This year I’ve given more thought to the subject of contraception than I have in the last decade of my life. After twelve years of taking the oral contraceptive pill, I chose to have an IUD fitted in an effort to control my chronic migraines. When my uterus rejected my IUD, I had to think carefully about what kind of contraceptive I would try next. Although there are a multitude of contraceptive options available, my choices were severely limited.
The contraceptive pill was out, because although I knew it worked well for me, it definitely made my migraines more frequent. There are a number of hormonal birth control methods, such as the Nuva Ring and The Patch which were also not appropriate for me because of my migraines. I looked into the Depo-Provera injection but I didn’t want to have to have a shot every three months. I wasn’t keen to try another IUD and I wasn’t impressed with the failure rates of methods such as the diaphragm and cervical cap. In the end I settled on an Implanon implant, because it was one of the few options available to me that was highly effective.
The effectiveness of each method was one of the most important factors to me when considering which kind of birth control to choose. The reason for this is that I don’t want to have kids. Not just now, but ever. During all this research and weighing of options, one other birth control method was on my mind- tubal ligation. I thought long and hard about getting my tubes tied, and made the choice that if the Implanon didn’t work for me, then my next step would be pursing voluntary sterilisation.
It’s really important for me to stop a moment and highlight just how much thought I gave to this choice. This isn’t a snap decision I made on a whim. I have known for a very long time that I don’t ever want to have children. It’s a path I’m positive that I don’t want to walk. For me, it’s not so much the fatigue from trying so many different contraceptive methods, but rather the fact that it seems futile to temporarily alter my fertility when I know for sure that I never want to become pregnant. I don’t want to have children, and I would feel relieved if my body were no longer able to accidentally surprise me with one.
When I was rolling the idea of sterilisation around in my mind, I spoke to several friends about it. Every one of them, at some point in our discussion said the exact same seven words…..”But, what if you change your mind?”
This gave me pause. Each time I heard those seven words I felt frustrated, upset and invalidated. I felt like nobody was hearing me. That nobody understood the fact that I’ve made up my mind, that I definitely 100% do not want kids. That they were all viewing me as some cold-hearted bitch whose biological clock was ticking like a time bomb, just waiting to blow my decision to remain childless to smithereens.
It occurred to me that when a person states that they want to have a surgical procedure to prevent them from having children, it is generally believed that they are making a mistake and that they will inevitably change their mind. Conversely, when a person announces that they are planning on undergoing artificial insemination or IVF or another fertility treatment, nobody ever says “But what if you change your mind? What if you don’t really want a baby? What if you regret it?”. And the reason for that is fairly simple.
Women are supposed to want to have babies. That’s meant to be like an in-built factory setting. Procreating is meant to be so deeply ingrained in our DNA that those who don’t want to breed are seen as strange, or wrong, or simply late-blooming. Surely at some stage, that innate feminine urge to bear a child will overtake every woman. Having a child is seen to be the right choice. And if that’s not the choice you’ve made, then it’s expected that eventually you’ll realise your mistake and change your mind. Nobody questions the decision to have a child, because our culture says that having children is what you’re meant to do. It’s the right choice, and deciding to remain childless is not.
One person said to me, “Imagine how horrible it would be if you decided that you wanted to have a baby, but you couldn’t because you’d had your tubes tied”. I explained to them that this imaginary scenario didn’t worry me, because I am positive that it is only a remote possibility. That I worry far more about the possibility of finding myself accidentally pregnant. And they then said to me “But if you did get pregnant, once you got over the shock, you’d be excited about it”. Again rears up the belief that pregnancy is so innately coveted that even if we think we don’t want it, if it happens we will be elated. I couldn’t find the words to tell this person that finding myself pregnant by accident would be traumatic. In this imaginary scenario, I feel as though my body has been hijacked, that I’m being driven by a spawn intent on pulling my world apart and destroying everything I want for myself. I imagine being lost in the gaping maw of motherhood, pulled into a vortex that sucks me into a dimension I want no part of. It feels wrong to express this kind of dramatic aversion to motherhood, because being a mother is supposed to be the right choice. It’s meant to be what I want. But I don’t. In every corner of my being, I know it’s not what I want.
It’s also really important to note that there are plenty of women out there who have chosen to remain childless who have not regretted their decision. So I don’t believe that having a baby is the right choice for everyone, nor do I buy into the idea of this mythical biological clock that is going to change my thinking. And although our culture’s underlying ideal of motherhood is damaging in some ways, there is something that I find more upsetting. And that’s the fact that when I wanted to talk about the idea of sterilisation, none of the people I talked to were willing to just accept my choice to remain childless. Not one of them could respect the fact that I know my own mind and each one had to undermine my autonomy with those seven little words. I know that none of these people meant to show disrespect or to upset me, but it’s hard not to feel judged when your decisions are being questioned and undermined.
These past few weeks have brought up a lot of fear and anxiety that I hadn’t felt in a while. I’ve had to confront a lot of shame and feeling like I’m broken because I don’t want the thing that all women are supposed to crave. That the ‘right choice” of having a child feels deeply wrong to me. And feeling judged by people around me for not pursing the path of motherhood. But ultimately I’ve had to put on my big girl trousers and realise that I have to make these choices for me. I can’t live my life a certain way just because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do. I have to do what’s right for me, because I’m the one who knows what’s best for my life. And having a child isn’t the right choice for me.