ZINE: Ask me about my tubal ligation (part 4 of 6)

(posted by Sarah Lawrance)

[This is the 4th 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.orgmicrocosmpublishing.com, or akpress.org (coming soon). Thanks for your interest  :) ]

Part 3: Baby-Making Machines

To be very clear: I believe it is essential to inform patients of the possible risks and repercussions of all medical decisions. But to be condescending and patronizing about it is a whole other issue that smacks of sexism and paternalism—which is unacceptable.

Generally, I’ve tried to be very open about my surgery, using it as an opening to educate about reproductive freedom. Sometimes, though, people say the most ridiculous things. Here are some real things that various people, including my doctors, have said to me upon learning that I wanted and/or underwent a tubal ligation:

You’ll still need to use condoms to protect yourself from STIs. No kidding. This comment suggests that I don’t understand what I’m asking for, and it further suggests that all I’m looking for is a quick-fix for condom-free sex. That’s obviously a bonus, under the right circumstances, but it’s certainly not the primary reason.

You’re too young. So I’m old enough to ovulate, to have sex, and to produce unwanted offspring or terminate a pregnancy. I’m old enough to drink. I’m old enough to drive. I’m old enough to carry a firearm. Essentially they’re saying I’m old enough to create a life, to ruin someone’s life, and to end someone’s life, but I’m not able to permanently “opt out” of reproduction altogether? We don’t require people to obtain licenses before becoming parents—a pretty big undertaking, if you ask me—and we refuse them the right to not produce unwanted offspring. We can have children at any age, even if we don’t want them, even if we’re ill-equipped to raise and care for them, even if we’re likely to neglect them, but to refuse to have children we have to reach some arbitrary minimum age. How does no one else see the paradox here???

You don’t have any kids yet. Right, and I intend to stay that way. Having kids would defeat the entire purpose of not having kids, don’t you think? This argument suggests that it’s only legitimate to refuse children after you’ve fulfilled your womanly duty to bear a few. Even then, I have friends who’ve had unwanted children and are still being refused the surgery because of their young age.

You’ll change your mind. This claim has many variations: You’ll regret it later, Your mothering instinct just hasn’t kicked in yet, What if you meet Mr. Right?, You don’t know what you’ll want in 10 years, etc. To be clear: I don’t love kids, I’m not especially attached to my genes, and the idea of carrying a fetus and giving birth repulses me. Aside from all this, the statement suggests that women as a group are so flighty, trendy, fickle, changeable, irrational, etc, that we cannot commit to any decision. Of course I might change my mind. Everyone changes their mind sometimes. If I want children badly enough someday, I’ll adopt some or figure out another way to have them in my life. Similarly, no one questions a woman’s decision to get pregnant and bring a new human life into the world, which she now has to take care of for the rest of her life. Of course, that’s what women should want to do, right? Once it’s born, though, you then have to take care of it for a large part of the remainder of your own life. You can’t change your mind now—while I still can. In spite of this, intentionally sterilized women are questioned, challenged, and alienated, while pregnant women are mostly congratulated.

This is a really big decision; once you do this you can’t take it back. Another variation: A tubal ligation is permanent and non-reversible. I know. So is having a baby. When a pregnant woman comes in for her ultrasound, or when she’s lying on the delivery table, do you ask her, “Are you sure you want to do this?” These statements suggest that having a baby is “natural” and isn’t a big deal, but that not having babies is somehow life-changing and something I might later regret because, by virtue of being born female, I must be hardwired to have some. We’re so afraid to acknowledge that parents sometimes regret having their own kids.

What does your husband/boyfriend think about all this? Why does that even matter? It’s my body; why do I need his permission? When I didn’t have a partner I was denied the surgery, and when I did have one they wanted his approval. Questions like this one (when used as a challenge rather than sincerely trying to understand) are not benign. There are several assumptions here: If you don’t have a long-term, monogamous, male partner, then you should not be seeking such a form of contraception (i.e. “sluts” deserve what they get, while people in relationships are more responsible and deserve peace of mind). If you do have such a partner, then it is assumed he should have a say because, as a woman, you are clearly unable to make important decisions for yourself. Both times, I was trying to make the most responsible decision for myself, but the doctors treated me like I was actually being irresponsible (i.e. looking for a quick-fix way to fuck a lot without using condoms—which, I should add, is also a perfectly legitimate reason for seeking the surgery and not irresponsible at all).

Some of the most ridiculous stuff isn’t even deserving of a response, but I’ll try anyway:

Aren’t you curious to know what your child(ren) would look like? Sure, but that’s not a good enough reason to have any.

Who will take care of you when you’re old? I’m sure I/we will figure it out. There are innumerable examples of families where the kids neglect their own parents in their old age, so why should I produce children solely for that purpose? Besides, as long our definitions of “family” remain that narrow, we will never be able to visualize what alternative care arrangements can look like.

