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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