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DECEMBER 16, 2010 12:27AM

Another tubal ligation

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There have been a few OS posts recently about the difficulties women have getting tubal ligation.  I’m astonished that women still have that problem almost 40 years after I did, that our society has made so little progress accepting that women can and should make their own decisions about their own bodies.

I was 23 when I had my second child in 1972.  I had dropped out of college after my first year to get married and facilitate my husband’s draft evasion.  My plan was to have two children and return to college when both were in school all day and their father had finished graduate school.  He wanted to wait to have a second kid until he finished school but, as much as I loved raising my daughter, I knew I didn’t want to do it full-time for long.  When I had to have my IUD removed I insisted that it was time for kid 2.  #2 was born 2 years and 9 months after #1. 

 Having done some research, I raised the question of tubal ligation with my obstetrician.  He held to the perfect philosophy, “It’s your body, I’m just here to help,” and said he would be glad to perform the procedure on the delivery table but he would have to request permission from the hospital.  His experience led him to believe that we would not get permission; he had never known them to allow it for such a young woman with just two children.  They followed a formula that would have allowed a tubal in a 23 year old only if she had an impossible number of children.

 My husband refused to have a vasectomy and discouraged me from the tubal though he didn't object to it.  His only reasoning was that we might want more children some day.  I knew I didn’t.  I talked it through with friends and family, none of whom thought sterilization was a particularly good idea.  If my children both died, if my husband died or we divorced and I married someone who wanted his own kids, these were the possibilities people proposed that would make me want to have more children.  I didn’t think my children were replaceable and any man who imposed children as a test of any kind would not be someone I wanted to marry.  Period.  No doubt.  That’s it.

 With all that discouragement and the necessity of what promised to be a bureaucratic trial with the hospital, I decided I would give everyone else the benefit of the doubt, to acknowledge that I could be wrong and to postpone the procedure.  I absolutely, positively, without question, promised myself a tubal ligation for my 30th birthday.

 I turned 30 in June of 1979.  I had finished a year of college.  As my birthday approached I was taking final exams, mothering two little girls who were already too active in first and third grades, the husband had been traveling around the country on job interviews. 

 Behind schedule, I had made an early July appointment with my HMO to discuss the tubal ligation and determine how to go about having it done.  One day while beginning to organize the packing for our move I felt nauseated and realized that I had been having occasional bouts of mild nausea all week.  I remember plopping on the sofa, almost falling, as it struck me, “I’m pregnant.”

 I was devastated.  That year in college had been the best year of my life, transformative.  I got an A in Calculus.  I studied Russian language though it required me to accept Bs and Cs because, with two kids and virtually no help from their father, I couldn’t give it the amount of study time better grades required.  Even in 1979 I had no model for working motherhood.  I still am uncomfortable with the idea of leaving a small baby and felt some serious pangs when my daughter returned to work when her daughter was three months old.  For a time the only alternatives I could see for myself were abortion and suicide.

 When I tried to talk with the husband about what I could do he only would say blandly, “I’ll support whatever you decide.”  From the vantage point of time I now respond, “Oh bullSHIT.”  I sank deeper into depression and helplessness.

Eventually the thought occurred to me, “This will be another five years postponing school for me, it will be the whole lifetime of this baby,” and I decided to have the baby.

He was born on March 19, 1980, exactly nine months after my 30th birthday.  I had my tubes tied on the delivery table.  No one argued about it.

For a variety of reasons I never completed college.  The marriage went downhill at a steep angle and great speed after that but I remained helpless and depressed and we didn’t separate for ten years, divorcing two years after that.

 I still adore #3.  Everyone does.

And it's not unfair to say his birth did serious damage to my life from which I will never recover.  I would never say it to him because I don't blame him, it was my own doing, and he should never, not for a single second, have a bad feeling about it or feel in any way responsible.  

