Feminist Philosophers

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On becoming infertile – part 1 November 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — anonymousfemalephilosopher @ 1:45 pm

[Moderator's note - After the positive response to anonfemphil's posts on breast cancer, we've invited a series of posts from another female philosopher on another taboo women's health topic: infertility. Please note that we're allowing comments on these posts, but we will be moderating them very strictly, given the sensitive nature of the topic.]

I have a disability which leads to a variety of medical “complications”, some of which require surgical intervention. Usually, there’s nothing terribly dramatic about the process. I go in for a battery of tests, a procedure is recommended, and then that’s that. But the most recent “complication” was different – it was different because it involved, among other things, my reproductive system. All my doctors agreed that I needed surgery. There was some debate about which procedure would be best, but the consensus was that something surgical had to be done.

But. All of the standard corrective procedures would prevent me from ever getting pregnant. I was 27, with no children and no history of previous pregnancies. And so I was told, rather vaguely, that any procedure which would end my fertility was “contraindicated”.

Not to worry, I assured the surgeons, my partner and I weren’t planning on having kids. Naively, I thought this extra bit of information would settle the matter. As it turned out, it had surprisingly little impact on the (male) surgeons. You think that now, they told me. But if you lose your ability to have children, it’s permanent – and you may regret it later. Sure, I thought, of course I may regret it. But then, having kids is also permanent – and I might regret that too. I couldn’t see how my potential regret should factor into this decision, especially given that people are statistically more likely to regret child-having than non-child-having. (Turns out I would also end up with very good reason to regret a surgery delayed by medical hand-wringing about my childlessness. But this was the sort of potential regret that didn’t matter in this context, as it was only indirectly connected to lack of babies.)

My case – which is medically unusual and complicated – ended up being taken for discussion to the surgical board of the medical school which runs the teaching hospital where I’m treated. The decision they handed down still shocks me, every time I can bear to think about it. The director of the surgical team advised tactics to delay the operation as long as possible, so that I could “try to complete my family”. That my family could already be complete was not, apparently, something they considered.

It was never obvious what exactly they wanted from me, when they advised that I “try to complete my family”. My condition – especially given what was happening at the time – made it unlikely that my body could sustain a pregnancy beyond the first trimester. And if I could manage to carry a pregnancy to term, it would be very dangerous for me, and would likely cause me permanent harm. It seemed that I was being told to undergo a series of frustrating miscarriages in pursuit of a dangerous pregnancy I didn’t want. When I asked my primary care physician why this was happening, she sighed, rolled her eyes, and said “They want to be able to say that they told you to try.”

The expectation throughout seemed to be that I should try, that I should pursue biological reproduction regardless of the harm or danger. That’s what the brave woman would do. If it worked, I would have the moral victory of motherhood against the odds. If it didn’t, I would have the moral reassurance that at least I’d tried. And if it ended up killing me – well, I would die in the noble pursuit of motherhood, surrounded by understanding women, like Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias.

What followed were a series of increasingly frustrating conversations with (male) surgeons. One responded to my claim that I didn’t want children by patiently explaining: “You shouldn’t say that. You never know about these things. Children are a wonderful blessing.” I have a hard time imagining how a doctor could think that’s an appropriate thing to say to any adult woman. But that a doctor could think it’s an appropriate thing to say to an adult woman for whom pregnancy would be a serious risk defies belief.

Another surgeon, when faced with a similar declaration from me, reacted quite differently. He smiled, as though he suddenly understood something sad and profound, and then said: “Ah, I see. Is it that you’re afraid your child would have [your condition]?” This wasn’t the first time I’d heard something to this effect. In fact, it sometimes felt like the only way to avoid the doctors’ rampant paternalism was to embrace their equally rampant ableism. My condition is genetic – autosomal dominant – so my biological children would have a 50% chance of inheriting it. But this was never a part of my decision not to have children. Insofar as I wanted children, I would’ve been delighted to have children with my condition. It’s just that I didn’t want children, disabled or non-disabled.

Things finally changed when I saw that rarest of treasures – a female surgeon. She was as incensed and mystified as I was by the long delay, and promptly set about putting a stop to it. She also told me, with refreshing frankness: “A pregnancy would be completely disastrous for your body. It will be a very good thing if we end your fertility.” As I was leaving her office, one of the nurses pulled me aside. “That was good advice she gave you,” she said quietly, “very good advice. You won’t hear that from a male surgeon.”

