ZINE: Ask me about my tubal ligation (part 2 of 6)

(posted by Sarah Lawrance)

[This is the 2nd of 6 posts where I share the content of my recent zine, “Ask me about my tubal ligation”, published by EXILE Press in February 2010. To read the 1st post, click here. To order a copy, feel free to visit exilebooks.org, microcosmpublishing.com, or akpress.org (coming soon). Thanks for your interest  :) ]

Part 1: Growing Up a Girl

Little women

I’ve known for a long time that I don’t want kids, but I didn’t always know that it was a real option. Having kids is just “what girls do.” We’re supposed to have babies, and when we’re not having babies we’re dreaming about having babies.

Like most other girls, when I was young I would think up names for my future kids, imagine what they might look like, or think about how I would dress them up or raise them. Ultimately, I don’t attribute much importance to these daydreams because they occurred on the same level as my desire for a pet monkey—I thought up names for it, too, and imagined dressing it up, etc. The idea was fun and exciting at the time, but ultimately I grew up and realized I had no time, patience, or even a real desire for a pet monkey—or for a baby. I liked the idea of holding it, playing with it, of being the one thing it loves more than anything else in the world. I think we all desire that kind of recognition, on some level. These are not good enough reasons to have children. Pets maybe, but not children. The daydream and the reality are two very different things.

I would love to play with someone else’s, and maybe monkey-sit or baby-sit for a few hours or for a day, but the full-time responsibility of actually caring for it and being responsible for it and having to organize my life around it is an entirely different reality. I don’t have the desire or the resources to devote myself to a dependent, living creature like that on a full-time basis when there are so many problems in this world that need to be fixed, and so many new, amazing projects to be imagined and organized. I don’t think I can successfully be both an activist and a parent.

Growing up, though, it was never a question of if I would have any, but when and how many; I was a girl and therefore I would eventually have babies. Period. That’s how girls are raised. Everyone keeps telling us that things will change “when you get pregnant” and “when you have kids of your own.” Supposedly, when the “maternal instinct” kicks in, I will develop the desire and the patience. The assumption is always that I will eventually have my own babies. An example that I can clearly remember because I’ve been hearing it for nearly 10 years is, “What will you tell your kids when they want tattoos, coloured hair, and/or body piercings?” I’ve even been told to avoid getting tattoos on particular parts of my body because I would regret it when I got pregnant. We’re expected to live our lives around the certain eventualities of pregnancy and childrearing.

This expectation was so deeply ingrained in me that when I first began to realize I didn’t like kids and certainly didn’t want to have any, I actually felt bad about it and thought there was something wrong with me. I thought that I must be a bad person for not wanting children—not just not now, but not ever. Everyone I mentioned this to also thought it was strange or dismissed it and figured it was “just a phase”.

My mother had three accidental children, and I often worried that I would inevitably, reluctantly, follow suit. The mostly fictional abortion horror stories I grew up with, paired with the heavy stigma attached to abortion, were enough to make termination an unappealing option. My adolescent reasoning, influenced by my Catholic high school’s approach to sex education, led me to believe that I would inevitably get pregnant if I became sexually active. I was so terrified of this possibility that, rather than look into effective options for contraception, I decided to abstain from intercourse entirely (unlike most of my peers, who went ahead and had sex anyway). I arbitrarily chose “until I get married” as my first hurdle, but eventually decided I didn’t want to ever get married. That was no longer a useful milestone, so I remained abstinent without a clear idea of when I would stop.

The “good girl” complex

So by the age of 23 I had a lot of these ideas in my head, but I still had not had sexual intercourse; I was too terrified of the risks. Abstinence worked fine for me: I didn’t have to worry about pregnancy as I simply avoided sex. I was also suffering from a crippling “good girl” complex. For many years I was obsessed with being a “good girl” so I didn’t drink or smoke or even swear, and I certainly didn’t have sex. I didn’t want to be viewed in a different light by my family, friends, and the rest of the world. I wasn’t aware of the concept of “whore stigma” at the time, I just didn’t want to be seen as a person who had had sex. I felt like it would change me, and would change how others saw me. I would somehow no longer be “good”. I didn’t fear being thought of as “easy” or a “slut” because I knew those terms were very far from me; somehow, though, I thought that having intercourse even just once would change me in a bad way, so I actively avoided it.

