I Didn’t Change My Mind

I sat in the exam room, answering the standard questions doctors ask when getting to know new patients. My tone remained flat until we got to the subject of surgeries.

“I see you had a tubal ligation in 2017,” she said. I suppressed a smirk. I knew what was coming next. “And how many times have you been pregnant?”

“None,” I answered, and allowed the smirk to surface.

“Oh! Okay,” she said, and then repeated the word “okay” a little too reassuringly. I’d have taken it as a judgment (no matter how hard she tried not to make it) had I not seen a split second of envy cross her face. Make no mistake, the expression was as fleeting as her initial surprise, that little crack in professionalism that I’d instigated completely, but it was there long enough for me to guess—and it’s only a guess—that she had at least 3 kids, and likely a rough morning with them.

I haven’t written a lot about being child-free by choice (CFBC), mainly because it’s not that remarkable. All the voluntarily childless did differently than anyone else is make the perfectly valid decision not to procreate. We’re not even all that rare anymore. In fact, we’ve become so common that most of the articles that turn up in my search to show how common we’ve become are at least 2 years old. We’re literally old news.

What I haven’t found a lot of is what to expect in your real, day-to-day life when you are not only CFBC, but you’re a woman who decided to cement your decision with sterilization. What happens when the people who insisted you’d change your mind find that you’ve doubled down and had yourself surgically altered to be sure your body can’t betray your made-up mind? *Cracks knuckles* Shall we begin?

Things I Expected

I’ve already written about all it took just to have the procedure, so I won’t rehash it here, but to say there were obstacles—sexist, misogynist obstacles—would be understating the issue. Of course, those obstacles were set under the guise of concern that I’d change my mind because apparently women are flighty and incapable of making life decisions (but not too flighty to birth and raise children). So, when I finally had the procedure, it came with a strong sense of victory.

A lot of people turned out to be pretty cool and congratulated me for finally getting what I wanted (even if it wasn’t what they wanted). I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have a lot of really supportive people around me. However, as expected, there was a handful of not so cool people.

Some people continued to harp on the idea that I might change my mind. The best of them shrugged and told me there’s always adoption; the worst of them insisted that I’d be sorry and actively tried to upset me. Methods of agitation varied from extensive lines of questioning designed to make me feel regretful (always an entertaining volley), to pure and simple judgment. I once had someone more than imply and all but say, “I had to do it. What makes you think you can get away without doing it?” Just sit with that implication for a second.

A very small number of people were so offended by my decision that they don’t have much to say to me at all anymore. Their silence is an improvement. Your mileage may vary.

Given the timing of my procedure, two years ago today on March 10, 2017, there was speculation as to whether I was undergoing the procedure in response to the election; that I’d bought into some fear mongering propaganda and believed I’d lose all rights as a woman. I admit that as I sat at my yearly exam, talking to my OB/GYN about birth control, the political situation certainly crossed my mind, but that was just the newest reality on a long list of reasons I’d wanted to be sterilized for years. My story shut down speculation for anyone interested in hearing it more than making their own point. That said, looking around, if I had gotten my procedure out of fear of the political situation, I’d have been absolutely justified. And that’s all I’ll say on the topic.

The thing is that all of this was expected, and I made my decision anyway. So…

Things I Somehow Didn’t Expect

Women who have had children often talk about their pre-baby bodies, or getting their bodies back, or how they love their post-baby bodies, or literally anything to be said about the fact that a woman’s body is different after childbirth. Basically, a whole lot of things that go wonky with our bodies can rightfully be blamed on carrying and birthing children. “Damn kid destroyed my body!” a friend exclaimed before smothering her son in kisses.

So, what happens when there’s never been a pregnancy and there’s no child to blame?

You fall apart for no damn reason at all, that’s what!

My mother and I were talking about aging, and though I’m 25 years my mother’s junior, I had a lot to complain about that day. “I just don’t understand!” I exclaimed about my latest little infirmity. My mother laughed and said, completely free of judgment, “I imagine it’s harder for you. I got to blame you and your brother for screwing up my body, but you? You’re just getting old.” She laughed and laughed.