One time when he was in high school he presented me with the time honored adolescent lament, "I didn't ask to be born."  I gave him the 30 second version of this story and he never said it again.  (I followed my little tirade with assurances that I know full well that all the responsibility is mine, none his, that I love him as much as I possibly can and have never regretted him for the tiniest moment.  "Just don't give me that 'I didn't ask to be born' crap because you almost weren't.")

It seems like I should now produce some analysis of my story that might be valuable to others or give some insight to its relationship to the wider society but I don't have anything profound.  Just this: if they had just respected me enough to let me make my own choice back in 1972 I would have had a much better life.  

I have to say, that doesn't reflect on my love for my son.  It's circumstances that messed up my life, it's me and it's his father, it's not him. But he cannot substitute for what I gave up. 

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Complicated story... It's really sad how doctors can interfere with your right to make your own decisions. I think after already having two children, there shouldn't have been a question about your ability to decide about your (reproductive) future. And besides, I think it's amazing you actually went to college with two little girls and an absent husband - AND managed to get B's in Russian! That's really impressive.
This makes me so mad. who are they to allow or not allow you to be in charge of your own body. They're probably the same doctors who allowed me to labor for 29 hours while my daughter sat cross legged with one arm over head causing oxygen shortage, and thereby having disabilities. An what's with the husband not getting a vasectomy? Wow I'm on a roll tonight. Can you tell the insomnia is back..ha! -R-
This is a thought provoking account of an experience too many women have had and continue to have. I think you are amazing for accomplishing so much. A well-deserved EP.
From a man's point of view on this, I think my first wife Gracie taught me something about the difficulties making this decision. Before we got married we talked about having children and each others opinion on this. We were well in our 30's, both making good money and secure jobs. She said she had decided if and when the time came for her to bear children she only wanted 2 no more. I on the other hand took the approach that I would not have a vasectomy ever but would like children also. This is where the male brain functions on the what ifs. What if I get divorced, or my spouse dies, re-marry and so on. But her decision to have only 2 children in her life was hers not mine, not anybody else. We had 2 beautiful daughters she had her tubes tied. We did divorce after 18 yrs and both have remarried. My wife now had 1 child as a teenager and her husband left her to fend for herself. SHE made the decision at 25 to have her tubes tied. She married me when she was 40. With the possibilities that present themselves to each of us in life it ultimately the woman's own decision in my opinion. Very good post nice to here from you. My best....o/e R******
I want to emphasize that the obstacles didn't come from my ob/gyn but from the hospital. The doc taught me a lot about sticking up for myself - the first one who ever had.

S.ophie - did I mention the A in Calculus? :) The girls went from the year before complaining that I was the only mom who didn't work or go to school (times changed so fast in the late 70's) to complaining that all I did was study.
Christine, at some point writing this I realized the exhole also didn't use a condom once in 23 years of marriage and I could only think, wtf was my problem?

I can't imagine your kind of birth experience but am so sorry for it. I can only feel horrible and angry for you.
Antoinette, thanks so much for your kind words, especially at a time when my focus is on what I haven't accomplished in the long run!

EP? Seriously? Yikes.
Thanks, Bonnie. It is amazing how everyone who knows him thinks so highly of him and he brought us more Joy in the form of his amazing wife.
O/E - you remind me that I got married way, way too young - at 19. I did finally get the sense to tell the ex he was welcome to have as many more children as he was willing to carry, birth and raise.
Incredible post. How honest. I begged my doc to give me a tubal ligation as soon as I'd given birth to baby #2. I was 29. He "wasn't comfortable" with doing the procedure. Luckily my spouse took one for the team. He only whined a little after his vascectomy.
Wow! Made me think about a whole lot of stuff.... Thanks! E
This is so complex and complicated. Through all these stories, I am happy that everyone is glad they had the children they did. But I'm also horrified by the fact that others can make such important choices for us. Thanks for sharing your experience. R.
I had a tubal after my second child, but had to get all sorts of special forms and yadda yadda because my work health plan used a Catholic hospital system. I'm not Catholic, my work was not in any way religious, but the my health plan was (Grr). They did it because I wanted it immediately after a scheduled C-section, and it was more expensive to do it later at a non-Catholic hospital. So money, not the Pope, won. It still annoys me that I had to do all that crap as a non-Catholic.
Rei, you had a good spouse, then! Another ridiculous thing - that it's so much more readily done for men than for women.

