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Ukamaka Olisakwe

After Three Children, Reclaiming My Body and My Mind

Illustration by Tiffany Baker

Ukamaka Olisakwe | Longreads | September 2019 | 22 minutes (5,546 words)

Nurse Ruth’s face was set in tense lines of seriousness as she probed my cervix with a metal instrument. I knew this procedure by heart, having been through it five times in the past 17 years: dilate the cervix, measure the uterine cavity, insert the intrauterine device.

But Ruth was frowning. The last time, another nurse said the depth of my uterine cavity was too short. Twelve years ago, after the birth of my third child, I learned that my retroverted uterus had yet to properly settle itself nicely inside my pelvis and that my cervix had partially descended into my vagina.

Now as Ruth brought out the instrument and gazed at the blood smear on the tip, I trained my eyes on the crumple of her brow and tried to decipher what she wasn’t saying. In another life, I would not set my foot within a 10-mile radius of this place. But here I was, 36 and frightened, and I willing her to say something positive; I willed her to say that childbirth hadn’t ruined me that much.

But she didn’t say those words. Instead, she worked until I could no longer endure the discomfort of metal scraping against the soft of my womb. Because my cavity was still so short, Ruth suggested an alternative contraceptive — a progestin implant. She feared my uterus would expel an IUD if she went ahead and inserted it.

True, the last IUD had snapped and poked at my insides all night until the following morning when I found a doctor, who pried open my cervix and got it out. The one before that, my body began to act strangely and I experienced unexplainable vaginal bleeding whenever sex was vigorous.

“I have heard terrible things about the implant,” I told Ruth. “I hear it can reduce me to the biblical woman with the issue of bleeding who was healed by Jesus.” She laughed, despite the seriousness of the moment, but then she had positive and convincing things to say. She invited me to the clinic’s family planning seminar scheduled for that week. She gave me an emergency oral contraceptive for the time being, and we agreed to have the contraceptive inserted into my arm at my next visit.

I smiled and thanked her. Then I cried all the way home, ignoring the curious looks of concerned passersby, some of whom paused, as Nigerians are wont to do, to ask what made me cry.
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