36 hours ago, I was in a doctor’s surgery staring at my reflection in a scalpel as a lovely nurse whom I will refer to as Doris assisted my fifty something year old male GP. My arm was numb but the rest of me was panicked. Was this the right choice? Was I doing the right thing?
“Doris, I am going to need you to put some pressure on there, it appears to be stuck”
“Stay calm Ms Shalimar, this will all be over soon”
And right she was, 5 minutes later, the doctor removed his gloves with a gay little snap and announced that the procedure was a success. I no longer had an Implanon device in my arm and that the nurse was now going to go through the relevant contraception alternatives with me.
After bandaging me up and offering me a cup of tea, Doris took a seat across me and we ran through the gamete of contraception I had available to me on the Medicare plan.
‘Tried it, unreliable’
“Diaphragm and spermicide”
“Intra Uterine Device?”
‘Considering it but am not sold on it. Nurse, what about getting my tubes tied?’
Doris chuckled a little as I said this. “Ms Shalimar, I am sure we can find you a less permanent solution than that.”
“But Nurse, I want a permanent solution. I really do not want to have children.”
And with that her gentle face fell a little. “There’s no need to make sudden decisions right now. Tell you what, I will give you the contact details of the Family Planning Centre in town and they might be able to have a chat with you about an IUD. It really isn’t all that scary when you actually see the device itself. There are plenty of options available and you have plenty of time before you need to take a route as drastic as considering getting your tubes tied.”
I got to my feet, pulled my coat on and thanked her on my way out. I wasn’t surprised. I was just disappointed.
I have been considering a Tubal Ligation since the age of 20 when I first turned to hormonal contraception. I have never had a desire to bear children, to mother children or to participate in any activity related to parenting. I simply have no desire or drive to create, raise or nurture a human life form. Before you accost me in the comments or accuse me of being one of “those feminists who doesn’t respect motherhood and looks down on mother figures”, let me assure you that I am pro choice. Included in that choice is my choice not to be a parent. I have explained this as best as I could to the various GPs I have seen since my 20th birthday and I was always told that I needed time to think it over. 20, 21, 22, 23, 24,25,26,27,28,29…was far too young to write off motherhood! What was I thinking? What if i wanted children in 1 or 5 or 10 years time!
Well…I turned 30 a week ago. I have counted down a decade and nope, I still don’t want to be a parent.
Their answer, of course, has remained unchanged.
Frustrated, I made a follow up GP appointment. I wanted a second opinion.
“I know this is short notice, but can you please make me an appointment with a younger, female doctor. It’s about contraception”. I said over the phone yesterday while watching a young family enjoying the crisp winters evening in the park across my house.
I was assigned Dr Bernadette*, a GP, in her mid 30s. She’s a young, female professional, I thought to myself, surely she will support my want for Tubal Ligation! 15 minutes later, I left her office with the same phone number for the same clinic ol mate Doris had given me the day prior. It was a no go. No one wanted me to get my tubes tied. At 30, I was still “too young to make such a permanent decision”.
I had coffee with my mother shortly after. My mother never asks me about my medical appointments and I never ask her about hers. Its kind of our thing. However, today, noticing the bruise on my inner arm and the glum look on my face, she decided to ask what my appointment was for. I never thought I would be discussing contraception with my mother at 30. Well…actually it was assumed I would, but under different circumstances. Most “Good desi girls” are expected to be married with 3 kids by 30. If they are asking their mothers for contraception advice, it is simply because they are done with the baby making chapter of their lives. Me on the other hand, I skipped right past that chapter.
” I want to get my tubes tied mum and they wont let me”
” But what if you and J want children? What then?”
And that’s where things got difficult. It seems that even someone like my mother, a second wave, chaddor burning, Sex ed teaching, culturally defiant feminist could not comprehend what I was telling her. To her, children were a way to eternal life. A mirror to hold up and examine ones self. She saw parts of her youth and rebellion in me and she said that it was what kept her going when she thought she had lost both those things. As flattering as this was to hear from my mother in my fragile state, I could not help but think of the pedestals we place mother and child relationships on in our society. 5 years of a criminology degree have taught me the value of good parenting and a secure environment for children to grow up in. These are both things that I am unable to guarantee any of my future progeny for reasons I am hesitant to disclose. However, I cannot accept motherhood being the defining aspect of womanhood for more reasons than I care to elaborate on here.
When you get to my age you find that your parent-less state, once the envy of your young mother friends, becomes isolating in its own right. Not because you feel deprived of the “joys of parenting”. Rather, you isolate yourself by trodding on eggshells when it comes to discussions about your future plans. I have had to be careful as to how I broach the subject of voluntary childlessness and (particularly) voluntary sterilisation with other people. Regardless of how open minded people claim to be, there are very few I have met who have understood my proactive approach to this issue.
“Why not just use something else? Keep your options open…you know, in case?”
