Girl Talk: I Had My Tubes Tied

When a study released in late June revealed that one in five women would remain childfree into the next generation, a lot of people were shocked. I wasn’t. In an ironic twist of fate, I had my tubes tied the same weekend.

I don’t have universal disdain for children or parents, and I don’t hang out with people who do. What seems like their own insecurity with their choice is not only uncomfortable to witness; it gives all childfree folks a bad name.

I’ve never wanted to have children. I don’t seem to have a biological clock or a built-in maternal instinct — and I’m not looking to acquire one. I have almost no pain tolerance, and I’m not a terribly patient person. If I wanted to take the offensive intellectual route, I could also offer up statistics about the environmental destruction wreaked by overpopulation. As a little girl, my parents’ friends would tell me about how their children were the most blessed part of their life, and I’d roll my eyes, wondering why they didn’t have more interesting things to say. In their circle of friends, I most admired a childfree couple named Lisa and Bill, who had countless cats, time for all sorts of far-flung travel excursions that included hiking and marathon running, and always seemed financially comfortable, if not terribly wealthy. Between my own lengthy list of aversions to childbearing and adult models who showed me that not having children could be an acceptable alternative, I decided pretty early on that kids were not for me.

Over the years, when I professed that I didn’t want children of my own, I found that people automatically assumed I had a messed-up childhood or terrible parents — or some far more pathological defect. In nearly every situation I can remember, starting at an inappropriately young age, whenever the topic of compulsory motherhood came up and I was forced to explain that I would be opting out, people treated me with paternalistic condescension, claiming I would change my mind and that I didn’t know any better yet. But while I was battling stereotypes on one front, I was also facing them on another, meeting mean-spirited childfree people who also didn’t represent a future I wanted. One college relationship ended because my then-boyfriend referred to women who have children as “dimpled dolly breeders,” revealing not only his contempt for children but his misogynist attitudes towards mothers.

A few years later, another childfree acquaintance was quickly crossed off the potential friends list when she started using language like “crotch dropping pram pimps” in mixed company, unafraid to offend anyone. The thing is, while

I don’t have universal disdain for children or parents, and I don’t hang out with people who do. What seems like their own insecurity with their choice is not only uncomfortable to witness; it gives all childfree folks a bad name.

When I met my (now) husband, I waited a grand total of three days before blurting out how strongly I felt about not having kids. In the middle of an art installation, where one too many energized tykes had been let loose to scream and run while the rest of us tried to enjoy the artistic spectacle, I suddenly tore into a rant about our culture’s obsession with parenthood. Only after I’d gone on for about 10 minutes did I realize what I’d done. I became slightly hysterical, horrified that I might have just ended a promising relationship on the spot. As tears streamed down my face, my guy looked at me and held my hands. “I’ve never heard anyone speak about it with such conviction,” he said. We got married a year later, and there was never a question about whether we’d have kids. The only questions related to prevention.

Many people wondered why, at 27, I was so eager to seal the deal. Thing is, I’ve longed to toss out my birth control pills, which are closely associated with the debilitating menstrual migraines I survive every month. It costs a lot — physically and financially — for me to stay baby-free. My partner, who had a surgery scare at the tender age of 10, wasn’t excited at the prospect of an elective vasectomy. Since I’m the one who both physically suffers if I accidentally become pregnant and am most committed to remaining childfree, it made sense for us that I would be the purposefully sterile one.

The difference between me and most women who have tubal ligations is striking: I’m under 30 and I have no children. Comparatively speaking, most women in the United States who have their tubes tied choose to do so after popping out a few kids and are usually nearing or over 40. That said, it’s tough to find statistics about how many young, childfree women have their tubes tied because finding a doctor to perform the surgery without ever giving birth is a task so laborious it fills childfree online forums with horror stories that occasionally leak to the mainstream as well. Because the paternalistic American medical system simply won’t acknowledge this particular aspect of a woman’s so-called right to choose — the choice to opt out entirely — it’s therefore equally hard to determine how your procedure might compare to that of others, and if your recovery process is predictable in any way.

It probably surprises almost no one reading this that I had my surgery abroad, in my European husband’s home country. I was extraordinarily lucky; no one ever tried to talk me out of my decision — not my gynecologist, not my anesthesiologist, not my surgeon (all women) — and though I was asked repeatedly if I was committed to my choice, including in the operating room as a last chance to back out (perhaps necessary to catch the rare cases in which men pressure their wives or girlfriends to undergo the irreversible procedure), I was supported throughout the state-funded process. I didn’t pay a dime, and I was never lectured, chastised, or otherwise demeaned for choosing the best option for me.

My laparoscopic tubal ligation leaves little trace, only a small scar right above my pubic hair that was held together by two small stitches with a third in my navel where the camera was inserted. My fallopian tubes are now sealed with two small clamps that will remain there until I die. The procedure took less than two hours, and after being under general anesthesia, I woke up to a nice young gal named Kirsten talking to me about how to breathe. The initial pain was intense, but after a series of Lamaze-like breathing exercises, I was able to move myself without inducing a stabbing sensation in my abdomen. I marveled at the irony that the same techniques used to reduce labor pains helped me recover from what was essentially the opposite.

Minor side effects were inconvenient but not intolerable and slowed me down only briefly. I survived aching shoulders, a secondary effect from the carbon dioxide gas they use during the procedure to inflate my belly for better vision and access to my fallopian tubes. Because I was menstruating at the time of surgery, it was a bit tricky to determine if my abdominal cramps were related to surgery or my cycle. No matter, it all passed within two weeks.

People have voiced nosy questions about my fertility for years, asking about my own plans to procreate in a way where shrugging off their inquiries became impossible, if terribly uncomfortable for everyone. Seeking to avoid those inevitably awkward conversations, for the past few years, I’ve been answering that I can’t have children. It’s such an enormous relief that now it’s finally the truth.

Photo: iStockphoto