Hi SwagHer Fam! This is Janet Downs. Today, I’m chatting with Dr. Nicole E. Williams, board-certified gynecologist, and founder of the Gynecology Institute of Chicago. Her new book, “This Is How You Vagina: All About the Vajayjay and Why You Probably Shouldn’t Call It That“, launched September 21st.
Janet: Dr. Williams, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me. You must be so very excited right now, right?! You have a new book out! Congratulations!! We’re going to talk about it in just a few moments, but before we do that, tell us a little about yourself. What is your SwagHer?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: Ooooh, let’s see, what makes me, me? I’m a sister from East St. Louis with a little bit of international flair. I started traveling when I was a teenager and grew up in East St. Louis. During that time, we didn’t get a chance to travel and see the world and the fact that I did, I just got bit by the travel bug and I’ve been at it ever since. It’s a huge part of my life and of course COVID shut that down, but I’m going back to Ghana in a month and I’ll be so happy to get my travel wings back and hit the road again and get back my international swagger.
Janet: How did you end up traveling so much at such a young age? Was there someone in your family that was in the military?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: It wasn’t even the military. I was a singing and dancing baby. My mom was like the original black tiger mom. She’s gonna be mad I said it, but you can say it; she knows it’s true. LOL! I was born in the 70’s and she was the original black tiger mom. I was involved in everything. During the Cold War period, we did a play and they brought some Russians over (Soviets at the time) talking about building bridges with America and the Soviet Union. They came over, we did the play together, and it was really great and they said we should do the same play in the Soviet Union. My mom was like, “absolutely, she should go”. Most parents wouldn’t let their 14-year-old kid go off to Russia with a group of people and you’re the only black one, but yes, she did & it was great. I fell in love with travel and fell in love with learning about everything to do with different cultures. So, I’m a downhome sister-girl, but I’m an international lover.
Janet: When did you decide that you wanted to be a doctor; specifically, a gynecologist?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: That was not the easiest decision in the world to make until it became the easiest decision in the world to make. When you’re in medical school, you go through the different specialties. You see the main specialties and I wanted to do surgery. I loved it. It was amazing; to see what they got to do. It was just fascinating. I didn’t personally experience it, but there was a gorgeous black woman resident there; a few years older than me. She was already a doctor, but they treated her so badly. She was stunningly gorgeous and her behind was something that was sculpted from alabaster. LOL! I overheard some of the male residents talking about her anatomy & unfortunately her name starts with a “B” & they called her “Big Booty B” and talked about all the things they wanted to do with said big booty. I heard these things, but I said if that were me, I would’ve walked up to somebody & socked them in the eyeball & had no career. I knew that wasn’t going to be a place for me because I’m not Rosa Parks. I don’t feel like I need to struggle any more than I’ve already struggled, and I’ve struggled enough. The very next rotation I did after that was OB & the men that were there were all female-friendly guys. They were so nice. I was like, yes, I can do this and on top of that, what appealed to me even more; after dealing w/ so many male patients and being sexually harassed as a medical student, you just kinda go, do I really feel like having to deal with that in my career? Do I want to always feel like I have to prove myself over and over and over? No. I’m a badass surgeon and I know what the hell I’m doing. Even sometimes when I’m in the hospital, I get mistaken for a nurse. I used to say, “no, I’m a doctor. Now, I just keep walking. On top of that, as an AA doctor, we’re always expected to be utterly flawless. We’ll have notes put into our record more for any minor infraction. I have learned that I have to be ten times better than everybody else and 20 minutes early for anything because if I’m on time, people say I’m late. It’s what they call microaggressions. It’s these little things. It’s not overt. They’re not walking in the hallway, poking you with pins anymore, like they did the Little Rock Nine. It’s the little things. It might kinda slip out & then they’ll say, “Oh, I’m so sorry”, but no, you’re not sorry because that was in your head and in your heart. It’s things like that. It’s the microaggressions that get you. Now, I know how to manage that and that’s why I have my own practice because I don’t wanna deal with any of the other bullshit that exist if you work in a hospital. Here’s something that just happened…..I was at one of the hospitals here and one of the residents said I didn’t call her about a patient. The department chair called me, stating I didn’t do whatever and I had to send her screenshots to prove it to her. First of all, why did she not believe me, an attending physician over a resident, who’s a junior physician? She should have believed me first because I’m the attending physician. I shouldn’t have to do that.
