Date of Award

Winter 8-19-2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Adia Harvey Wingfield

Second Advisor

Anthony R. Hatch

Third Advisor

Wendy Simonds

Abstract

Uterine Fibroids, medically termed uterine leiomyoma, are benign tumors of smooth muscle cells that grow in the uterus. While they are the most common pelvic neoplasm in women and fewer than 1 percent of fibroids develop into cancer, uterine fibroids can cause infertility, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and greatly affect one’s quality of life. Black women have been disproportionately affected by fibroids; when compared to white women, Black women are: 2-3 times more likely to have fibroids, diagnosed at a younger age, more likely to have 7 or more fibroids, more likely to have more severe and more troublesome symptoms (anemia, severe pelvic pain, constipation, and stomach aches), and have twice as many hysterectomies due to fibroids. Black women’s disproportionate affliction with uterine fibroids is particularly concerning given the historical medical injustices associated with Black women’s bodies and reproductive rights from slavery to present day. By placing Black women at the center of analysis and using a Black feminist epistemological framework, this study aims to make a unique contribution to medical sociology as well as literature on the theoretical and practical management of sickness and wellness among Black women in the United States. Using qualitative interviews and grounded theory methodology, the study examined how Black women frame the condition of having uterine fibroids. Specifically, the study investigated a) how Black women conceptualize having fibroids, b) how Black women’s conceptualizations of fibroids affect their feelings about selves or their lifestyles, c) the mechanisms, if any, by which Black women deal with uterine fibroids, d) how their multiple race, class, and gender identities affect their illness experiences and types of treatment that they seek, and e) how conventional and complementary/alternative medicine shapes Black women’s experiences with fibroids. Conceptualizations about fibroids are rooted in the race-gendered histories of Black women and the unique stressors that they face. Through interactions with doctors and among peers, Black women resist the unbearable burden of uterine fibroids through various coping strategies, but generally “keep it moving”. They avoid invasive surgeries through patient agency by being advocates for their medical treatment, self-researching, dialoguing with others, and directing doctor-patient interactions.

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