I would like to turn your attention to an excellent recent article in the Toronto Star about women who choose to have tubal ligations. It is a great piece and I urge you to read the whole thing, but here’s the part that sums it up for me:
“To [Sarah] Lawrance, tubal ligations are a matter of control and autonomy. And while people have their own opinions, that choice should belong to the woman alone.
‘You need to let people make their own decisions about how to lead their lives,’ she says. ‘Even if you think they’re wrong.'”
I love that this issue is getting some attention. It is one thing to be childfree by choice, which is a movement that is building momentum, and it is another to want to physically, permanently prevent pregnancy. In my experience, many people who are perfectly supportive of the former tend to recoil at the thought of the latter, especially if, as the article mentions, the woman in question is under 30 or hasn’t had children, or both.
I am 27. I recently had an IUD inserted. If I thought there was any chance of a doctor performing a tubal ligation on me, I would have had that done instead, but honestly I didn’t even try. I know at my age, with no children, there wouldn’t be a chance. I was recently talking to a coworker who has had four children (one stillborn), and who is now trying to have a tubal ligation. Her doctor reluctantly provided her with the referral, but not before grilling her at length about how she would react to every possible situation that might make her want more children, such as one of her children dying (“Been there, done that” she says bitterly), or the breakup of her relationship (I’m not sure how that would make someone want more children, but okay). It was only because of her previous deliveries and the fact that she had the consent of her long-term partner that the doctor allowed her to go ahead.
Personally, I’m not in the “childfree by choice” camp entirely; I think there’s a possibility that I may some day want children. However, I know with absolute certainty that any potential children of mine (or anyone else’s) are not being pushed out of my body, no thank you. I have a ridiculously low pain threshold and I am just NOT INTERESTED in being pregnant, nor have I ever been. And as uninterested as I am in being pregnant, I am doubly uninterested in going through labour. I have the greatest respect and admiration for the people who do, but that ain’t for me. I’m too chicken, and I’m ok with that.
This is something I have thought about a lot. I would imagine that most women who want tubal ligations have thought about it a lot as well. I wish that doctors could use the same philosophy in this situation as we want them to in abortion: trust women. Trust that women are making the right decisions for themselves about their own bodies. Trust that if we make a mistake, we are ready to deal with the consequences.
No one asks women who become pregnant by choice whether they are sure they want to have babies. No one is going around at baby showers talking about vaginal tearing (not the fun baby showers, anyway). Another coworker said to me recently “I could handle the pain, but the tearing freaks me out. And it won’t be the same. I could deliver a watermelon out of my mouth, but my face is never going back to how it was.” And no doctors are asking her to give that incisive commentary to women thinking about having children.
When we think on a grander scale of what unwanted/unplanned pregnancies can mean – abortion, obviously, but also overpopulation and poverty, crime and abuse – maybe we should be jumping at the chance to help those who don’t want to give birth, to prevent it permanently. If we have it in our power to grant peace of mind, why shouldn’t we?
Currently in Canada there are no guidelines around who can have a tubal ligation and when. Like abortion in this country, it is the doctors who regulate their own limits and parameters. When it comes to abortion, this usually takes the form of setting gestational limits, which works quite well: there is a clear boundary and only the women who fall outside of it will not be seen (and will almost always be provided with at least a referral instead). But with tubal ligation, doctors seem to be delving into the murky world of deciding on a case-by-case basis who gets one and who doesn’t. In this case I believe solid guidelines from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada would at least give doctors a foundation from which to craft their own parameters.
I have pretty much taken it for granted that I will never be allowed to have a tubal ligation. Should I become pregnant, I will probably terminate the pregnancy. For that reason, you would think the anti-abortion people might want to get on board the movement to make sterilization more accessible for those who want it. But of course their whole movement comes from the same place as the medical community’s reluctance in this area: the societal idea that women were meant to have children. That wanting to produce offspring is the norm, effectively Othering people (and especially women) who just…don’t.
I’m lucky. I was able to get an IUD and it is working for me, for now. Many people are not so fortunate, and it would be great to see the contraceptive options expand and become available and accessible for everyone.