Thanks, Mom.

The other thing I didn’t expect was the guilt. Not the obvious guilt like the how-could-we-not-give-our-parents-grandchildren variety (which we actually never got from our parents, though I know I heard it from a family friend or two), but the little voice in my own head that says, “You know you have the time for that. It’s not like you have kids.” Whether it’s a career opportunity, volunteering my time for a cause I support, or sitting at my desk to write for another hour, that little voice is always there reminding me that there are no little me-s I have to deal with. My time is mine and I can spend it as I please. So, maybe I shouldn’t spend it all watching reality TV? (That is not an invitation to recruit me to your cause.)

Things I’d Been Warned About That Didn’t Happen

A coworker and I got engaged around the same time. We were chatting one day, and she told me how the ring wasn’t even warm on her finger yet and she and her fiancé were already being interrogated about having kids. I nodded, rolled my eyes in commiseration, and chewed on a corn chip. I knew what she was going through. I’d already hurt a couple of feelings with my responses to the same questions. Though she was more open to the idea of having children than I was, that didn’t say a whole lot. I swallowed my corn chip and didn’t take another. My coworker’s expression had changed. Her lips still formed a smile, but her eyes had gone a bit dull as she told me, “I said I really wasn’t sure about kids and then they asked what’s the point of getting married at all if we weren’t having children.”

Most of that conversation is lost to the deepest archives of my memory, but that last part still resonates. How dare anyone say that to someone still basking in the glow of an engagement! How dare anyone say that to a woman at all? We’re not incubators. Still, her story proved just how tactless friends and family can be and so I expected to spend some time defending the decision to get married. Part of me still does, but so far, no one has tried to invalidate my marriage (at least not over lack of children), and I’m not sure if I’m relieved or if I was so prepared for the fight that I’m a bit disappointed not to have it. (That is NOT an invitation to start some mess.)

But the crown jewel, the most important thing I was warned would happen that didn’t—and I’m sure you can guess—is regret over my decision.

I realize that someone is thinking, it’s only been two years! They’re not wrong. The thing is, I’m not wrong either, and the only reason someone would set out to prove me wrong is to make me feel wrong. Why would I give someone like that the time of day?

We actually do have a couple of really adorable kids.

And, should I ever start to wonder longingly about what my life with children would have looked like, all I have to do is hop over to a mom blog or group on social media to remember why I made my decision in the first place.

Look, I get it. Moms are stressed from their cores to their split ends (because no one makes sure Mommy gets a haircut), and need a place to vent about their little miracles. Sometimes that place to vent, combined with a fishbowl size glass of wine, is all a mom has to look forward to, or so the memes tell me. But then please, moms, please don’t act all shocked and shaken when some of us decide not to join you in the world of motherhood. Don’t question our decision and then get offended when we answer truthfully. I can only imagine the pressure—the weight of the world—that mothers handle daily…and that’s why I chose not to be one.

For a nice, morbid shift, I’ve been asked very directly about my deathbed. If my husband goes first, do I really want to die alone? Will I regret my choice then? Maybe I’m a jerk, but my response has been to ask how they can guarantee that they won’t die alone just because they’ve had children. Anything can happen. Maybe their kids are assholes (I know some of them to be just that). Maybe they’ll be surrounded by loved ones when they pass, just not their children, or family at all. As it turns out, people don’t like thinking about their own mortality and tend to drop the topic the second it’s turned back on them. However, since I don’t mind it, and while we’re already being morbid, I think there’s something to be said for dying alone, in peace, without worrying that you’re leaving behind someone who still needs you.

The point is that there are no promises in life, so I’m going to live mine on my terms.

Turns out, kids aren’t part of those terms.

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I’m Child Free by Choice and I Finally Got My Tubes Tied

Actually, I had my fallopian tubes removed altogether but we’ll get to the specifics later. What’s important right now is that finally, after more than a decade, after being turned away twice, after enduring the endless condescending comments on the matter, I’ve been allowed to make my own decision about my own body and reproductive choices and have myself permanently sterilized.

