My Body, My Choice

The reactions to my decision to get a tubal ligation at 27 have utterly fascinated me as a reminder of the immensely proprietary attitudes people seem to have about other people’s bodies. There’s a particular presumption of ownership over bodies assigned or read as female that really comes into play here; when you get sterilised, you’re stepping out of this paradigm altogether and forcing people to deal with the fact that you aren’t on the field anymore. Your body is not a political football, as I put it in discussions with friends.

Like a lot of people I’ve talked to who have undergone the same procedure, I’m happy I got it. Excited, in fact, and I love talking about it; both because I like to exert control over my body and talk about choices I’ve made for myself, and because I want people to have information about it. I get a lot of questions from people interested in sterilisation who want to know more about their options and want to hear more specifically about my ligation procedure, which I wrote up for xoJane at the time. Information-sharing helps people make informed choices and I’m all about it.

But a lot of people didn’t share my excitement, and seemed almost offended by it. Some people said I shouldn’t talk about the procedure at all, like I should be ashamed I got a ligation, while others suggested that I would regret it, and that I had gotten it ‘too soon,’ despite the fact that I’ve known I don’t want children for most of my life. I recognise that I would make a poor parent, and it’s not something I want to do with my life, which doesn’t mean I think parents are bad people or that parenting is an unworthy pursuit: It’s just not for me.

Around infertile friends, I’d agree that a degree of sensitivity is advised, which is why I don’t gleefully celebrate my infertility around people whom I know are struggling with these issues. And in awareness of the fact that people who may be trying to have a baby may not be openly discussing it, I try to consider who I am around, and what their feelings about sterilisation and pregnancy might be. In those situations, I do choose my words carefully, and if they ask how I’m doing, I’m not going to say ‘so totally awesome now that I’m sterile! How about you?!’

But with the judgmental attitudes comes a whiff of the idea that I shouldn’t be allowed to have control over my body and make choices for myself. Many people expressed condemnation of sterilisation, sometimes in the same terms that are used among conservatives when it comes to talking about birth control. Like I’m not allowed to make my own reproductive health choices, and I’m harming myself or others by choosing to get sterilised. There was even some sense of ownership from friends who seemed offended that I hadn’t consulted them or discussed the surgery with them before it happened, even though those friends have known for a long time that I didn’t want children. Somehow, being confronted with the physical reality to back my long-held assertion that I don’t want to raise children was upsetting.

Sterilisation seems to trouble people on all ends of the political spectrum, and not for the reasons I would hope it would. Given the significant political and social history behind procedures like tubal ligation, it is a politically loaded surgery, and that’s something else I talked about, especially as a person with a disability; being voluntarily sterilised is a far cry from the abuses of sterilisation that continue to occur to this day. Sterilisation has been weaponised as a tool of eugenics and effective genocide since the very concept was invented, and that’s a legacy that I can’t deny or hide from even as I talk about the procedure.

In fact, it’s a critical thing for me to acknowledge when I talk about my own sterilisation and the informed choices that went into it. Thanks to the hard work and lobbying of activists, I was asked numerous times to repeat that I understood what the procedure was for, and that I was undergoing it of my own free will. At the same time, it’s likely that somewhere in the United States, someone was being forcibly sterilised by court order or pressure from a guardian, and with the blessings of a bioethics committee. I have no illusions about this, and neither should people who talk about reproductive justice.

The attitude I encountered from some people that my sterilisation was somehow a personal betrayal, or something that I should have run past them first, surprised me. Ultimately, it was a private medical decision (like abortion, like having wisdom teeth pulled) that I made after reviewing all my options, considering my life goals, and deciding whether I wanted to have children at any point in the future. And ultimately, my body, my choice; my choice may not be something that everyone likes, but it’s still my choice, and it astounded me to learn that so many people who defend the right to choose were so deeply invested in my sterilisation.

Yes, I made a permanent and irreversible decision. I will never bear children. And yes, I talk about that and celebrate it because my sterilisation was freeing and I’m happy I did it; I wake up every morning happy about it. Why should I have to be ashamed of that? Why should I have to shut up about it? And why do so many people still think they own my body and get to decide what I should or shouldn’t do with it?