Avoiding intercourse, however, didn’t mean avoiding various forms of “fooling around.” My Catholic high school’s brand of abstinence-only education made sex out to be a very bad and singular thing, and I grew up with a very narrow understanding of what sex was. Until recently, I thought sex referred exclusively to intercourse, and that everything else was, morally speaking, a gray area. It never occurred to me that non-intercourse activities could still be risky, in terms of pregnancy and a wide variety of STIs, and I never learned how to make them “safe”.

I projected my fear onto other people as well. I remember being in CEGEP and university and feeling embarrassed for the students who were visibly pregnant. I was unable to see anything beautiful or positive in it; all I saw was evidence of their sexuality physically embedded in their bodies, and I felt embarrassed by it. When I look back I realize that I was deeply scarred, but I can’t connect it to any single event or experience.

Freedom..?

Anyway, when I was 23 I enrolled myself in a course called Sex Rights, Sex Wrongs. To this day I do not know what motivated me to do it. This was a point in my life when I blushed upon hearing the word “sex” and could not even say the word out loud. It was right up there with all the swear words I refused to say. Somehow I wound up taking that course, and it completely changed the way I understood the world of sex and sexuality. I don’t have room to elaborate upon this here, but it helped me work past the shame that enveloped that part of my life. I spent an entire semester reading works about sex, about sex work, about sexuality, and I even spoke the word several times when proudly describing the course to people who were visibly embarrassed to hear about it! It was really strange to be on the other side for once.

After that course ended, I finally had the courage to start thinking about sex with a newly opened mind. I was less afraid of the stigma, but still afraid of the possibility of pregnancy. Several months after the course ended, not long before I turned 24, I finally became sexually active (in the intercourse sense) and realized that condoms alone were not enough to give me peace of mind.

Every birth control option seemed undesirable or impossible: I didn’t want to take hormones in pill-form that would screw with my body’s chemistry—even if they were likely to relieve my severe menstrual cramps, reduce my heavy bleeding, and increase my breast size (I take it some people consider this a “bonus” rather than a side effect?). I was almost as terrified of side effects as I was of becoming pregnant. I just didn’t want to indefinitely pollute my body with pills of any kind. I also didn’t want the stress of potentially forgetting a dose or falling off-schedule. The comfort provided by “the pill” just seemed so precarious. It didn’t seem worth it—there had to be a better option. The hormone patches and injections presented similar problems, but with worse side effects.

Most IUDs also release synthetic hormones into your body and one of their potential side effects is that they can make menstruation even more painful and unpleasant. Another side effect is that they can increase menstrual bleeding, which can cause iron-deficiency anemia (a lot of women are already iron-deficient or anemic). The potential side effects of the various hormone-related methods freaked me out. Aside from all this, the very idea of having something plastic or metallic lodged in my cervix (IUD) was really unappealing.

At this point in my life, almost every woman with whom I had had a reproductive health-related conversation reported having a history of bladder infections, yeast infections, various problems with periods, ovarian cysts, miscarriages, and more—and all of these women were taking or had previously taken some sort of hormone-related contraceptive. I was not taking any, and I had experienced none of those problems. I don’t know if there is any connection between them in these specific instances, but the possibility of a connection deepened my resolve to stay away from hormones. I just wanted a contraceptive that was safe and long-term—even permanent, if possible. I knew that doctors didn’t perform tubal ligations on people as young as I was, but I figured I’d ask anyway.

[click here to read the 3rd post]

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~ by artpoped on July 30, 2010.

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