My journey to sterilization started in Pennsylvania, which is important to note because in addition to spanning many years, this journey crossed state lines. I acknowledge that getting a tubal ligation (or in my case, a bilateral salpingectomy) was easier here in Washington state than it might have been in some other parts of the country. I urge you to look into the laws in your state and talk to your doctor regarding facility policy and the law.

I knew at a young age that motherhood wasn’t for me. Sure, I had hypothetical children, but they only got mentioned when declaring how differently I would do things if and when I had kids. Sometimes, I’d read a book or see a movie and there’d be some kick-ass character with a cool name and I’d think, Hey, that’s a really cool name. I’d totally name my kid *Blah* but that’s about as far as any aspirations of motherhood went. So, in my early twenties (in Pennsylvania), I asked my doctor about tubal ligation. Her response was that I was too young to know for sure that I didn’t want to be a mother, that they didn’t ever sterilize women my age unless they’d already had a couple of children, and that I needed to wait until I was at least 25 to have this discussion. The first time around, I could see my doctor’s point. I was 21 or 22 at most and in the height of my party days, not my serious thought and knowing what the hell I wanted from life days. At the time, even I conceded that maybe waiting was best.

Fast forward a handful of years—we can skip over the times I white-knuckled it, begging the heavens for my period to start any time it was so much as a second late. I’d turned 25 in December. January found me back at the doctor’s office asking about tubal ligation. I knew with certainty that I didn’t want to be a mom, but my doctor had other ideas. She looked over my chart, confirming that I had not yet had any children. “You’re single?” she made her statement a question. I confirmed that I was, in fact, single. If anything, I thought that would help my case, but then she looked at me and said the words I’ll never forget: “What if you meet a man who wants kids?”

An educated, successful woman had just let those words come out of her mouth. I was dumbfounded by her betrayal. I’d already ended a handful of potential relationships because the men in question wanted to be fathers someday and it hurt to break up, but by goddess I did it because I knew for damn sure I didn’t want children. How dare this woman not take my word for it!

I don’t remember what I ended up saying to her when she told me to ask again at 30. I just remember feeling betrayed, angry, and helpless. I knew in that moment that I absolutely despised her. I know that still, in more private forums, I speak of her with all the spite I can spit.

I’d met my now husband by 30 and he was more than willing to get a vasectomy after we got married and were certain that we weren’t having children. (I told him that if he was marrying me with hopes that I would change my mind about motherhood, he shouldn’t marry me.) While his offer to get a vasectomy was sweet, it always stuck in my craw that he had to make it at all. Yeah, I get that vasectomies are easier to perform (and reverse) and are less invasive than tubal ligations. I get that there are fewer risks associated with vasectomies. But what I also get is that if I’d been allowed to make my own choice about my own body, the situation would have been taken care of long before I’d ever met him.

Let alone that a vasectomy on my husband’s part would only protect me from his business. In a world where women are disproportionately victimized by men and society is happy to look the other way and saddle women with the consequences of their attackers’ actions, having my husband cut simply wasn’t good enough for me.

 The Consultation

Fast forward some more. We’d moved out of Pennsylvania, spent some time in Connecticut (where, in fairness, I might have had an easier time getting a tubal ligation but my husband was still trying to convince me that snipping him was the better idea), and then moved on to Washington.

We’d been in the greater Seattle area for just over a year when it occurred to me that my last gynecological exam had happened back east. So, I looked at our health insurance plan, found an in-network doctor and facility, and made my yearly appointment.

The physician’s assistant and I started going over the standard new patient questions. I confirmed that condoms were my method of birth control because I hated the pill and wasn’t thrilled with the idea of an IUD. She asked if I was happy with my current method of contraception. No, I was not happy. I told her that I’d been wanting to get my tubes tied for a while but had been turned away twice, the last time on the grounds that I apparently hadn’t met a man to tell me what I was allowed to do with my body yet. The PA was offended on my behalf. She said I wouldn’t face those kinds of problems here and gave me the name of the doctor she recommended for the consultation and surgery. Due to the nature of our health insurance policy, I decided it would be best to schedule my consultation after the new year.