And so I had my operation, and am now unable to get pregnant. Because of the delay, I ended up having to have a more invasive, riskier procedure than I would otherwise have needed. And, of course, I had the long months of lots of medicine, lots of pain, and nagging awareness of the list of “things you must go to the emergency room ASAP if you notice” that the surgeons’ stalling incurred.

But what I find most frustrating about the whole thing are the more intangible elements. The attitude of most of the doctors I dealt with made me feel like my preference for childlessness was somehow unnatural, and shouldn’t be given the same respect as most women’s preference for having children. And what upsets me most about this, on reflection, is not what happened to me specifically, but what must surely happen to many women like me. I’m fortunate – I’ve never wanted children, and so in this case the needs of my body didn’t conflict with my preferences. But there are so many women in similar situations who do want children very much. I suspect that these women feel a lot of pressure – sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle – to forge ahead fearlessly in their attempts to get pregnant, and to view adoption as a distant second-best.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t doubt that there are women in my situation with an intense desire to have their biological children, and I respect their attempts to make this happen. But attitudes like those I encountered from doctors make facing infertility much more difficult, whether or not you have a strong desire for biological children. When I was facing permanent infertility, the expectation was that I would fight it with everything in my power, consequences be damned (cue Steel Magnolias music). Expectations like that create a tremendous amount of pressure, and a creeping sense that if you aren’t willing to make extreme sacrifices in order to have babies, there’s something odd about you.

Expectations like this must surely hurt adoptive families just as they hurt women facing infertility. Whenever I would point out to my doctors that I could have children without having my biological children, they would look at me like I’d just sprouted a second head. Adoption, surely, was the last resort – to be countenanced only once you’ve lost the battle for biological children. I never understood this – but then, I’m an unnatural childless woman so maybe I’m missing something. I guess it’s always seemed like adoption is something to consider, insofar as you’re considering having kids, whether or not infertility is part of the equation.

Expectations about what families should look like are harmful. They stigmatize families that fall outside the white-picket-fence idyll. And they make life harder for people in situations that are already perfectly hard enough.

Part 2

Part 3

 

33 Responses to “On becoming infertile – part 1”

  1. Max Says:

    I think that the pressure that the author faced when she made the perfectly reasonable decision that she did not want to delay her necessary surgery is the same pressure to conform felt all over the world, even when we are technically supposed to be able to choose whatever lives we want for ourselves. This post made me balk at the male surgeons’ perception of her experience, and their suggestion that she try and “complete her family” before undergoing the surgery.
    This was a very eye-opening post, and I look forward to more contributions from this author.

  2. annejjacobson Says:

    This would be shocking if the surgery wasn’t necessary, and you could carry a baby to term. But being pregnant was going to be bad in just about every medically relevant respect, and the surgery was necessary. Yet refused.

    I suspect doctor’s do and perhaps should have the right to refuse to perform surgeries, but this seems far outside what should be acceptable. Have you thought of making a formal complaint?

  3. Liz Says:

    This reminds me of a recurring fear I had when I was a young woman (a teen). I don’t know why this fear was so vivid to me, but I was terrified of dying during pregnancy at the hands of doctors more concerned to save my baby’s life than my own life. It just seemed (and seems) obvious to me that while babies’ lives are very valuable, women’s lives are more valuable, but that the medical profession often has this backwards. (And they assume that women must also value their babies’ lives more than their own.)
    Of course the situation the author faced is far crazier. There was no existing baby to weigh against her own health risks from pregnancy. Rather, the assumption was that *getting to create her own child* was worth seriously risking her own health. Sure, some women feel that way (as the author says), but many women–probably most–do not!
    I love that woman surgeon. I cannot believe how the men behaved. I’m really surprised, and worried about my naivety in being surprised.

  4. Jill Says:

    I don’t know what to say – this is really shocking! (I find it both shocking that the surgeons were offering such views as advice, but more importantly: once the author decided she didn’t want to take this advice, why wasn’t the surgery preformed immediately?)

  5. Robyn Says:

    I am so glad this is being talked about!
    I am also horrified, although not shocked, by the paternalism of the doctors. Thank God for the sanity and patient centered care of the female surgeon.