Janet: You know what? It’s stuff like that, that makes you so angry.
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: It does, but you know, you can’t succumb to the anger because then, you’re not going to treat the patients right and the patients deserve your everything, so screw everything else.
Janet: Tell me about the Gynecology Institute of Chicago. How long has it been in existence? How many physicians, medical assistants, and other professionals are a part of your staff? What services do you offer?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: Well, I founded the Gynecology Institute in 2013 after doing a Fellowship in minimally invasive GYN surgery and an externship in urogynecology. I wanted to pivot my practice to be GYN only because when I was in early practice, I found a lot of physicians would have to disappear to go and do deliveries, and the patients who were just there for other women care, they’d be left by the wayside. Baby money is very, very, very good money, but I wanted to have a place for my patients for just routine healthcare, vaginal issues, pelvic pain, endometriosis, birth control. You know, you’re not pregnant your whole life. You’re just a GYN patient the rest of your time, and I wanted a place for GYN patients to go, where we focus just on that. We have 3 locations. I have four practitioners, two physicians, and two nurse practitioners, who are excellent, excellent practitioners. Overall, we have ten staff.
Janet: That speaks volumes for you because you’re putting patients over money.
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: Right. We make good money; no one is starving, but I enjoy what I do, and there comes a point in your life where you say, “I’m good.” What more do I need? Do I need to buy another thing? One of the reasons I wrote This Is How You Vagina is to tell my patients that your vaginas are enough. You don’t need to buy anything for her. A lot of times, especially as black women, we are becoming super consumers. Most of us have good jobs, careers, and we make really good salaries. I think we need to start pivoting and using that money for something else. I talk about in the book how people spend money on their vaginas because we’ve been told that we should spend money on our vaginas, but there is nothing wrong with your vagina, so don’t spend money on it. Take the money & put it in the stock market, like all the other white people, and make money.
Janet: LOL! I love that! What do you believe is the biggest gynecological problem among women, especially women of color, and is there anything we can do to decrease the problem?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: Yes, I see two things for black women very specifically; fertility issues and fibroids. Why fertility issues? The biggest thing is we’re waiting on Jesus to send us a man & sometimes that doesn’t happen until we’re 40. During that intervening time, we didn’t do anything to conserve our fertility. I tell my patients who are in their 30’s, and they all have good jobs, and they’re not seeing anyone right now, I tell them to take that money that they’re using to buy Prada or Gucci (I tell them no more GiGi. LOL), I tell them to take that money for that purse and put that towards your fertility. Save your eggs, so if you meet a man later in life because I have so many patients that are now older, and they look good, they want a child, but their eggs are not up to snuff. If there is anyone thing that you can take away from this, save your eggs and do it in your 30’s before it’s too late. Secondly are fibroids. Fibroids can affect fertility too, but they can also affect your ability to live and work because you’re bleeding heavily, having 10-day periods, pelvic pain, pressure, and being tired because you’re anemic. These are all things we tend to live with entirely too much. Society tells women that we’re supposed to just live with it, and we wait and wait until they’re sooo big that they look pregnant.
Janet: We all know it’s so important for us as women to be aware of our bodies. If you had every woman’s ear right now, what one thing would you tell us or want us to know?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: Most of the time, your vagina is just fine.
Janet: It’s just that simple, huh? LOL!
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: LOL! Yes! Truth be told, we overthink some things, and I want us to know that some discharge is normal, especially when it comes to vaginal health. You might have a little itch, and if the itch goes away, it’s probably normal. How many times does a man have an itch, scratches and doesn’t even think about it afterward? He’s not saying, “oh my God, I have to go to the doctor because I have a little itch. Generally, as long as you give her (vagina) what she needs you know, keeping well hydrated, eating clean, and you’re avoiding wearing binding clothes, thong underwear, and giving her soap, water, and sunshine, she’s generally going to be ok.