I still feared being told I would need my husband to sign off on my decision, so I brought him to the consultation with me. He wanted to be there anyway ‘cause he’s a good dude like that, but when I told my doctor about my previous experiences and my particular reason for having him there, her disgust was clear. She told me how she hadn’t even believed that my story up to this point really happened to people, that stories of young women being turned away for being single and childless were nothing more than sensationalized urban legends, but now here I was: her fourth patient to tell her the same story.

We started going over my options. We talked about non-incision (hysteroscopic) methods like Essure, but since I wanted my procedure to be immediately effective and I don’t generally fear surgery, we focused on laparoscopic (surgical) methods. Clamped or clipped, severed and cauterized, or removed altogether? All options were highly effective (98%+) in preventing pregnancy*, and if I understood my doctor correctly, all would reduce my risk of ovarian cancer; however, bilateral salpingectomy stood out for its higher level of risk reduction. It’s not like I was using my fallopian tubes anyway. They were pretty much just sitting there being beacons for cancer. “Pull ‘em out,” I said.

The 30-day Waiting Period

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. If it had been, I’d have lain back and let her take them that afternoon. Since sterilization is a procedure with a high regret risk attached, I had to sign a form that said I understood that my procedure was permanent and that reversal procedures were often ineffective. The paperwork also needed to prove that I’d been given at least 30 days to consider my decision; so, once signed, I actually had to wait the 30 days. By my calculations, I’d been waiting for something between 16 and 18 years, so what was one more month but time to consider the inevitable blog post?

I stopped being flippant about that month the very next day. I was on the phone with one of the ladies from the billing department at my doctor’s office trying to find out about medical codes and oh-so-fun health insurance stuff. She asked what I was having done and somewhere in my response the words, “rip that garbage out,” rolled off my tongue.

I’m a writer. I understand the power of words and I had just used the word “garbage” to refer to working parts of my healthy, functioning reproductive system—the system that creates life. The implications smacked me in the face.

The next thing to roll off my tongue was an apology to the woman on the other end of the phone. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t say that. Just because I’m not using my fallopian tubes doesn’t mean they’re garbage.” She was gracious, but we were both clearly jolted by my contempt for my working system.

So, of course, I had to address that contempt. It wasn’t hard to figure out where it was coming from. It came directly from years of being denied my preferred choice in managing my reproductive system. A little contempt was understandable, justifiable even. What I needed to figure out was whether I was letting it cloud my current decision. Was getting my tubes tied more about finally getting my way and proving someone else wrong than really wanting to have it done?

I ended up spending the next 30 days as the good folks of the establishment hoped I would. I asked myself every question about my motivations from personal to political and back again, and it turned out that only one question mattered:

Do I believe that there will ever come a time in my life when finding out I’m pregnant would be anything short of personally devastating?

No.

My decision was clear.

 The Procedure and Recovery

My surgery was scheduled for the afternoon of Friday, March 10, 2017.

The intake process went just slowly enough that I was happy I’d brought a book, but quickly enough that I didn’t make much progress. Multiple times I was asked to confirm which procedure I was having and whether I was leaving the hospital that afternoon. I knew from previous surgical procedures that all the repeated questions were safety precautions, checks to make sure everyone was on the same page, but they’d always made me nervous.

I asked for sedatives. I got them. I got sleepy.

And then I was waking up.

People were smiling. I was told that I’d been trying to make jokes. It’s the “trying” that concerns me. My humor is questionable when I’m wide awake; there’s no telling what I think is funny when I’m half out of it, but people were smiling so I’ll take that as a good sign.

One of the doctors asked me if I was feeling any pain. I said that I had some cramps and he pushed a magical little button and the pain went away almost immediately. I must make it clear, though, that the cramping wasn’t bad in the first place. The day after the surgery, a friend asked me if the procedure hurt or if I was in any current pain and I replied honestly that at no point did I suffer worse than I do with second or third day menstrual cramps. All women are different, and I don’t know if my statement is one of how bad my monthly cramps are or of how painless the procedure was, but there you have it.

I was left with one tiny little incision in my belly button, and an even smaller one a few inches below.