  6. justanotherfemalephilosopher Says:

    As I read through this, I found myself more and more infuriated and outraged, to the point that I am left with nothing intelligent to say. I can only insist that it’s high time society changes its view that all women can or should be mothers — a view that other women articulate as often as men do. The view isn’t healthy for women and it isn’t healty for children either.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post and I am so sorry you got treated this way and had to go through the resulting complications. It’s seriously unbelievable. I am 26 and I plan on having Essure done because I have always regarded fertility as an impediment. I would have made exactly the same reply about infertility having no bearing on having children. Other than the case of unfortunate lesbian and gay people who reside in backward places that ban gay adoption, an infertile woman would be unable to have children only if she were a felon or child abuse perpetrator, in which case why would any sane person encourage her to get pregnant anyway? A part of me wants to believe that you must live in the Bible Belt or non-US equivalent and it would be different in the liberal state where I live, but I know the reason I keep postponing my appointment is because I don’t want to go through the humiliation of having to prove to a male doctor that I am capable of making my own decisions, carefully choose my words, wear a suit (seriously, that’s the advice other women gave – helps you look more grown-up, I suppose). How many of those same doctors would dare question someone’s decision to get pregnant, even though such a decision would result in one or two (or eight) more people whose lives would be profoundly affected as a result? When I told my GP I wanted to get sterilized, she demanded an explanation. Yes, demanded. I have a feeling that if I waltz into a doctor’s office and give my real reason for wanting to get sterilized (“you see, with health insurance it’s cheaper and easier than other methods of birth control; besides, you never know when our wonderful Republicans manage to overturn Roe V. Wade, so better safe than sorry”), I will be put on some kind of blacklist. But it is a pretty damn good reason if reproduction was never on the table in the first place. Of course, the fact that I have never had the slightest desire to procreate means I’m a sociopath of some sort, no doubt. But really, they have no business even asking for reasons. If a patient knows where babies come from, she is capable of making that decision on her own, thank you very much.

    And, of course, every single sterilization procedure is marketed to women who “do not want another child” because having none at all is unthinkable. Not only is your family not complete, most people would argue that you do not even have a family. You see, your loving partner and wonderful pets don’t count (and neither do potential adopted children, apparently).

  8. s Says:

    It is horrifying that this happened in the 21st century. I am beyond distraught when I imagine what you must have gone through. Thanks for sharing.

  9. elysiarenee Says:

    I just wanted to say thankyou for sharing your story I found it to be the most interesting post to appear on this blog in a long time. when my son was in hospital I met a woman who just had her 5th child at age 24 and she still had to put up a fight to get them to perform tubal litigation because of her ‘young age’.
    Since much of medical descision making these days seems to be fuelled by fear of lawsuits I wonder if there are any cases of people suing about a Dr performing a procedure that resulted in infertility even when the patient was aware and and approving of the decision when it happened? By ‘I wonder’ I mean ‘I just can’t imagine that’. I think everyone knows people who have sworn they would never have children and then find themselves having them and it being the best thing they’ve ever done, equally we all know people who have children because its just the done thing and find that it just doesn’t suit them at all. guesswork about the matter should not really factor into a doctors willingness to perform a neccesary surgery. Medical practitioners should provide information and opinion about what is best and what options there are from a medical perspective. I don’t think women are alone in not having their agency respected when it comes to medical decisions but yours is a truly shocking case of how attitudes about gender can play a detrimental role to patient wellbeing. I am so sorry that you had to go through such frustrating attitudes from those who were supposed to provide you with care.

  10. nomen nescio Says:

    as i left a message on my FB page: “thank god a piece against 1) the social dictatorship that forces women to *want* to have children and, 2) the inability of (male) medical doctors to deal with female patients and disabilities and their real life effects!!”

  11. Lizzy Levitt Says:

    I have children, and so does my son, both his wife and myself were high risk for pregnancy. we choose to have babies anyway, That was our choice, and I respect other woman’s rights not to have children, it is about respect, and others rights. Doctors should lay out the possibilities then shut up.
    Sorry this happened to you.

  12. Sally Haslanger Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. It really is powerful and a vivid testament to the underlying cultural idea that a core part of women’s value is their ability to reproduce. And this, of course, is closely related to the devaluation of women who choose to be child-free and of adoption more generally.

