Many of us change our minds about our careers and aspirations as swiftly as the wind blows, but from a young age, Jackie Walters has always known that she wanted to spread the word about vaginas.
"Dr. Jackie," has been a practicing OB/GYN for over two decades and her skills are laid bare on Bravo’s hit show, "Married to Medicine." On the series, the two-time breast cancer survivor, is very candid with her personal life and experiences and is often seen on the show displaying what her friends call a mutated gene: she has the ability to always keep an even keel no matter the situation, constantly diffusing conflict among the other cast.
Not only is she the doctor of stars like Toni Braxton, T.I., and Usher, she’s also founded the 50 Shades of Pink Foundation for Breast Cancer Warriors.
NBCBLK talked with Dr. Jackie openly about her struggles with breast cancer and infertility, how to live a healthier life and what keeps her motivated every morning she wakes up.
NBCBLK: I was really excited when I learned that I’d be interviewing you. I have a couple of nurses in my family and so we’re also always talking about medical topics.
By default now you're the doctor in the family.
Dr. Jackie Walters: Right, exactly, I do feel like I have a lot of knowledge about what to do in case of an emergency.
It’s alright I call those patients street committee, you know, the street committee in medicine, so I get it.
LOL. Alright, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us, how did you get started? What made you want to go into the medical field, and specifically into the OB/GYN practice?
Well, I came from a small town in Mississippi and of course I grew up in the area where the moms really didn’t talk much about medicine. Like I would say 'vagina' and your momma really didn't say that. And so I knew growing up that there was more to it than they were giving me and I kept saying one day when I grow up, I’m going to just come back and serve right here in small-town Mississippi.
Now, little did I know that would change, really fast once I got out of small-town Mississippi. So, it was more about women’s health, because nobody would talk to us. We weren’t taught the terminology. We didn’t have an understanding. It was like, you know, get your period, that’s the way it is and you’re done.
So, how did that then morph into where you are today, being on "Married to Medicine"?
Well, of course knowing OB/GYN Dr. Simone, who was a really close friend of mine, who had been the first person to cast with the show — and you know I tease everybody, when Simone’s going down a path, for whatever reason she wants me to go with her. And so, she 's like, "you’ve gotta cast for the show! They want to talk to you and there’s no other personality out there like that with yours!" So just having a good friend who's cast for the show, because she knew Mariah and Quad from her practice. And here we are.
You seem to keep your composure really well. Oftentimes you are seen as the peacemaker, for instance, getting the ladies involved with what you call the “lemon squeeze”. Do you ever find it challenging, given how outspoken the ladies are and do you ever have thoughts of just walking away from it?
I certainly find it very challenging, however, it is what I do in the practice, you know I’m managing partner in my practice, I take care of all women, all my employees are women, so I get a lot of exposure and a lot of practice at learning to process internally.
You know, my friends tell me it’s a genetic mutation. Silence is golden for me and you can’t misquote my silence. It’s just to think long term. Before I speak, I typically think, if I say this I’m gonna get this and if I don’t say this I’m gonna allow this?
I think we all want to walk away from chaos and controversy, however quitting is never an option for me. You know, I either win or I learn, and so in that instance I'm like I can win this by talking it through, thinking it through, or I’m gonna learn what not to do or what to - I win or I learn, but quitting – never.
So this month, it's national pregnancy and infant loss awareness month and you’ve been very open on this, with your struggle with loss and infertility, however this is something that is rarely brought to light and often times it seems taboo to talk about. Why do you think as a society this topic is often kept on the hush and what advice can you give to couples who are suffering in silence?
In my particular case… you feel like you are at fault - and I hate to use that terminology, but I feel like if I had done this, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. So women don’t talk about it, because I think they self-blame for some of it. It's a little bit embarrassing because a lot of cultures, almost put you in a box when you cannot bear a child.
It has a little bit of a stigma to it by society. And then it’s painful. You really don’t want to relive it and talk about it. When I first learned that I was infertile after the chemo, for the next three to five years, every patient would walk in the door and say, “You haven’t had a baby yet?!.” And you know I would have to explain, well – I got to the point where I said, "well not yet." Because it’s one of those things that people can’t understand it or they will cast on you like, "well you not believing for it enough or you need try this and you need to try that."
So it's almost like having a wound that's healing and every time you meet somebody they snatch that whole scab off and you start all over again, so you know painful, a little bit self-blaming and it's - that's just totally unexplainable - why you can't have a baby. And some ladies just have unexplained infertility.
So, what advice would you be able to give for couples who are going through this?
Well I always say to all the patients, the best thing you can do is get an understanding, you have to find out exactly why is it I'm infertile. And two, you need to know is there something we can do.
And, there are some infertility cases when you've done all you can do. Whether you've done IVF - In Vitro Fertilization or you've done IUI's - Intrauterine Insemination, you've even tried to do donor eggs. There are people who spend their life savings trying to get pregnant, but if they don't understand the root cause, then again they walk around with self-blaming, and guilt and anger and frustration - so much so that it destroys the person that you really are, because you're angry at life.
