Over the weekend at an event in Lagos tagged Conversations with Nse, actress Nse Ikpe-Etim revealed that she had to perform a hysterectomy (removal of the womb) to overcome her adenomyosis. I’m no medical expert, so I did a little research on this condition. Adenomyosis occurs when the tissue that normally lines the uterus (endometrial tissue) grows into the muscular wall of the uterus, which can result in an enlarged uterus and painful, heavy periods.
For treatment, hysterectomy is usually the last resort if the pain is severe and other treatments have failed, like hormone medication and anti-inflammatory drugs. It’s really sad to know Ikpe-Etim went through this, diagnosed with adenomyosis three years ago and now unable to have children for the rest of her life. “I was told I couldn’t have kids. And so, I had to have a hysterectomy to make me have a life again and to stop going through what I was going through. And I’m literally telling women and men, it really doesn’t matter if you can’t bear children. What really matters is what you would do for the world, for the universe.” she said.
Recounting when she was first told by the doctor that she would have to remove her uterus to live a normal life, she said, “Tears dropped and then my husband squeezed my hand. It was reassuring there was someone there and it was telling me that this is reality, my reality.”
Ikpe-Etim also fell into depression, and narrated how Nollywood and making films gave her a much-need distraction. In an African society where the legitimacy of womanhood revolves around child-bearing, Ikpe-Etim is somewhat of a pariah. It takes a lot of courage to publicly reveal you can’t have children, but there’s an empowering visibility she’s given women like her, women that, one way or another, have been rendered incapable of child-bearing
Importantly, there’s so much nuance and complexity to womanhood that having children should be something a woman wants, and not because she’s compelled to by a patriarchal society. In revealing that she had done a hysterectomy, Ikpe-Etim went further by telling men and women that they still matter, whether they can have children or not. And that’s powerful. There are children who are homeless and babies who are abandoned because they can’t be taken care of. Adoption is something our society hasn’t fully embraced, and shouldn’t we start to normalise it?
In all of this, our society needs to evolve past associating child-bearing to womanhood, or thinking all women must be mothers. There are fertile women who don’t want children and their womanhood shouldn’t be up for interrogation or scrutiny. And although a celebrity like Ikpe-Etim sharing her story and thus empowering others is commendable, we need to keep having conversations like this.