    I briefly tried to get pregnant and learned that it would be impossible, so immediately turned to adoption. When I learned I couldn’t get pregnant I had such mixed feelings. On one hand I had been trying to get pregnant, so there was a sense of failure; but on the other hand, I was delighted. I was freed from the cultural imperative to reproduce, and even embraced the identity of mutant (although my infertility is not genetic, the identity was with a broader, more subversive, conception of mutant). And I was also freed from having to endure treatment by doctors who were hell-bent on a pregnancy (and explicitly said in the diagnostic period that they wouldn’t touch my husband until all options to treat me had been exhausted).

    I would never claim that adoption brings no losses, given the bionormativity of our culture. It is sometimes very hard to be a visibly adoptive family. But I think that even adoptive families are given a respect that is often withheld from the child-free. We, at least, are “doing our part” and are attempting to mimic the norm. Of course, both of these ideas are offensive; but still, they do garner a bit of patronizing respect. In my experience, the choice to be child-free (especially when made by straight couples) is culturally not even granted that.

    So I applaud your endurance, your survival, and wholeheartedly support whatever choices you make as time goes on.

  13. Jessica Says:

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    My mother had a tubal ligation when she was 23 after giving birth to my brother and sister. I’d love to ask her what her experience with her doctors was like–particularly since it was Kaiser healthcare, but unfortunately she’s dead. Seven years after the ligation she found out she was pregnant with me and decided to have me, even against medical advice. I am lucky that she was one determined woman; undoubtedly, I would not exist otherwise.

    The paternalism of the modern medical system frightens me, and I don’t look forward to having to interact with it. I will happily forward this to my two (female) friends in medical school, one of whom plans to be a surgeon!

  14. [...] philosopher about her experience of becoming infertile.  It’s well worth a read: part 1 is here; part 2 here; and part 3 [...]

  15. Chris Says:

    I’d suggest sueing the (male) surgeons, for taking decisions against your will, resulting in unneeded delay, pain and extra risk.

  16. B Says:

    When 25, I was using an IUD for birth control. Since an IUD is not 100% effective, I was one of the unlucky ones who became pregnant anyway. I had an abortion and then went to my ob/gyn and asked to have my tubes tied. I did not want children and birth control had just pointed out its failure rate. I wanted to be sterilized. I wanted to be certain I would not become pregnant again. I had been married for 3 years. My doctor couldn’t believe my decision and asked me to wait a year to think and reflect. He told me if I came back in a year and said the same thing, he’d do the surgery. He lived up to that bargain. I am now 55 and still have no regrets over my decision.

    I have several married friends who are also childless by choice. I have a niece who has decided to be childless, much to her parents’ disappointment. The childless-by-choice is a growing sector of society and can expect acceptance to increase with time and familiarity with the concept. I think the problem is not so much a sexist prejudice but more a prejudice towards parenthood. I think a young man of 25 asking for a vasectomy would encounter the same reluctance from his surgeons.

    That this bias towards parenthood should interfere with good medical decisions is appalling.

  17. Ray Says:

    Overcoming inherit sexism (and other -isms) that people hold is always difficult, especially when they are in control and it’s a choice between your welfare and their -ism.

    The most straightforward solution is to find people in control who do not have an -ism that conflicts with your welfare. In this case, a female surgeon.

    I am glad that you were able to get this procedure done safely, even though it was more complicated than it needed to be.

    As a male, I actually had an analogous experience with a female family practitioner and had to switch to a male doctor, although not over something nearly as serious as your condition. (getting statins prescribed for cholesterol vs. going on a vegetarian diet)

  18. L.Stokes Says:

    Thank you for this post. I’m 36, and going through something very similar, except that I do want children and I plan to adopt. You are very right – women in my situation feel an intense amount of pressure and adoption is often considered “giving up.” I have been shocked to discover that my family and my doctors still want me to pursue risky and expensive infertility treatments, despite the fact that their likelihood of success is extremely low, and a pregnancy would be very dangerous for me. I am in the process right now of convincing them that this is foolish, since adoption has a 100% chance of resulting in a new family member (at no risk to me), while these treatments have a 20% chance at best (and might imperil my health at the worst). This whole process has been very emotional for me – I feel like I’ve often been treated like a faulty baby machine rather than a person. The guilt, the shame, the sense of failure, the indignation and the grief have all been a lot to deal with. However, once I decided to give up on infertility treatment, I felt liberated – I could pursue the expansion of my family without fear that I might have to suffer pain or death to do so. And yes, I say “expansion” of my family because my partner and I are already a family without a child.