Mine is crazy in that the one thing that I do the most, and that's help women get pregnant and deliver babies, I've never experienced it, but I always take my adversities and find some way to make it productive. And so I'm very open, like yea it was painful, it sucks. You know you will hold a baby, and you get this feeling of like I just want to cry cause I've never had this for myself, but I don't. I give back in that I deliver babies.
I make jokes like "okay, I'll keep 'em until midnight," but a lot of women cannot process beyond the fact that I want a baby and there's a stigma associated with not having it and marriages are really disrupted because of that, so I really say know why, because some things you can't change, five percent of life is gonna happen, ninety-five percent is how you respond to it, so if you were not born with the fallopian tubes that you need to even get pregnant or you had a disease process that you didn't cause yourself, why are we upset?
Let's find a way around the problem. If not then there are lots of babies out there that we can adopt or we can do donors or we can do surrogates. There is always some answer or some other option I should say.
You have a lot of inspirational quotes and pictures on your IG page, what keeps you motivated?
If everybody was given an opportunity to think; I’m going to die, I might not be here tomorrow; then every morning you wake up, you’re grateful. Like I get to wake up. And its even tougher for me because I have the breast cancer foundation and I get to sit with women who, I call it transitioning into angels, but you know they die. And to see that breast cancer has taken the lives of a lot of young ladies that I am grateful to be alive.
You know I heard it once and it was like, ok it happens, but even the second diagnosis is like — now am I gonna die? I did a talk yesterday with the hospital authority here and I’m saying to them that you hear that diagnosis and for like five minutes, I forgot that I was a doctor and I even asked, is that cancer? I mean I knew it was cancer, but when you hear that you immediately go to, I’m gonna die. And so when I wake up in the morning, I get another opportunity to wake up, healthy. I don’t have anything to complain about.
What are some of the most common misconceptions women have?
Most of my patients and most of women live in fear and we are paralyzed by the fear of unknown.
So I think I see fear so much so that it’s always really mind boggling that we see negative way before we ever see positive. So I spend my day dispelling misconceptions and fear. So it’s just the fear of the unknown. Even when having a period, you think my period is going to be normal? I’m like really? You really going to worry about the negative side of life so much so that you cant even enjoy the positive.
What is one thing you do very often that we can all do to improve our health?
Quiet time or meditation. I think we have to stop and re-center yourself and focus on what’s important. And realize there’s a higher being, there’s something we cannot control and we just have to take that aha and relax moment and stop.
I start up at 7 AM here, I get up at 5 AM and I’m trying to get dressed and get everything going and I just need to stop sometimes. Stop, breath, and realize that there are some things I cannot control and it's ok to not get everything right. I don’t have to work towards perfection. So quiet time and meditation. I call it prayer, but I want to cover everybody’s beliefs.
Lets talk about energy, what are some things we can do to increase our energy during that dreaded time of the month. What is your number one advice for women?
Nutrition. My line is if you don’t kill it or grow it, it really isn’t considered good for you. So eat the earth. Eat vegetables, low fat meat, beans, nuts. We are made of water, so drink water. I think everybody now is going to drink water because Beyonce came out and says she drinks a gallon of water a day. And your doctor has never been able to get you to do that, but now the Queen Bey has said that a gallon of water a day works, the water sale is going to go up.
What are your thoughts on vaginal rejuvenation?
Well the American College of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has asked the OB/GYNS to kind of be careful with that. So old school, I wont give you my age, because I forgot it, is that we did a similar procedure where we would get rid of the excessive vaginal tissue for health purposes. That if you tighten up the vagina in the front then the bladder will be more supported. And you would not leak urine when you cough or sneeze if you tighten the vagina in the back. We used to call it (I &P) interior/posterior repair and if you tighten it up in the back you have more rectal control to go to the bathroom.
Now a days its become a fad where it really gives you a new vagina. So… the jury is still out. I’ve seen some patients who’ve had it and when I see the complications that could potentially go along with it, which is scarring and them just not being happy because they didn’t get any results; maybe it’s not the best thing to do. But there is a psychological affect that goes along with a rejuvenated vagina and I call it the flower. When you rejuvenate the flower, they feel better. They thinks it looks better, you know, feel good look good do good.
But it’s an old school technique that has now been renamed as vaginal rejuvenation. We’ve done for years and years and now its being done on younger and younger women. When it used to be done on women after they’ve had several babies or with aging when the vagina would relax. Just like your face relaxes, the tissue the elasticity. So does the vagina and you know if you used it a lot, it give you a little bit more relaxation. But it has to have medical necessity according to ACOG so that were not doing cosmetic surgery.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
This is breast cancer awareness month as well, I am a breast cancer, 2-time survivor so I always want to get the word out there that your best protection is early detection. So self-breast exams every month, mammograms at age 40 unless it’s a family issue, it can be earlier and if there is a sign or question on anything about your breast. Please see your doctor.