By Mwabi Kaira
A girl I knew in my late teens once told me that she didn’t want to have children. I couldn’t wait to become a mother and already had a name picked out so what she told me was outside my orbit of things I knew but I respected that she had her own orbit of things she knew as well. We are African and being mothers is as much a part of womanhood as breathing so this girl got a lot of grief for her decision. I always admired how sure of herself she was even back then and how her mind was completely made up and nothing was going to sway her. We’re in our 40’s now and she is childless, thriving and happy and I am a mother to 2 teens and loving this stage in my parenting journey. We knew exactly what we wanted and thankfully things panned out just as hoped.
Earlier this week my friend Marlene posted about how at 22, she asked to get her tubes tied and her doctor said no. She already had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. She eventually had them tied but lamented about how she had to plead a case for her uterus to people who did not possess it. She asked if anyone else had a similar story. I shared that at 25, after the birth of my second son, I too decided to get my tubes tied. It was a mutual decision between my husband and I. We had two sons and although he came from a family of 9 and I came from a family of 4, we decided that we were good with two kids, especially financially. Our doctor tried to talk us out of it because we were so young according to him. I was 25 and my husband was 28. We had a house, jobs, and two kids. We were full on adulting and didn’t know what the doctor considered young. Who exactly was going to fund the daycare bills for these other babies our doctor thought we needed? It made no sense and we pleaded our case just as Marlene had and were granted our desire, our basic human right.
Marlene’s thread alerted me to new notifications the entire day and woman after woman told their own stories of fighting for their uterus. It broke my heart. Why aren’t women trusted to make their own decisions regarding their bodies? When women decide that they don’t ever want a little resident in their uterus or don’t want anymore they are sent to see therapists because the assumption is that there is something wrong with them for feeling this way. If not to reproduce then what is a woman’s purpose? Men on the other hand can decide to have a vasectomy and be viewed as good decision makers. It is not required that they get permission from their wives to do so. Dr. Ira D. Sharlip, Chair of American Urological Association’s Vasectomy Guideline Panel explains,
“There’s no legal requirement for spousal consent and no minimum age for vasectomy other than the minimum age of consent. But while it’s not necessary to have spousal consent, it’s a really good idea, and involving the spouse in the decision is encouraged.”
Encouraged and forced are two different ends of the spectrum. In Marlene’s thread a 19-year-old and a 41-year-old were denied tubal ligation. Both were childless and both were denied because they were told they could still have healthy children. They could but they asked for the tubal ligation in the first place because they didn’t want to have a child. I was especially struck by how much work these women had to do to remain child-free because they couldn’t get their tubes tied. They had to be extra cautious while the 99% method of avoiding pregnancy was kept from them. Some women were told that they had to be 30 years old before they could have a tubal ligation and deemed this age to be the age of mental maturity. Clearly, the age limit is moved to a physicians liking judging by what the 41-year-old woman was told. Is there a mental maturity age for men seeing as the age of consent is all that’s listed a requirement? The age of consent starts at 16 in many states. Most physicians base their refusal on the belief that a woman will eventually change her mind and don’t want them to live with regret. Dr. Denise Jamieson, a practicing physician and chief of the Women’s Health and Fertility Branch at the Centers for Disease Control, is also supportive of a patient’s right to choose, though she notes that the statistics don’t lie.
“As a clinician, I know that regret is so common. Patients come in heart-broken because the situation has changed, and now they desperately want a child. It makes you feel bad as their physician.”
While it appears admirable for physicians to think this way, Zenzele Tanya Bell in the thread put it best with this question,
“But even if you decided at 19 that you wanted to get your tubes tied, did it, and regretted it later, wouldn’t that be something for you to accept, and not the doctor who’s trying to control your body?”
The message being sent is clear; we are not in control of our uterus and can’t be trusted to make decisions on our own about them. It’s disheartening and has to change. The narrative has been passed down for generations from physician to physician. Isn’t it about time that change came and women were finally trusted to make their own decisions regarding their uterus? Can everyone that doesn’t belong in our uterus stay out of it once and for all?