    I can only imagine how it must feel as a person who does not want children, dealing with male doctors who think they know what’s best for you. Even though I’m someone who does want a child, this situation has reinforced for me just how important it is that we each are allowed to determine the path we want to take to create and sustain our families, whether that’s with children or without. Thank you for sharing your story – for people like me, who feel misunderstood by doctors and family, hearing that someone else has gone through the same thing helps a lot.

  19. I have experienced this, exactly. I was having severe problems with the “lady bits” for years. It took a decade and an ovarian tumor the size of a baseball before I could get someone to remove the baby-factory, which I never ever wanted to use in the first place.

    For Jeebus sake, if I wanted kids, I’d adopt anyway. Like the woman in this article, I have some pretty serious genetic flaws that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, much less my own child. Yet I got the SAME responses “Oh, you are too young for a hysterectomy”, “You will want children”. But I got it from my female doctors as well as male specialists.

    At the time I started with my problems, I was 31, and had been an out lesbian for several years. I knew good and well I wasn’t going to “change my mind and find a man and want to give him a son” (as one older male physician suggested). I also felt strongly that my own personal history would put me at risk of being a Bad Parent, and instead I have had nearly 20 years now of delighting in my sister’s kids because I make a great aunt and she’s a fabulous mom.

    If I had a “do over”, I';d have doctor-shopped at 31 when it got bad, until I found someone to do what was needed and no backtalk, and no attempting to usurp my decisions about my body and my life.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    I am disappointed but not at all shocked at this story. I have several friends who have experienced the same prejudices and in fact have run into them myself, though not with the same level of peril.

    My husband (second marriage for both of us) got a vasectomy shortly after the birth of his second child, which was the prerequisite for Navy surgeons to perform it. He and his first wife did want children. But what if they had not? A vasectomy is a much simpler and less risky surgery than a hysterectomy, outpatient rather than requiring a hospital stay, and with a couple of days of recovery instead of up to six weeks. Often it is even reversible. A former co-worker had a medically necessary hysterectomy last year, and she developed sepsis and a raging internal infection, requiring placement of a drainage stent, massive doses of antibiotics, and more weeks of recovery. I don’t know anyone personally who had complications from a vasectomy other than a short time of localized tenderness and swelling. (Yes, I’m sure there are some out there, but the incidence is much lower than those for hysterectomies.) Why deny him the right to make that choice?

    Another friend had a medically necessary hysterectomy and oopherectomy (uterus and ovaries) a couple of years before. She has never wanted children and has been on some form of birth control most of her adult life. Her ob/gyn, an older man, was concerned about her mental health over the procedure. By her account, he put his arm around her shoulders, trying to be all paternal, and told her sincerely “Now, you know, this means you won’t have your period anymore.” Her response: “Oh, DARN!” with a big grin and a finger-snap. Not to have messy, uncontrollable goo dripping from your crotch every month. No cramps, no PMS, bloating, or lower back pain. No worries about staining your clothes if the protection fails. No increased risk of toxic shock syndrome from tampons, no bulky diapers, no chafed skin from extra fluids or extra cleansing. No days when your partner may be uncomfortable or disinclined to make love to you. No remembering a particular pill every day, or making sure to use another method if you get put on antibiotics. No risk of children, which is never 100% on any form of birth control. (I know one couple who had four kids on four different kinds of control, the last one after his vasectomy grew back. Second surgery took though. :) ) In other words, no more “mystical sacred gift of womanhood” indicating the physical ability to make babies. I wish to hell I had her problem. I don’t have each of the above issues, but I know plenty of women who have some or all, or even more.

    There are thousands if not millions of unwanted children in this world. Why should we discourage anyone from adopting them? Why in the name of all that is holy should we *encourage* someone to make more? Is an adopted child somehow less loved than a biological one? I’m sure their parents don’t think so. These are not chance children, luck of the draw, these are *chosen* children, who know above all else that their parents specifically asked for them, as they are.

    And it’s not like we don’t have an overpopulation problem. Why is the highest goal to which a woman can aspire to produce a copy of herself? What if she doesn’t have the means to support a child? What if she has a medical problem that, even if it doesn’t endanger the pregnancy itself, is likely to be passed on to her offspring, resulting in a miserable life? What if she is not good with kids, not patient enough to raise a crying baby, and knows it? What if she just decides that she wants to live her own life? I understand that there have been women who made hasty decisions regarding their fertility, and came to bitterly regret it later. But once the risks have been explained, it should still be the woman’s own choice, not some “kindly” doctor’s to make for her.