Janet: To piggyback off that question, it is equally important to ask the right questions during our visits with our gynecologists. Can you tell us what are the most important questions to ask?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: I want my patients to ask and confirm their menstrual patterns. Know that a little abnormality is ok. A few days here, a few days there is fine. Make sure your pap health is taken care of. Let us know whether you’ve had any abnormal pap smears in the past. Ask about vaccines. Ask whether you were supposed to get an HPV vaccine. Vaccines are a very big thing now and are incredible inventions. It can keep us from having abnormal pap smears, which can affect your fertility and can affect your ability to hold in a child if we have to do a procedure on your cervix. So, ask us about pap health, fertility check-up, menstrual health, and mental health.
Janet: It is said that women of color are concerned that they won’t be heard or understood and that we must advocate for ourselves to receive the best possible health care. Please speak to us about that for a minute.
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: What I recommend, especially for my pregnant patients, and since I don’t do deliveries, I send my black and brown patients to my colleague friend. She’s an AKA, but she’s still good people, and I like her. LOL! She understands preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and some of the things that affect us more than other groups. She will be more of an advocate. Find a person of color with who you can identify with, make sure they’re well-read, and persist in your concerns. Follow-up and keep following up until you get the answers you need. Our health is paramount. You can have all the money in the world, but money is useless if your health is messed up. Use the internet. Now, I say use it with a grain of salt, but take what you find and go talk to your OB.
Janet: You’ve traveled the world, working in hospitals and clinics in Cambodia, Rwanda, Haiti, Ghana, Mexico, The Philippines, and the Dominican Republic. I know you brought so much knowledge and experience to the hospitals and people there. Is this a way for you to give back? What services did you offer and what was most needed?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: It really is my way of giving back. I love this way of giving back. Two reasons…They don’t expect to see a Black American doing this, and I love to represent my country. I’m a Black woman, born in 1975. If I was born in any other country, would I be able to do this? I’m very thankful for the opportunities. I love to represent my country overseas as a black woman. I want to be an ambassador. That would be a dream for me. I’m going back to Ghana in a month. I think that will be my fourth trip there. I’ll be going back to do fibroid work. In Ghana, if you can’t have a baby, they’re looked at negatively. It’s still a very traditional culture there and it’s expected that they have children. I do my best to help these women with their fibroids to get their uterus to a place where they can have a child.
Janet: Let’s talk about your new book, “This Is How You Vagina: All About the Vajayjay and Why You Probably Shouldn’t Call It That”. Congratulations again! That’s a mouthful! LOL! I love the big peach on the cover! LOL! Based on what I’ve read so far, it’s a very candid approach to discussing vaginal health. Obviously, we need to know more about our vaginas. Tell us a little bit about it… the book, that is. LOL!
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: It was written during the pandemic. This is what happens when you take an English major, and you give her all sorts of time and nothing to do, a laptop, and several bottles of wine. LOL! I wanted to write to my patients and kinda break down the basics. It’s not a comprehensive volume, nor is it a one-size-fits-all. It’s just a general overview. I wanted to write about what my patients complain of most and say here’s probably what’s happening. Probably what’s happening is normal, but I wanted you to understand why it’s normal. If I back that up with data and a little bit of chemistry, biology, humor, and history, then you can start to understand your vagina, her form, her function, and how she can do all these amazing things and generally be ok. I also talk a little bit about things that are abnormal about your vagina and that you should bring these things to the attention of your doctor if you’re having these symptoms. It’s not a diagnostic book. I didn’t even want it to be. I wanted it to be a love letter to my patients and their vaginas so that they can have a better understanding of their organ.
Janet: In your book, you discuss why our vaginas do NOT need steaming. I hear and read about so many wellness spas offering this service. I’ve even done it once. LOL! Talk to us about why we shouldn’t do this.
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: Did it work? LOL!
Janet: You know, I guess I can say that I did it for the experience because I couldn’t tell the difference afterward. Maybe others can, but I honestly couldn’t. LOL!
