A Trip to the Gynecologist

As a woman in pursuit of freedom it’s also my responsibility to help other women become free. Knowing  about my reproductive health is VERY high on my list of priorities. If you’re a woman reading this and it’s not a top priority for you, I hope it is by the time you finish reading this.  If it’s already a top priority for you, I hope these words encourage you to help another woman you care about make it hers.

Monday, I made my annual trip to the doctor for a women’s wellness exam. I wanted to get in all my visits since I turn 26 in a couple of months and will lost my health insurance at the same time. I’m not sure about other women, but I HATE going to the doctor for my annual pap smear. Despite the desire to completely avoid the whole process, I always go. The process of making the appointment, thinking about the appointment and going through the appointment can be taxing. Sitting on the table, placing your legs in the stir-ups and spreading your knees for the doctor or nurse can invoke anxiety and discomfort. Oftentimes, the  professional performing the exam can make or break your experience.

Last year’s exam was absolutely horrible. The woman performing my exam was rude and didn’t appreciate me asking questions.   I tend to ask a ton of questions, I believe in advocating for myself. It’s MY body, so why not? The office also outsourced all of its blood and STI testing, so I was told that I needed to go another office. The entire experience upset me so much. Since the age of 18, I’ve had regular exams. Many of them were performed at Planned Parenthood, and every one of them was a positive experience. Needless to say I will never ever go back to that office.

Last weeks exam was the polar opposite, I had a great experience. Now of course there is no way to get around the discomfort of someone scraping a mascara brush sized swab across your cervix, but a friendly doctor can make a huge difference. This was my first time having my annual exam performed by a male physician. I was always wary of having a man who I wasn’t intimately involved with seeing my business. The experience could not have been better. When I walked back to his office, he was extremely welcoming and actually wanted to know about me beyond what was on my chart. I made sure to tell him about my hesitation with seeing a male physician and my prior experience with a poor exam. My occupation mentioned politics so by the end of our conversation, he was convinced that  I would help him along with other DC residents get the federal vote! He even said, “Now if I do this well, you’re gonna get us a vote right?” I was laughing by the time I got to the table.

A female nurse was in the room the entire time, and the pap smear started and ended before I knew it. Right before we started the exam, the doctor explained to me that in lieu of a manual exam, he would use an ultrasound tool to view my uterus, cervix and ovaries. I was pleasantly surprised, I asked “You mean, I get to actually SEE my uterus?” I’m not sure why I was so excited, but I was! So this part of the exam required him to insert a tool that allowed him to check the health of my reproductive system. I was amazed by something that is pretty simple. He even told me which ovary was going to ovulate this month (weird right?!). The entire process was over in less than 20 minutes.

That 20 minute exam will test for HPV, a virus that can cause cervical cancer. It will also test for two of this countries most contracted STI’s, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.  I also made sure to get a blood test for HIV/AIDS.

I’ve never been more protective over my womanhood or felt more womanly in life than I do now. I have also never been more invested in helping other women enjoy the fullness of their womanhood. Taking care of our mental and physical health is essential to protecting our entire selves. I’m know not perfect when it comes to self-care, but I’m working on it. For women of color, there are two major things we often see as barriers; 1) Stigma’s attached with going to the doctor and 2) Financial costs associated with going to the doctor.

To tackle the first, we must start talking about our health and stop living in silence. When’s the last time you talked to your girlfriends, daughters or mothers about your health? To tackle the second we must seek out and connect our sisters to low-cost and free services. If you have insurance, ask another woman in your life if she can recommend a good gyno.

As the changes come into affect, health care reform will open up new doors for women by funding more preventative services, community health centers and lowering eligibility requirements for Medicaid. Just as with many progressive legislative victories in this country, there are attacks mounting up against them. Whether it’s a call for implementing the Hyde Amendment permanently or defunding Title IV services like those provided through Planned Parenthood, there is a war against women America. As a woman of color I know that I am not alone in personal struggles. As a woman I know that I not alone in my struggle to have the freedom to choose. Change must start within.  As women, the best thing we can do is be advocates for ourselves (inside and outside the doctors office) and then go out and help our sisters do the same. Get informed, end the silence and make the choice to start today.

Still have questions about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010? Click here to read the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation report on “Understanding Health Care Reform.”

The featured image above is from the Black Women’s Health Imperative,  the only organization devoted solely to advancing the health and wellness of America’s 19.5 million Black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness education and leadership development. The Imperative’s website provides a wealth of information, check it out!

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13 Mothers Arrested Fighting to “Win the Future”

(Photo Courtesy of The Voice of Detroit)

DETROIT – Last week, 13 girls were arrested while protesting against the closing of the Catherine Ferguson High School.  This student led action was met with the drowning of their cries with police sirens and the hauling of each young woman into police cars. Young mothers seeking a better future for themselves and their children attend Catherine Ferguson knowing of the schools high expectations and community atmosphere. They are expected to go to college and to work on the schools very successful urban farm. Yes, a farm in the middle of Detroit. The State of Michigan wants to demolish this opportunity to prevent another generation of Black mothers from having better futures. This news brought elation and disgust. The act of civil disobedience by these young mothers demonstrates both the hunger and the struggle still present in America. They decided to act against a system blatantly disinterested in their futures. The fact they they have to fight for a High School education in 2011 is deplorable.

