“I wouldn’t recommend making such an impactful decision at this age and I won’t be the doctor to refer you on for this. I’m sorry.” My doctor’s words echoed around the room and I gave him a sly roll of my eyes.
He gave me a recommendation for a counsellor and told me that I’d have to continue using barrier birth control if I wanted to avoid pregnancy — though due to a hormonal imbalance it was very unlikely I’d ever fall pregnant without assistance anyway.
He simply refused to carry out any type of sterilisation procedure on someone so young and healthy.
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I was 23 at the time and in a stable relationship. My boyfriend and I had spoken in length about one day having a family and we’d both decided we didn’t want children. After years of infertility and irregular cycles I’d come to the conclusion that I was the one who would happily go under the knife, so pregnancy was not something I would ever have to think about again.
I had a feeling before going in for my appointment that day that this is exactly what the doctor’s response would be, based on the tens of articles I’d read by other women my age around the world asking their doctors for the same procedure.
I debated with my doctor in the exam room for quite some time after he’d attempted to console me but he refused to budge. It seemed to become more about his feelings than my choice, he didn’t want to be responsible if I changed my mind, it was his job to ensure I knew all of my options, he felt uncomfortable with it. I felt then as though I was an untrustworthy child being lectured because I was incapable or not yet intelligent enough to make decisions on my own.
The nouveau feminist in me wanted to school my young, male physician about reproductive rights and how he was a ‘mansplainer’ but looking back I’m glad I didn’t. It hurts only my pride these days to say that he was right in his justification to decline my referral request because I did, in fact, change my mind.
It wasn’t just my doctor who was right either. When I had discussed my intentions to have a hysterectomy or tubal ligation with close friends and family not one of them conceded that they thought it was a good idea. It frustrated me to no end when they would ask about the implications if I did change my mind one day, when they would tell their own stories of waking up suddenly in their early thirties and having an urgency to procreate or when they’d spill on and on about the joys of motherhood and how they couldn’t imagine how sad it would be for someone to miss out on that experience. Sure it frustrated me then, but 3 years later I can finally see what they meant.
Since getting out of the relationship I was in when I had asked for the sterilisation I’ve met someone new. When we first started dating I was vocal about not ever wanting children — knowing that this could be a long term deal breaker for many people. He understood and explained that he wasn’t too concerned about having kids as they weren’t a super important thing for him, though he wasn’t opposed to them in the future. He was, however, adamant (as a divorcee himself) that he didn’t ever want to get married again. It seemed like a perfect fit really, because neither did I!
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We joked for a while about how we could model our lives on Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, how we’d just be in love for decades without marriage or kids, always having the freedom and money to travel and live uninhibited unlike our poor, child-encumbered friends. This was brought to an immediate halt when we realised that our pretty casual fling was turning in to a full-blown, his and hers towels relationship.
I remember the exact moment that everything changed. I was mentally reneging on my agreement with my boyfriend to never want marriage and I had put off bringing it up with him for as long as I could (in crippling fear that he would want to leave and I’d be ruining a good thing).
I told him one night how much I loved him and how I might, sort of, probably, maybe want to be someone’s wife in the future. He didn’t freak out at all and in fact agreed he’d likely want to marry me one day as well. He was smiling as the next words came out of his mouth but I realise now in hindsight it was likely out of the same crippling fear and nervousness I had felt one minute earlier. “I’ll marry you, but will you have our babies?”. Little did I know that at the exact time I was telling him that I would, in fact, one day start a family with him that I was already in the very early stages of pregnancy.
Sadly I miscarried a couple of weeks later but for the short time that we had the very real possibility of becoming parents it really cemented that my life would now be heading off on a new trajectory; I absolutely did not want to miss out on having children.
I trust myself a little less these days and I trust the opinions of my doctors a little more.
I am now one of those naysayers who tell women to wait, if they can, when it’s not medically necessary to undergo sterilisation procedures at a young age. It's not because I think that women are unable to make informed, independent choices about their own bodies, but rather that so many women (and men) I know have simply changed their minds.
Life doesn’t always go the way we planned and had I gone ahead with my sterilisation I would now be faced with so many more expensive medical procedures to try and reverse it.
Sterilisation is not as simple as a dodgy tattoo that you can just laser off in a decade and I believe doctors should absolutely reserve the right to refuse to be part of such a life changing process. At least I sure am thankful that mine did.