    I’m 36 years old. I decided when I was twelve that I did not want children, and I have never changed my mind. Through schooling, career, social life, two marriages, and diagnosis of a heart defect, nothing has convinced me that I am remotely interested in pregnancy, squalling infants, inquisitive toddlers, busy schoolchildren, emotional adolescents, or rebellious teenagers. I like babies, if I can give them back. :) I don’t have the financial means, the health, the patience, or quite simply the *interest* in having a baby. Does this make me selfish? Maybe, from some points of view. But I believe it would be more selfish to start one off with that slate.

    When I was 23, I was found at an annual ob/gyn appointment to have an ovarian cyst. My doctor discovered it on the physical exam. It was measured by later sonogram at six centimeters. He was understandably concerned that it come out, as it was plainly fast-growing, with no trace of it the year before. I had no other symptoms, pain or bloating, which is maybe surprising in a mass that size (but I’m not complaining). He was fairly sure, and pathology confirmed, that it was a benign cyst (not cancerous), but the size still indicated removal. He told me, “The ovaries are designed to reproduce, and sometimes they just go too far.” :) So, surgery was the decision. I showed up at the hospital prepared for the outpatient laparoscopic procedure which had been explained to me. When I woke in recovery, I had a three-inch vertical incision in my lower abdomen, and was told that I would be kept in the hospital for three days. My surgeon (same ob/gyn who did the exam) had decided that if the cyst was fluid-filled, it could break open while being drawn through the lap tube, with a high risk of peritonitis (often fatal) from the contamination of the abdominal cavity. Therefore, he did a full laparectomy, in which my belly was opened, my guts spilled out on the table, and the cyst removed directly instead of by remote manipulation. I totally agreed with his reasoning, when I learned of it, but it was unconscionable of him or his staff not to have discussed it with me before the surgery. Not only were myself and my first husband not prepared for a three-day hospital stay (he had expected to take me home that afternoon), but the risks from the surgery itself (as opposed to from the cyst) were much higher, and in fact I lost quite a bit of blood. I was not given input into the type and placement of scar I would have. The vertical incision (a centimeter-wide scar still highly visible to this day) takes advantage of a natural break in the abdominal muscles, but most women who have uterine or ovarian surgery, including caesarian section deliveries, end up with the “smile” bikini-line scar which is more easily concealed in the natural lines of the skin. This was not a last-minute decision on the table. They had pre-certified it with my HMO insurance, which thank goodness covered all of it with a $50 copay. But what if it hadn’t? I would have been stuck with tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills I never anticipated. There was no sick time at my then job, I had begged and pleaded for a week off unpaid for recovery, which would probably have sufficed for the laparoscopic surgery. After what they really did, I should have had at least two or three weeks before going back, but I had no choice if I wanted to keep my job. Fortunately it was mostly sitting at a desk, so at least I wasn’t lifting or standing, instead of flat on my back where I needed to be. I was fully adult under the law, of sound mind, and capable of making my own decisions about my body. It was *not* my doctor’s place to make those choices for me.

    In addition to all of the above, we found on the initial pre-surgery sonogram that I have a septated uterus. This means that there is a partial wall between the two lobes of the womb, from prenatal development when it actually grows together from two pieces. Without correction, it is unlikely I could carry a fetus past four or five months without miscarrying. No problem, I don’t want one anyway. There are no other real complications. I did actually ask my doctor if they could do a hysterectomy when they did the cyst removal, but I was told that I was too young, and I might change my mind. (Sound familiar?) I didn’t push too hard, as it was merely a choice rather than medically necessary, and with the laparoscopic surgery I *thought* I was having, would have been very difficult. If I had known I was getting a full incision, I might have tried harder. (Turned out later I am very sensitive to birth control pills, tried multiple kinds, they make me cry all the time and bleed three weeks out of the month, instead of one. So I stopped using them. Thank goodness for vasectomies.) But the real icing on the cake was when I went for my two-week post-surgical office visit. He checked me out, healing pretty well, and then said, “Now it’s time to consider corrective options for your uterus.” I was flabbergasted. I don’t need it, I’ve promised myself never to use it, I have *told* him this, why would I want to fix it? I’m not even over the first extraneous pain he put me through. I told him basically, “You were just in there. If you wanted to do something about that, you should have thought of it then.” And then I went and found a female ob/gyn, and have refused to see a man for that ever again.