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: Right! You shouldn’t do it because it’s a bunch of snake oil that people are trying to sell you to make money. Second, it’s impossible for any herb you put in a pot that you squat over to get in your bloodstream to help regulate your hormones. It’s just not biologically possible. There’s no science to back it up. You can also get burned. LOL! That is not a place where you want to get burned. LOL! It’s not going to make your vagina look better or detoxify it because your vagina isn’t toxic in the first place.
Janet: LOL! Wow! You don’t hold back any punches, do you? LOL! Also, you tell us in your book that it’s perfectly normal for our vaginas to have an odor. You say to consider it our personal brand. LOL! I hear you when you say that, but let me tell you, when I was growing up, my mom always taught me to wash it until I couldn’t smell it. LOL! However, when do we say ok, there’s a problem here?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: So, keep in mind that the odor might shift throughout the month and might be a little stronger at ovulation and after menstruation. It’s almost like a sourdough bread type of smell, but please come to us when you get agitated about it, and we will check it out for you. However, once we’ve looked & we’ve checked everything out, and the bacteria appears to be in balance; just know this is your signature scent. Some people might want to change that, but keep in mind that everything comes from the gut. You might have to do some probiotics because that’s going to help change the bacteria in your vagina. You want to eat clean and healthy. Are you hydrating? Are you eating clean? You can’t expect to eat Popeye’s and have that wonderful red drink all the time and have a healthy, nice, thin, clear, white vaginal discharge on a daily basis because garbage in; garbage out. We have to be healthy on the inside, which will give us a healthy vagina as well.
Janet: When you say you didn’t want to leave any topic uncovered, you really meant that! LOL! Some women may even blush at some of the topics covered in your book, but I’m here for it! LOL! Seriously, do you think that may be one of the reasons why women are not as straightforward w/ their gynecologists because they’re embarrassed to bring up certain subjects?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: That is 100% the case. We’ve been brought up to believe it she doesn’t smell like an open field of daisies, and then we’re diseased. A lot of conservative thinking has affected women especially, which is why I bring in some history in this book, so once we understand the history, we can overcome the history. I’ve ruffled some feathers, you know, with some people in the church because I’ve asked them about masturbation. It’s a position that I believe very strongly in. I have a foreword in the book from one of my sorors, Dr. Joycelyn Elders and she was the first black Surgeon General during the Clinton Administration, and she got fired for some of her beliefs. She believed that masturbation should be recognized. She was a woman ahead of her time. I wanted to change some hearts and minds, so I tracked her down and asked her to write the foreword.
Janet: You have a website dedicated to learning more about the book. It’s www.thisishowyouvagina.com. How can we purchase it? I know it’s on Amazon. What other platforms can people purchase it from?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: Yes, you can purchase it on Amazon, but please go to your local bookstore and ask for the book. They’ll order your copy, but they may order a few more copies, and that ends up on the shelf. Plus, you’re supporting a local bookstore.
Janet: What’s next for Dr. Nicole E. Williams? Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: I’d love to write another book, but I have to see how this one does first. I do have a book on fibroids in mind, but I really want to get back out there and travel.
Janet: How can people reach you? I know you have a blog on the Gynecologist Institute of Chicago website. Do you have other social media platforms to stay in touch w/ your followers? (i.e. podcast, newsletter)?
Janet: Are you accepting new patients?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: We are! It’s a little bit of a wait, but my nurse practitioners are super incredible! I train them myself, and I trust them implicitly. They can do the initial physical exams, get the scans in, and I can take it from there.
Janet: Let’s end with a fun fact. What is a fun fact about you that you’d like to share?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: I know how to tap dance, and I’m actually really good at it. You know, nobody really watches tap unless you like Gregory Hines. What do you do with a talent that nobody gives a damn about? LOL!
Janet: How did you learn how to tap dance?
Dr. Nicole E. Williams: LOL! You know, I told you I had the original black tiger mom. You know it was ballet, tap, and jazz, and it just so happens I was way better at tap.
Janet: Dr. Williams, this was such a fun and enlightening interview!! Thank you so much for chatting with me today! I wish you continued success, along with your book. Let’s support Dr. Williams by purchasing a copy of her book, “This Is How You Vagina.” 😊