Aren’t you afraid of being lonely? I actually like being left alone; besides, that’s still not a good enough reason to make more humans. I recently read that many women actually feel more lonely after they have kids, rather than less so.

You owe me grandchildren! A variation of this: I brought you into this world, so you owe me. Last time I checked, you brought me into this world. I believe you thus owe me the tools to get along in it on my own. Taking care of me and giving me love and support isn’t a favour, it’s the bare minimum that intentional parents and families should be expected to give their kids. That’s the most that either of us owes the other based on the nature of this relationship.

In case it isn’t clear yet, I believe all of this is part of a larger pattern of challenging a woman’s ability to make big decisions about herself, her life, and her body if the results of those decisions aren’t thought biologically pre-determined (in other words, if the decisions aren’t already made for her).

Some of the things we don’t think about enough include why we should perhaps not have kids. That’s precisely what I will briefly discuss next: various reasons for all kinds of “family planning,” whether it’s wanting only one or two kids, or wanting kids but not right now, or not wanting any at all.

I want to be clear that I am not condemning the decision to have children when this is a decision that was made due to real desire and not due to indifference, social pressure, “moral” obligation, or for superficial reasons. In light of the societal attitudes that are hostile to women who do not want to have children—and particularly to women who choose to terminate unintended pregnancies—I am trying to explain why someone (i.e. me) might not want to have any, and why someone who does want a child or children might want more control over how, when, where, and why they have them.

Bad options

Most of the time, the idea of having kids has terrified me. I have never wanted to get pregnant, go through labour, deal with screaming babies and dirty diapers, pump tons of money into baby supplies, toys, daycares, schools, and everything else that comes with having kids. I don’t want to worry about maybe someday becoming a single parent (either by choice or by accident). I don’t want to have to decide between risking the kids’ health with illness or risking their health with unsafe, inadequately-tested vaccines; whether to put them in underfunded daycare programs just so I can live a semi-independent life; whether to send them to mind- numbing, creativity-stifling public or private schools or create a time-, energy-, and freedom-consuming series of home-schooling programs; whether to feed them only organic, vegan food (which is quite expensive) or affordable but nutritionally-questionable crap; whether to stay in a failing relationship “for the kids” or struggle as a single-parent; the list goes on. These are really hard decisions to make. In a world where all the options are bad, how can anyone want to raise kids here, at this historical moment?

Of course, not everyone sees the world this way, and many of those who do still want to raise families here and now in spite of the difficulty. I don’t understand this desire, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I respect some people’s decisions to be parents, while fully recognizing that this path is not for me.

The wrong reasons

There are some people’s decisions, however, that I cannot respect as easily. Our world does not need nearly as many children as we are currently producing, and many of them are born to people who don’t want them, or who don’t want them right now. Some kids spend most of their lives being cared for by nannies and/or daycares; some spend their youth in boarding schools; some are born to parents who care more about their careers than about raising their kids; some have to work at a very young age because their families cannot support them; some are abused, whether sexually, physically, emotionally, or in other ways; some are neglected, underfed, or otherwise mistreated by selfish, ignorant, irresponsible, and/or emotionally-unavailable parents; some are given up for adoption; some are orphaned in various ways; others wind up in foster care; some are abandoned or murdered by their parents; and some children have to deal with more than one of these problems. Clearly, none of these settings is ideal. I don’t want to make this about people being “good” or “bad” parents, because I think a lot of it is systemic and has to do with involuntary parenthood, inadequate support for the people who do choose to become parents, and choosing to become a parent for the wrong reasons.

Involuntary parenthood is a pet peeve of mine. If women had more control over their reproduction—and by this I mean access to accurate information, to support, to a wide variety of safe and healthy contraception options, and to safe and healthy abortion care, as well as having a mind free from patriarchal and religious moral control—I think the incidence of involuntary parenthood would drop significantly.

We also need to better support people who are already parents, and to better support the kids who are already born and who need loving families and communities. Aside from the obvious benefits of affordable and accessible childcare and of universal healthcare, we need to create a world that is overall more parent- and child-friendly. A friend and I were recently discussing a feminist bookstore that had a sign in the window reserving the right to force out people whose kids were being too loud. While I certainly agree that kids can be loud and frustrating, being loud is what kids do. Kids are loud. Babies cry. And a feminist bookstore, of all places, should understand that. If we’re really hoping and struggling for a better world where parents have the same freedoms as everyone else, we need to start building these family-friendly spaces right here and now.

On that same note, there are already so many babies and children in the world who do not have families. If we are truly fighting for a better world for everyone, including them, then one way to do it is to adopt rather than have biological children. Another way is to provide a healthy foster home for kids whose birth families have died or somehow failed them. People always say that parenting is a “selfless act,” but I disagree. Many people have babies because they don’t want to grow old alone. Others do it because they want to know what their baby might look like. There are already so many kids in the world who do not have families to care for them, we really do not need more of them; we need loving homes and communities for those who are already here.

[click here for part 5 of 6]

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~ by artpoped on August 6, 2010.

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