  21. Jon D Says:

    When I compare this to how easy it is to get a vasectomy as a male, it makes me want to weep. When I went in for my vasectomy, there was a consultation with absolutely no grilling about ‘are you really sure’. After explaining what the procedure would entail we scheduled it for two weeks later. No fuss. No hesitation. No second-guessing. The fact that a determined, responsible, adult woman can’t make that same decision for herself and have that be respected is absolutely unacceptable.

  22. I faced the onus of being a childless woman not wanting that fertility back in 1980. It shocks me to know that it is still so widespread that it would threaten this woman’s life.

    I never have wanted children. Not because of legitimate physical limitations, but because of emotional limitations. I had to wait until I was 30 before I could even find a doctor willing to discuss a tubal ligation, much less perform one. It took persistence and “shopping” for a decent gynocologist who would at least listen. As it turns out, it actually WAS for the best for me physically, as well. But to think that 30 YEARS after my travail, this poor woman had to face dangerous consequences because of the paternalistic and antiquated views of male surgeons infuriates me.

  23. Lurkertype Says:

    To the writer: as a (mildly) disabled woman who also had to fight for sterilization, I am so glad you wrote this and sorry you had to wait longer for your needed operation.

    What we need are more GYN and fewer OB!

    I am spending the holidays with my complete family: my husband of 30 years and our two cats.

  24. sceptinurse Says:

    I am sorry you had to face this. When I was 24 I wanted my tubes tied. I had 3 children (the first when I was 21). My doctor was very paternalistic and was just sure I would change my mind and want more. I was fortunate, a year later I had my own insurance, an HMO, and had to see a different doctor. He was Chinese and his only concern was that I knew it was permanent. I had my tubes tied 2 weeks later. I have never regretted my decision. This was back in the early 80’s it’s really sad to see that nothing has changed.

  25. Redscylla Says:

    I wish I could say I was shocked, but I am absolutely not. At the age of 30, I tried to find a doctor who would tie my tubes. I had no interest in child-bearing, and my husband was actually deeply opposed to us having a baby. No doctor would agree to it. Not even one I met through the Zero Population Growth organization. SImply put, every doctor I spoke with felt that at the age of 30, I could not be relied upon to make a decision that would be permanent.

    As unshocked as I am, I’m still totally appalled to know that a woman with a compelling medical reason for a surgery that would preclude pregnancy would be put through the same condescending bullshit I went through. My life and health weren’t on the line, and there was no clock ticking down my quality of life. How horrible for you. And how shameful that “modern medicine” is still operating on out-moded ideas about womanhood.

  26. I had a similar experience. I chose infertility at age 28. I was unmarried, but wasn’t too keen on being married either. I’d used birth control pills since age 13 to control endometriosis and other fibroid problems. The ligation procedure was on my insurance plan, but you had to be on a months long waiting period, go through a class/lecture and be interviewed by the potential surgeon. My luck, the ob/gyn was a MAN, who was married with four kids. I gave him all the reasons why I didn’t want a child. He kept trying to talk me out of the procedure, eventually refusing to do it.
    By luck, a friend of mine referred me to a woman GYN who’d had the procedure herself a few years prior. She did the operation for me. No problem. But SHE was pissed I wasn’t referred, and that the doctor refused, after I’d met all the requisites.

    And what John D says is true. Males, no matter how young they are, receive no such restrictions, or barriers to wanting a vasectomy. A 22 year old friend of mine had had one and it was done within a week of making the appointment. Not because the doctor wanted HIM to think about it, but because his case load was heavy that month.

    Regardless that women do take serious risks when it comes to getting pregnant. Not just physical ones, but professional, financial and sometimes the fathers might threaten them if they get pregnant.
    And it’s not like our planet is UNDERPOPULATED and all children born are born into situations that are best for them.
    Why there is such a persistent stigma against those of us who choose not to have children or can’t, is insane.
    I mean the ENTIRE political campaign against same sex marriage is based on the impossibility of forming a nuclear biological family or having children in the easiest biological way.

    As IF there is ANY marriage discrimination based on the capacity to procreate!

