRAS

Meet Faith Adiele, a Nigerian-Nordic writer with an unbelievable history.

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WHY OUR EDITORS
LOVE THIS BOOK

"Only Faith Adiele, with her humor and compassion, could bring so much—cultural differences, healing traditions, racial awareness, family, body awareness, ritual—to the gynecologist’s office. This is a courageous, beautifully written piece, with heart and, well, ovaries."

–Laura Fraser, Shebooks editorial director

WHY OUR READERS
LOVE THIS BOOK

"Faith Adiele tells this difficult story with intimate honesty and mordant wit. The prose is lovely, and the memoir continually surprises."

–Micah Perks

"Adiele has managed to weld humor, tragedy, medicine, race, anthropology all in one page turning short memoir."

–Anonymous Shebooks Reader

"Remarkable! Only Faith Adiele could take an experience as awkward and unsavory as fibroids and spin it into literary gold."

–Peter T.

"It is a sheer joy to be taken through this experience by an author so witty, self-aware and wry, in prose so supple, barbed and brilliant."

–A.McCaskill

"By turns funny and achingly relate-able, Faith Adiele has woven a thoroughly engaging tale...A great read"

–Peggy Acott

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