America can not be serious about winning the future if it refuses to educate those who give birth to it.

The current Governor of Michigan and those he has appointed to manage cities like Detroit, don’t care about the future of these young women. The future they envision for the City of Detroit is not conducive to success for those living on the margins. In this context the margins are include communities of African Americans living in a city being depleted of its human and economic resources. The current emergency manager of the Detroit Public School system, Robert Bobb, is completely opposed to any home rule or leadership. Prior to the introduction of state-wide emergency rule, he vocalized his contempt for locally elected school boards.

Bobb along with other state leadership want to close Catherine Ferguson and more than 50 other schools in Detroit.  Under Public Act 4, Gov. Rick Snyder (Republican), gave all emergency managers the power to “reject, modify, or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement.”  Earlier, this month all of DPS’s 5,466 unionized employees were laid off.   Bobb now has the power to completely destroy the Detroit teachers contract. His next move will test the current law and the will of people, organizations and institutions touting a mission to achieve social justice. The local government has lost its power.

The plight of these young mothers in Detroit is much like that of low-income children across the nation. The plight of those who teach them is much like that of teachers across America. Their futures are being bargained and determined by individuals not invested in inclusive change. The past couple of months have brought mass protest and actions across America in support of collective bargaining (unions) rights and access to reproductive health services. The country is undergoing a time of great tension, separation and unity. Given this, where is the battle-cry for Detroit? Where is the national call for action to support students like those arrested to save Catherine Ferguson High School. Where is the national call for action to support the teachers without secure means to support their families? Moments in time like this test the will of the people and the people of Detroit are not sitting idly by. These moments also test the talk of organizations receiving millions of dollars each year to secure access to education and protect the rights of workers.

Where are they now, in this moment when so much is at stake?

I judge my own actions and those of  others claiming to be freedom fighters in moments like these. I wept while viewing the footage of the young mothers arrest. If we don’t speak out and fight for the most vulnerable as they are attacked by the most vicious, then what are our words or actions worth?

Both Sides of Fear

Fear rushes in. So does love…when we allow it.

There are moments, distinct moments in my life when I can remember fear rushing in. The mixture of self-doubt, anxiety and despair has created a state of consciousness void of good sense many times. When fear decides to rear its highly unattractive head, I almost always have physical reactions.

My chest tightens.

My hands refuse to be still.

My stomach flips.

My mind races a million miles an hour.

There are also mental reactions. Those are often the worst. I easily forget everything else going on in my life. I forget the times where I’ve shown great resiliency despite the blockade between success and me. If you follow The Freedom Pages, you know that I’m from the South side of Chicago and grew up in streets that would be happy to have me back in shambles. Despite all of that, I have no iron shield guarding me from fear. When I express fear to some of the people who know me the best, it’s often met with shock. I often hear “Girl, you have nothing to worry about” or “You’re afraid of something, wait YOU? Huh?” Folks who know me in limited capacities respond in similar ways. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that I do some crazy stuff; things a lot of people are afraid of doing.

When I think about what creates fear in my life, a couple of things are constant.

1. Building love in intimate relationships.

2. Trainings/Presentations (Weird right? I do that for a living)

3.  Visiting my home city of Chicago. (Anxiety producing like a mug)

4. Driving (Too many bad experiences with cars, I’ll talk about those in my autobiography one day)

I’m still learning myself. While who I am and what I want in life are grounded in a set of values, how I apply them is often a struggle. As a young Black woman in living in 21st century America, I carry a peoples history and a mission with me. The place of fear in my experiences is one I am both uncomfortable with and struggling with right now. What do I go after and what do I leave alone? What decision is best for me, even though it’s not JUST about me?

I stepped out on good faith and hard work this year. I left a full-time job and decided I would work independently. My goal is to have my own for-profit business, training institute and political action committee one day. I’m taking baby steps now to see both of those come to light. Just as fear paralyzes, it can move you. I am deathly afraid of returning to the streets I walked as a child as a failure or as someone who has lost all hope and optimism. I am moved by what I see everyday on the streets of Washington, DC and what I saw growing up in Chicago. Not much has changed in the neighborhoods I grew up in. Those realities moves me to want to do something. The reality of this world moves me to be a catalyst for change. My pursuit of freedom, love and justice meets and will continue to meet both sides of fear. I have the power to choose which side I allow to be present. Where I say no to fear, I’m working on saying yes to love. Like most things in life, working on loving more and fearing less is a journey; not a single destination.

My question to you is, what moves YOU?

To share, drop a comment below. BUT only if you are moved to do so.