    I have resented this attitude as if we never, can’t and don’t make contributions to the welfare of our communities in other ways. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily.
    The infertile, where the marriage issue is concerned, are talked about as if as useless as the dead.

    Eventually, my fibroid and ovarian cyst problem worsened to the point of rupturing me from the inside out and I had a total hysterectomy, even cervical removal 15 years ago. I was still pretty young. But my instincts on not being a parent were excellent.
    And for most females they usually are.
    The pressure to make babies can and has been a terrible detriment in so many ways.
    Again, it’s INSANITY, this stigma against the non parents in society.
    And it MUST stop!

  27. Aaron Says:

    I’m sure there’s already many men enraged about how you were treated, but count me as another.

  28. Hi,
    A friend of mine sent me the link to this story. I had a similar story (in all its glory here http://www.walrusmagazine.com/blogs/2010/10/21/the-end-of-the-family-line/:). Weirdly, it was a male surgeon that gave me no hassle, and the female one that wouldn’t let me be sterile. Anyway, thanks for this.

  29. Goad Toad Says:

    wow I just don’t get it. I’m pretty male. I’m competitive, I’m messy, I’m aggressive, I routinely say disgusting things that make my girlfriend roll her eyes at me. But somehow I just seem to have failed to ever develop whatever it is that makes so many males be so benightedly stupid about shit like this. I’m truly sorry you had to deal with that shit. I don’t get it. I just truly do not get where dudes like that are coming from. Stupid, dumb motherfuckers.

  30. I think what scared me most in this was the feeling of powerlessness these doctors can instill in anyone who has a different agenda to the one they expect. the experience of the author just highlights how we can walk into a medical environment confident in what we want to happen only to be shot down and told actually we dont care if its your body, your mind, your decisions; we are incharge…I have great admiration for the authors courage and conviction to stand up for her rights and pursue what she wanted the outcome to be.

  31. Bergitta Says:

    My husband and I have been trying for about 18 months now and we still have no baby. I don’t want to do IVF or anything like that. I’d like to stay natural if I can.

    Does anyone one know how you can increase your fertility or chances of conceiving?

  32. Male doctors drive me crazy – it’s nowhere near the scale of yours, but when I came down with serious, serious pain in my middle (nauseated, but being unable to vomit) and a fever, being a Biology student (at the time), and knowing my own body, I knew something was really wrong. I got myself to the ER pronto. The male doctor said, “if you were a man, I would think this was appendicitis.” True – I’d gotten myself to the ER because I had EVERY symptom of appendicitis, perfectly and clearly, although I hadn’t told him that, just my symptoms. I think, “hooray! treatment for appendicitis is forthcoming!” but he continued:

    “But since you’re a woman, I’m going to ask you to get into the stirrups and poke your ovaries.” Because having ovulated for ten years, I still wouldn’t know what cramps felt like? And believe me, I have no problems puking with those cramps (not being able to puke is one of those “this is clearly appendicitis!” symptoms). Also, women don’t typically run 104F fevers during ovulation.

    So my appendix is swollen and inflamed, and he’s shoving more things into my abdomen. :-/ After that I had a couple more tests – all centering around my ovaries and uterus – and then, over twelve hours later, I finally got a test on my appendix and it was determined I had appendicitis. At that point I was given painkillers and antibiotics.

    When I finally went in for surgery, my appendix was gangrenous and the surgery took twice as long as it should have, and my recovery stay in the hospital took four times as long as it should have – all because my treatment had been delayed by male doctors who couldn’t see beyond my reproductive features.

    I’m not a misandryst – it’s not that I don’t trust male doctors period – I just do not trust them to care for my health is my reproductive system is involved at all. Male dentist? Sure! Male Optometrist? Sure! But Male GP? Male Gyno? No. No matter how good they are (and I’ve had male gynos and GP’s) they really only see a pair of ovaries.

  33. 70% people don’t know that obesity can reduce fertility in women. There are many overweight women who become pregnant easily, but if your BMI is above 30, then it would affect your fertility. The healthy range for conceiving a child is BMI that is between 18.5 and 25. This means that women, who have low body fat, also have less likelihood of getting pregnant. The reason behind this the fact that menstrual cycle of a woman is affected by the amount of body fat. Changes in body fat levels create hormonal imbalances in women. This results in the lesser likelihood of ovulating normally.


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