In November 2009, I had my uterine fibroids removed; it took me seventeen years to make that decision. During those years, I tried everything to shrink them or make them stop growing, but they kept getting larger. By the time I did discover that a low-fat/high fiber diet, exercise and stress management would help me keep my fibroids from growing and maybe even shrink them, they had become too large and were causing serious health problems, though I kept up a public front.
During the final eight years that I had fibroids, I endured solicitous pats on my stomach from other women, and that dreaded question, “When are you due?” (Even men felt as if that was a polite question for them to ask.) I started trying to avoid both people and looking at myself in the mirror, and at times I did feel like an oddity of nature. Strangely, though, I learned to love and accept myself inside a way I never had in the past.
And I learned to love elastic-waist pants.
I first encountered these pants when I had a serious weight gain back during my first real relationship, in graduate school. It was 1991. My boyfriend was thin and his metabolism was freakishly high. I adored him and wanted to make him happy, so I learned how to cook the richest foods I could find in the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, like homemade chicken potpie with a butter crust.
I gained fifty pounds in a year and a half. He, of course, stayed the exact same weirdly thin weight. Then, we broke up, but not before I went looking for new clothes and discovered the immeasurable joy of wearing pants with snap-and-give waists. By the time I lost forty of those pounds, I’d been diagnosed with fibroids, and discovered that as long as I didn’t dip below a size fourteen, I could still get pants with elastic in the waistband. Who in her right mind would relinquish this kind of pleasure? It was a soul mate situation.
Years passed and I found the upscale “women’s” section in every department store in every city I moved to. The more money I made, the more I paid top dollar for my clothes, and even if I didn’t like my body, I draped it in the best fabrics and styles I could find. (WAY cuter than the pants in the picture up top, okay?) As my fibroids grew, I discovered that it didn’t matter if I lost weight. My hips grew narrow with weight loss, but my waist continued to expand. So, I had to keep buying my clothes in the “women’s” section.
Elastic was a good friend to me; it made it possible for me to wear pants in the first place, and once my tummy got really large, I just gave up dresses and skirts altogether, for the most part, because they were so unflattering. Frankly, though, nothing really flattered my body anymore, so I settled for comfort, and that became most important, as I started working on myself emotionally and on my writing career. For the first time in my life, after a miserable childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, I was really happy. I’d started loving myself, despite what I looked like on the outside.
But a year and a half ago, I decided that my greatest act of self-love was to finally have fibroid surgery. One of the reasons I waited is that I’d been afraid of getting “butchered,” but then, my university switched to a better insurance that allowed me to choose my own hospital and my own surgeon. My doctor was a brilliant man who’d taken his surgical fellowship at Harvard, and once my post-opt morphine drip wore off, he told me, “I had to give you a vertical incision because the fibroids were so large, Miss Jeffers, but don’t worry. I cut in the natural separation between your muscles. I made sure you can have a six-pack, so get ready for some great changes in your life!”
Bless his heart, he actually said the above a couple of times when he came to check in on me at the hospital, and then twice again when I came back for post-surgery check up. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and tell him, I didn’t care what he did when I was under. A waistline was not in my future, much less a six-pack.
After surgery, I kept all my elastic-waist pants, but I noticed that they looked strange on me. The waist bagged and the crotch of the pants was way down to my thighs. I was forced to buy regular pants with no snap-and-give. Also, I had to purchase a belt because my new pants fit my hips but were too big in the waist; this is a common problem with Black ladies, but I’d never paid attention to Sisters complaining because the fit of clothing had been the last thing on my mind when I had fibroids. A few months after my surgery, I gained some weight, but it didn’t matter; my waist was still nearly a size smaller than my hips.
But I kept my old pants, anyway. I planned on getting them altered. You just don’t throw away quality clothes on some whim.
I’m now twenty-five pounds over the weight that I was when I went into surgery, but because I lost nearly twenty pounds of fibroids and all of that weight was in my stomach I look very different. When I run into people who haven’t seen me since before surgery, they always say, “Oh my goodness! You’ve lost so much weight. You look fantastic.”
Correction. When I run into men, they say that. Usually, the women say nothing about how different I look, although these were the same women who were full of advice about what I should do about my body when my stomach was poking out to, like, Utah. They would tell me they were “frightened” for my health. Or say, “You would be such a pretty lady if you did something about those.” Sometimes, they would ask me, “Are you sure you’re not pregnant?” And then they’d give me nightmare stories about their last babies that were conceived right before they went through The Change. (Which is a a little ways off for me.) But now that I have a couple of curves, I get no “wow, you are such a pretty lady” speech. It’s a little confusing.
This past weekend, I decided to clean my closets of all my old pants. I had to accept that I didn’t have the time or money to get them altered so they looked right on me, but as I pulled my pants off their plastic—never wire—hangers, I said to myself, “These are great pants! Look at this material! I paid $80 on sale for these pants!”
Giving up my fibroids with all their attendant health problems was the best decision I could have made, and I know I am lucky to have come out of surgery with no complications and with a much smaller mid-section. I’ve made even healthier choices after the surgery. I’ve been a vegetarian for eight months and recently, I decided to give up sugar and take up Ashtanga yoga as well. Yet saying my final goodbyes to my elastic-waist pants and to all the memories of when I chose comfort over vanity—well, I’m really, really sad. I know it sounds silly, but I wept salt tears when I packed those pants away to donate to the Salvation Army.
Me and my pants, we had some times. We traveled the country together; I gave the first important poetry reading of my career (in 2000 with Terrance Hayes and Natasha Trethewey) in a pair of elastic-waist Capri pants that I made myself from pink silk shantung. That silk cost $30 a yard, but I didn’t care, because everyone said how cute I was.
We had our tough moments, too. We endured the intrusiveness of well-meaning, nosy heifers in grocery stores. But we survived those embarrassments and became stronger, and finally happier.
Now, I’ve got to forge ahead with some flimsy, low-rise pants that cling to a butt I didn’t even know I had; those kind of pants don’t really count. But I have to believe I can go it alone. And I have to believe there is a nice lady somewhere, one who is waiting to open her heart and home to all my pants with the snap-and-give waists. Right away, she’ll see how easy they are to love. I hope she remembers not to use wire hangers.