The idea of me as a parent is still looming in the background as they make their pro choice speeches. They think there is still room in my mind to accommodate a change of plans or regret. That, just like the other aspects of our Gen Y life, I would suffer from FOMO… Fear of Missing Out. I suspect this conversational tangent is reached due to perceptions of gender roles. Women’s role in society, or the one they are expected to play, is that of a maternal, nurturing, loving, altruistic figure and this role can only be played through motherhood and motherhood alone. Deviate from this formula and you are seen as unfeeling, selfish, defective, childish or lacking warmth and the ability to nurture. When my Cis Het partner talks of getting a vasectomy, he is celebrated for his “wise choice”. No one lets the FOMO genie out of the bottle then. No one questions his mental health, his feelings, his ability to love, to be nurturing or caring. No one questions his right to be called a man. Children seem to be an optional addition for men like a power steering on a new car. For me to say I want my tubes tied, people look at me as if I want to cut the breaks on the car altogether.
Fatherhood is deemed intentional and Motherhood is deemed natural.
Remember how I mentioned the term zemblanity two rants ago? Well, I am getting back to it dear reader. It has been a whirlwind of 72 hours. 12 hours ago I had a disappointing conversation with my GP and my mother about contraception. 24 hours ago I began reading a rather interesting book (I will get into that in a moment). 36 hour ago I got my Implanon removed. 48 hours ago I cancelled coffee plans with a friend after she received some unsettling medical news from a fertility specialist. In the last three months two of my closest friends have confided their fear of being childless to me. One of them will soon begin the financially and emotionally draining process of IVF after learning she would not be able to conceive naturally. The other is currently limited by the financial climate from being able to start a family. I have other friends who, due to their sexuality, are denied the right to begin their family through the process of adoption or surrogacy.
I feel for all of these families. I really do, because at the core of it, whether by nature or law, we are being denied the right to choose our paths in life. I do not want to be a parent just as badly as they want to be parents. And yet here , each we dealt a hand that the other desperately wants.
I made a joke with my friend a month or so ago when she was awaiting her appointment with her a fertility specialist. I said that in the worst case scenario one of us in our circle of friends would happily be her surrogate because we could not possibly bear to see her so unhappy. “We have a womb for rent” quipped one of us gals in the group chat.
Today’s brush with the medical world made me realise that on some level or another, my womb was not my own to rent or in my case demolish. That I needed the blessings of my GP, my family and society at large before the stigma around voluntary sterilization was lifted.
24 hours ago, suffering from a migraine, I headed to bed with a new Audible book in tow. It was called The Handmaid’s Tale and I had selected it randomly off the best sellers list without knowing much about the storyline. Without ruining it too much for those who are yet to read it, it is set in a dystopian society in the not so distant future where women are treated as “wombs on legs” and where certain women were valued for their fertility and ability to bear healthy children. Given the last 3 days, how is that for zamblanity? As I drifted to sleep, I heard the narrator say:
There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.
– The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
This quote stuck with me throughout most of today and as I exited Dr Bernadettes office, my fist clenched around the scrap of paper with the Family planning clinics number scribbled on it, I felt trapped in a surreal novel of my own somewhere between Orwell’s 1984 and Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. Except, I was merely an extra in my own life at the mercy of everyone else’s decisions. Despite living in a country that touts freedom and autonomy as the fabric of its social enterprise, here I was a 30 year old woman having my judgment questioned as if I were incapable of making decisions for myself.
I had accepted with the arrival of my first period aged 13 that my value in a deeply religious Pakistani society was tied to my ability to bear children. My teachers and female family members called it “a God given gift”. Others referred to it as a “God given duty”. It seemed like a uniform I had to wear to be allowed a place in society. Moving to Australia, I was promised freedom of choice and more importantly freedom from dogma that equated childbearing and childbirth with womanhood. Yet here I am at 30 arguing with GPs about my right to discard the mantle of prospective motherhood. Here I am arguing with non religious, seemingly liberal minded people about the certainty and finality of this decision. The last 72 hours have made me wonder, how much do our values differ from those held by the Government of Gilead in Atwood’s book “The Handmaid’s Tale”, of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan and it’s religiously decreed gender roles? How feminist are the women who do not trust me to know my own needs, wants, desires and capacities when it comes to something like reproductive rights?
Why am I still having this discussion in cyberspace rather than in a supportive feminist/humanist environment? Why am I baring my soul with only a blinking cursor as a witness.
Because I am scared and because I am angry.
I am scared that I will not be permitted a choice. That the choice will come passively through the passage of time and advancement of age as opposed to being able to seize the opportunity to exercise true bodily autonomy and make a proactive choice. That a choice has been made for me for the time being without my consent.
At the core of it all I am angry that my value as a woman is reduced to the Mommy Myth- that I will seize to be “a real woman” to society because of the heteronormous, cissexist, gender rigid bullshit standard that decrees that womanhood is tied somehow to motherhood.
Every time you tell a grown woman demanding reproductive autonomy that she does not know whats best for her own life, yet demand she is responsible for a growing life, you are sending mixed messages. You are infantalising her yet wanting her to feed into the motherhood myth. You are simultaneously asking her to consider being a parent while still treating her like a child. Doris, Dr Bernadette, Mom, friends… your cognitive dissonance is showing and frankly I had had enough of being an extra in my own damn tv show/life. I will decide my happily ever after one way or another.
This womb is definitely not for rent.