While the doctors and nurses were all great (really, they’re angels in my eyes for finally doing this for me), I was especially touched by the nurse who took my hand and told me that she, too, had made the decision not to have kids and that she never regretted it a day in her life. It was like this special moment of solidarity, validating that our choices belong to us and we’re not any less women for making them. We can still be goddesses without being mothers.

I was told not to do any intense workouts or heavy lifting for a week after the surgery and not to have sex until cleared for it in the post op appointment (about two and half weeks after surgery), and that was it. I left the hospital with a weight lifted off my shoulders and a pocket full of pain prescriptions.

It was going to be a good weekend.

I returned to work on Monday.

Was it worth it?

At the time of this writing, I’m only a few days removed from the surgery. Gauze pads have given way to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Band-Aids. I’m not in any pain, even without pain meds, and I’ve got the tell-tale itching of wounds beginning to heal. Little in my life has changed. I’m still child free by choice, only now I don’t really have to think about it. Once I am cleared for sexual activity and I get over shuddering at the thought of unprotected sex (yes, even in my monogamous marriage), I predict that I will enjoy a lot more spontaneity and passion in my sex life now that the once ever-present fear of pregnancy has been removed. The truth is, I have never felt this free in my life and my only regret is not having this done years ago.

But like I said, I wasn’t allowed to make that choice then.

 

*Tubal ligation does not protect against STDs.

On the Importance of Strong Female Characters

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From the Women’s March; Seattle, WA; January 21, 2017

I was fortunate enough to attend the Women’s March on Seattle, a sister to the Women’s March on Washington DC. Before I lose you, I have no intention of talking politics in this post. What I am going to talk about is something I can’t believe is still controversial: the importance of strong female characters in fiction.

As I marched with 175,000 other humans (the estimate at the time of this writing), I noticed countless signs referencing some of my favorite female badasses from fiction. I took in multiple nods to space rebels, vampire slayers, and warrior princesses and knew—without a doubt—that every last person who argues that female heroes aren’t interesting or “won’t sell” is absolutely full of shit. I saw little girls in Wonder Woman costumes and Princess/General Leia t-shirts (I was wearing a General Leia shirt myself), and knew—without a doubt—that the strong female characters we see on screen and read about in books really do have an impact on us and how we view ourselves, each other, and our roles in the world around us.

What would General Leia do?

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These three signs caught my attention, but you couldn’t swing a pink pussy hat without hitting a Leia Organa reference. Considering that Carrie Fisher was a badass in real life, this is not surprising. If the dead really do get to hang around and see what the living are up to, I’d like to think that she got a giggle from the “Carrie Fisher sent us” sign.

I’d like to think that she’d be proud to be our rebel leader.

Are you ready to be strong?

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Fans of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer not only know where the words on this sign come from, but many of us can recite the entire speech—if we can get through it without crying, that is. Submitted for your misty-eyed pleasure:

For people like me who rarely view embedded videos in an article, here are the highlights:

They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power…From now on every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

-Buffy Summers

A whole damn lot of us made our choice and are ready to be strong.

And then there’s this:

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The picture says it all.

Xena will always have a special place in my heart. It was a Xena poster I hung on my wall to remind me not to take any shit, particularly from real-life Joxers.

I’ll never forget the time I told a guy that I was a big Xena: Warrior Princess fan and he responded, “You know Xena and Gabrielle are lesbian icons, right?” Well, I hadn’t actually known (naïve me, I guess), but the only troubling thing about finding out was this guy’s tone and his obvious suggestion that there was something shameful about being a lesbian icon. Fuck that noise.

So here’s the thing…

The articles reminding us that one march isn’t enough are already flooding my feeds—as well they should. Marching is great, but there is more work to be done. There are the things we can all do as citizens; then there are the things we can do that are more personal.

I’ve always known that the presence of strong female characters in fiction is important, but this march solidified for me what a great female character can inspire in real life women. As a result, my dedication to writing these characters has been renewed. I intend to contribute as many badass women to the fiction world as I can because…well…I can. And of course, I don’t want to do it in some pandering political way—obvious and boring as hell to read—but in a way that’s honest. A way that inspires.

I suppose I can call it my duty. I prefer to call it my privilege.