E, thanks for stopping by.

Alyssa, humans are crazy in so many ways! You might be surprised at how much I edited out!
Froggy, money always trumps the Pope! Money trumps everything. My sister-in-law, after 2 pregnancies and 3 kids that were supposed to be impossible, for a total of 5 kids, had to get written permission from her husband for a tubal at a Catholic hospital in the depths of Michelle Bachman's district.
There are other forms of birth control.
maryway, I think we're all aware of that but this is about tubal ligation.
My story is your story only 10 years earlier. At that time my husband had to sign a form giving his 'permission' me to have a tubal. This still knocks my socks off!
jfernrn, at that time you'd have to have a man (of some sort) sign if you wanted to buy a house! Even if you made more money. Who said nothing ever changes?
I looked into it after we decided that pregnancy just wasn't in the cards for me. I got the same BS " Not until you're 30 or have two kids"

Hubs got fixed. I don't get it at all. Men can get snipped at 18 and no issues, but why do women have to wait? That's just telling women they cannot be trusted to make their own choices about their own body!

When a story that evokes as much thought as this one does gets picked for an EP, then that is a good day for any and all. Way to go NC!
You've tapped into the complicated emotions that a lot of us have felt about motherhood, and expressed your feelings honestly and succinctly. I'm happy that the OS Editors have highlighted your story (and that of Jowita a couple of days ago). Motherhood is rarely as straightforward and as without conflict, and yet the overwhelming narratives are either complete happiness (with some half-hearted doubts thrown in to make the writer seem rounded), complete sadness (those who are trying to conceive but cannot) or complete rejection (women who steadfastly reject motherhood and feel they have to defend their choices). Rarely do we stories that delve into the intersection where regret meets contentment. Well done.
Lady Miko, it started to seem like a so much bigger thing when I realized it still goes on! It's crazy, it's so wrong.

Chicago, thank you so much.

Bellweather, thanks for your wise and unique perspective.

I called #3 my "Not without me you don't" kid because it seemed almost mystical for him to have been conceived just in the nick of time and to be born exactly 9 months after I was supposed to have ended all chance of him but also because he was just that kind of a kid - meant to be. Even as an infant he showed composure and wit.
Raises so many unanswerable questions, just as a good essay should. Sometimes, when I look at children that almost didn't become children, I think of how much better the world is because they came into it. Certainly, a woman's body belongs to herself and I'm glad times have changed. People like you helped change them.
a very complicated story and well-written. sorry for all that you went through. I'm not trying to pile on, just wondering why other forms of birth control that didn't include sterilization were not available to you? The story makes it seem a bit all or nothing, and I suspect it's a more enlightening history than that.
The story was intended to be about the tubal, not my whole bc history. On that, obviously there were other forms available and used, some I couldn't use, what I did wasn't fail-safe, neither was I. It was, though, 100% one-sided and you could not possibly pile on me any more than I have myself for letting that be. Too late now.

Thanks for reading and commenting and dammit, why did you never finish your 2009 cleaning story?
Two things: 1) My grandmother got her college degree (she was the only one of my grandparents to have one) in the twenties and then worked as a social worker, only to be forced to give up her job when she married my Grandpa. She didn't actually enjoy social work, but it was the only job a woman could have in the thirties. When she married Grandpa she became a farmer's wife. She and Grandpa did have a wonderful relationship, but I think she was always sorry she couldn't have her own career. They were poor.

By the way, you wrote on my blog about Dickens. You ask about his best work. My favorite is Little Dorrit. His favorite (my second favorite) was David Copperfield.