#770: A Woman Is Little More Than A Procreative Device, And Don't You Forget It*
When I was in my early twenties, I wanted to get my tubes tied. It seemed like the only reasonable option for someone in my position. I had been on the Pill for a couple of years, but it didn't agree with my body, so I had stopped taking it, but I didn't feel any better. In fact, I felt worse and worse, and a few months afterward, I began to experience horrible abdominal cramps. An ultrasound confirmed that I had not one, not two, but three ovarian cysts. I could see the small pustules in sharp black and white on the monitor, two on the left ovary and one on the right.
Ovarian cysts usually clear themselves up within six weeks, she said.
What if they don't go away? I asked.
Then we will have to operate, she said.
Why did I get them? I asked.
Ovarian cysts are common in women who stop taking the Pill, she said.
No one told me that! What can I do to stop getting these cysts? I asked.
You can go back on the Pill, she said.
But I don't like the Pill. And that's what gave me these cysts in the first place! I said.
So, from the minimal amount of information with which my doctor was willing to part, I deduced that I could go back on hormones, which I hated, and avoid the cysts, or I could use other contraceptives, none of which had high enough success rates to satisfy my pregnancy fears, and get cysts. I wasn't about to go the abstinence route, because I was living with a boyfriend and wasn't about to don ye olde chastity belt.
I went home and thought about it and decided that none of the options that had been presented to me suited my needs. I had never wanted children, and despite my young age, I was dead certain that I wasn't going to want them down the line. It seemed like such a waste of my time and money to spend cash on various contraceptive agents only to continue to live in fear nearly every day that I might be knocked up.
And I did live in fear. I lived in fear from the first time I had sex right up until this third of July when I had my hysterectomy. Every day was accompanied by its own small pocket of fear that at any time I might end up pregnant, and every time I had sex I had to actively push conception out of my thoughts so I could derive some pleasure from the act. At one point, I even considered becoming a celibate nun in the hills of northern California, where, aside from the very rare event of impregnation by their god, I could be relatively sure of a child-free existence.
Then, it hit me. I could get my tubes tied and be done with the whole nerve-wracking mess. One simple surgery, and voilá! I would be free to live my life as I chose without the constant anxiety that my body could dictate a hairpin direction change because I had a healthy and nurturing sex life. I made an appointment with my doctor and virtually flew there on wings of excitement two days later. I was going to be free.
And what's going on with you today? she asked.
I've thought about my contraceptive options, and the one that makes the most sense for me is tubal ligation, I said.
You don't want to do that, she said
Yes, I do. I've never wanted children. I am terrified of pregnancy, I said.
Yes, but you don't know that you won't want them when you're thirty-two. You would be terribly disappointed that you could not have them, and what if you have a husband who wants to have children? she asked.
Then he would have to have them with someone else, I said. I want my tubes tied.
Well, I won't do it for you, she said. It would be wrong to make that decision when you're so young.
Then I'll go to another doctor, I said.
I can't think of a single doctor in this city that would agree to it, she said.
And with that, I hopped off the table and walked out without so much as a goodbye. I was both devastated and angry. It was my body, and I wanted something done to it that was truly of no concern to anybody but me. The possibility that I might have kids one day that I did nor did not want was of more concern to my doctor than my own desires for my life and my body. It was dehumanizing. Breadmakers make bread, and ladies make babies. I was a potential incubator that had to be kept in top notch condition.
What happened next is not surprising, although it was at the time. What with the cysts and general hormonal upset after going off the Pill, my periods were erratic, and so when one didn't show up, I wasn't sure if I was actually late or not. So, I trucked back over to my sweetheart of a doctor and took a pregnancy test. It came back light blue, which meant that I was either too early along in my pregnancy to know for sure yet or that I had been pregnant but had lost it. I went back and retook the test a few days later, and it came back dark blue.
I went into a dreamlike state. Everything seemed very far away, like if I reached out to touch anything, my hand might just pass right through. I was a hologram.
I would like to have an abortion, I said.
Oh, no. Are you sure? Because there are other better options, she said.
I don't want a child, I said.
There is always adoption, she said.
But I've done acid and smoked pot and drank a lot of alcohol. I'm on welfare. I live on noodles, I said.
I know the idea of adoption sounds scary, but, well, I'll try and explain it. Remember when you were in kindergarten and made a beautiful painting? Remember how you felt when you forgot it at school? You only felt bad in the beginning when you could still see it in your mind, but then after a while it didn't bother you as much, right? she said.
I want an abortion. I have been drinking and doing drugs and do not want to ever be pregnant or have children. This is why I wanted a tubal ligation in the first place, I said.
I can refer you to another doctor, because I don't handle things like this. We won't be seeing each other again, she said.
She was right. That was the last I ever saw of that doctor.
I could not believe that she likened my creation of a baby with a five-year-old's fingerpainting and adoption with a minor childhood disappointment. Her severe irresponsibility in trying to downplay the seriousness of the situation in order to coerce me into a decision I did not want to make was appalling. At that time in my life I may have been a diagnosed schizophrenic who did far too much acid, but I knew what was what, and what was a gastrula in the sour uterine soup of a psychologically imbalanced outpatient with a penchant for hallucinogens. What was not what was me fingerpainting while I waited for mommy to take me home for milk and cookies.
I walked out of her office and sat down in the bus shelter across from an older hospital. I was startled when a wrecking ball swung into view, knocking a massive chunk of the uppermost floor to the pavement below. That was the hospital where my mother had worked in the 1960s. That was the hospital where I volunteered as a candy striper in high school. And now this pregnancy would be terminated in the new, shiny, white-tile and glass wing that had been built at the end of the block.
And I knew that no one would treat me kindly.
* This entry was inspired by Bonnie Zylbergold's article in American Sexuality magazine, "Are You Kidding?: Tubal Ligation Procedures Denied To Young Women Who Don't Want Children".