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.