Today’s post is a guest post by Beth H.
Not too long ago, I was spite reading a pro-life thread on Facebook about abortion. That’s not what this post is about. In that thread, the original poster made a comment about how “women who don’t want children should just get their tubes tied so they’re less likely to get abortions.”
HOLD UP THERE, LADY. I’m here to tell you that we WISH it was that easy.
In spite of years of work and progress regarding women’s rights and abilities to make choices about their own bodies, there’s still an inordinate amount of social pressure for women to make the choice to have children, a pressure that exists in nowhere near the same magnitude for men. Women are supposed to be caring, giving, selfless, and nurturing, and the backlash against women who don’t exhibit these traits is immense. Women are harassed about when they’ll be getting married and procreating, because if they don’t do it soon enough their biological clocks might tick out, as if the worst thing that could happen to a woman is childlessness. Unfortunately, since doctors are people too, it’s all too common for them to perpetuate these beliefs, and given their position of power over women’s reproductive decisions, they can make it very, very difficult on women who go against the standard-woman script.
I’ve known for as long as I can remember that I wasn’t going to be a parent. As a child, when people would comment on “oh when you’re all grown up with kids,” I had no hesitation to tell them that CLEARLY I had better things to do than have babies, and they would smile and nod. As I got older, the reactions became more and more surprised, and questioning, and often offended. As if my lack of desire to be pregnant or parent was a judgment of those who went the more standard route. Or worse, as if I was intentionally spiting those people who would love to have children, but can’t, for whatever reason.
At 18, I approached my childhood physician’s assistant about getting fixed. To be fair, at that point I hadn’t done nearly enough research regarding procedures, and I was not expecting to be bombarded with what would become the standard line of questioning – “but what if you change your mind” (well that would suck, but I’m an adult who is responsible for her decisions, thanks), “but what if you marry someone who wants children”* (please explain to me how THAT would be a logical decision to make), “but that’s so permanent!” (yes thanks that’s the point). She told me to check back next year. Cue the same conversation from age 18 to 21.
At 22 I had graduated from college and moved to Texas, and had a crap job that happened to have great benefits. At the recommendation of a pregnant friend (in hindsight, perhaps poor decision making) I made an appointment with her OB-GYN for my yearly cervical stabbing and argument. I’m pretty sure this was by far the worst experience I ever had with a doctor. I went in loaded with information, and also with my my then-boyfriend. Because I mentioned that it was L. who had recommended him, he had the gall to tell me that maybe, when I saw her kid, that would be the magical baby that would change my mind. It was a blessing in disguise that this doctor was such a royal asshole – nailing at least half of the breeder bingo card. He did explain to me the procedure he was using, which is the old ass style of tubal ligation involving multiple incisions and clipping the tubes closed, which has the highest failure rate in clinical studies, and then told me to come back next year.
I don’t feel as if there is much use in documenting years 23 through early 25, because it’s a lot of the same. Blah blah regrets, blah blah man who wants babies, blah blah different when it’s your own.
In 2009, at the ripe old age of almost-26, while conversing on the subject of pregnancy with a coworker who had three kids and after the third had a tubal, she mentioned that her doctor was great, and known for listening, and since he was covered by our company insurance there wouldn’t be any harm in going to see him, right? Should I mention that this was in Nashville, Tennessee? I feel like that’s pertinent, given The South’s general treatment of women’s rights. So I scheduled an appointment, I’m pretty sure it was on November 12th or 13th.
Appointment day was nervewracking – at that point I was so tired of explaining myself, over and over. I just wanted to get it over with, I wanted to get off my expensive hormonal birth control (both because of the cost, and also because unnecessary hormones), I wanted not another failure. I went in armed with all of my arguments lined up – years of asking different doctors, research on which procedure I wanted (Essure wouldn’t work because of a severe nickel allergy, clips were out because of the higher failure rate, anything non-laparascopic was out). I took the same then-boyfriend as an extra layer of defense, having had the “obviously a man could change your mind” line beaten into me so many times.
Dr. H (name shortened for anonymity on the internet, I am perfectly happy to share his full name and contact information with anyone who is interested) walked in, and what I remember of our conversation went something like this:
Him: So you want a tubal?
Me: Yes and (insert me being ready to talk for an hour)
Him: (interrupting me)I can do that. You’re an adult and I trust your decision making. I just need three things from you – I need you to be of age (apparently this is 21), I need you to be of sound mind, and I need you to understand that this procedure is intended to be permanent.
Me: *jaw drop* Yes, yes, and isn’t that the point?
Him: So here are your options, Essure
Me: Can’t do that one, nickel allergy.
Him: Great, it’s not my favorite anyway. My good one is laparascopic cauterization. We’d make a small incision in your belly button, go in and fry up your fallopian tubes, and get you sealed back up. Easy outpatient surgery.
Me: *jaw on the floor* Yes, let’s do that. When can we?
Him: I do surgery on Wednesdays and Fridays. You can let the front desk know you want to schedule and they’ll call youtomorrow with available dates and times. Just to get it out of the way, when we cauterize, three burns per tube is considered sterile. I like to do 7 or 8, just to make sure nothing’s slipping through. ** (Insert more information here that 3.5 years later I’ve forgotten.)
I scheduled surgery for November 20th. Ended up missing a Mountain Goats show the same day, but damn it was worth missing. I had surgery on a Friday, and was back at work the following Monday.
Now, at 29, I still run across people who are bewildered by this decision. I still find the occasional person who finds my choice personally offensive, but more and more I’m finding people who are on the same page – people who have spent years trying to find a doctor who was willing to sterilize them, both men and women. And more and more, the idea that it was EASY for me to get this done infuriates me. That people believe it is easy for women to walk into a doctor’s office and walk out sterile is infuriating. It is infuriating that doctors do not trust the decisions of their adult patients, especially their female patients. Sterilization SHOULD be easy, and widely available for those who are sure they don’t want to parent, and ESPECIALLY for women who don’t want to be pregnant.
Three and a half years later, I have no regrets. Best $800 out of pocket ever spent.
*To be fair, for the last two years I have been dating a man who ?probably? wants children. Y’know what? It has only further cemented in my mind that I am not cut out to be a parent.
**Dr H. was FUNNY. At my post surgery followup, he showed me pictures from the procedure – “here’s your right fallopian tube, nice and crispy. Here’s the left one, also crispy. Here’s me giving the camera a thumbs up when we finished.”