Please, Let Me Be More Than My Uterus

One of the most freeing moments of my life came when my doctor announced he may have to remove my uterus.  He said it slowly, apologetically, perhaps expecting tears to come out of my newly-married twenty-something eyes.  For me, this announcement came as a relief.  A guarantee that I would never have to get pregnant, as well as a much-needed good riddance to the painful periods that plague me every twenty-eight days.  This was even better than a tubal ligation, I thought.  My spirits dipped when he explained that this was an extreme solution, but nonetheless, he was taken aback by my reaction.  Or, to be more accurate, lack thereof.

When I say that I do not want to have children, what comes to mind?  A blissful life spent travelling and focusing on my career?  Plenty of disposable income and a house that is never sticky?  Certainly, when I was consulting with that OB/GYN about removing my endometriosis and receiving a tubal ligation, his mind inevitably went to the obvious.  Sensing his need for a justification, his “I’ve heard this before from women who later change their minds,” I hurriedly explained that I have always wanted to adopt.  Having been adopted myself, I have an intimate, personal connection to adoption that, combined with my desire to never get pregnant, makes it the ideal choice for starting my family.  He was taken aback, and quickly added that in his long career, no woman had ever given him that response.

For those not familiar with endometriosis, it is a condition wherein the tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow outside the uterus.  Sometimes, women with endometriosis suffer little to no pain, but the most common symptoms are excruciating period cramps, discomfort during sex, and yes, infertility.  My chief complaints are the first two, and the procedure to remove the endometriosis is relatively easy.  I added that, in the process, I’d like him to tie my tubes.

Despite my tangent about adoption, the OB/GYN spoke to me patronizingly, explaining that he wouldn’t even know if it were endometriosis until opening me up.  Now, enter the uterus.  There is a chance my uterus may be the source of my pain, and he defiantly said that he has never removed a uterus of a twenty-three-year-old before.  For me, and other women who do not want to get pregnant, a uterus is about as useful as an appendix – but my emergency appendectomy earlier this year did not come with a side of patriarchal guilt trip.  They just took it out before it ruptured, which would have caused me even more pain.

Despite recent attacks on Planned Parenthood and the oft-contradictory rhetoric coming from Republican presidential candidates, I like to believe, however naively, that many Americans still champion a woman’s right to choose what happens to – and inside – her body.  Backlash to those who attacked Planned Parenthood has been swift and deliberate, and pressure for schools to stop participating in the stigmatization of everything from menstruation to IUDs is strong.  The definition of family is also rapidly expanding.  Families with two moms, one mom, or two dads fill our society, our advertisements, and our sitcoms.  Adoption and surrogacy remain viable, thriving alternatives, albeit largely for couples who can’t conceive.  Feminist news sources have, as of late, been inundated with articles defending those women who choose never to have children, often to counter the baby-fever tabloids that have spent over a decade speculating on Jennifer Aniston’s womb.

From these discussions, two clear camps emerge: women who don’t want to have children, and women who do.  For women who want to have children, those unable to naturally conceive resort to adoption, surrogacy, and in-vitro fertilization as second options.  However, what about those women who do not neatly fit into either camp?  What about me?

Prior to meeting with my OB/GYN, who will be performing an exploratory laparoscopic to try to locate and remove the endometriosis, I spoke with my physician, a truly wonderful woman in a healthcare industry that seems perennially slanted against women, about my options for long-term birth control, since I do not want to ever get pregnant.  She fully supports that this is my decision to make, and in my experience, that can be rare.  While I leaned in favor of hormone-free tubal ligation (now a reality thanks to the laparoscopy), my physician recommended that I look into Essure, yet after weeks of searching for a specialist to meet with me, she reported that no doctor in the D.C. area would agree to give Essure to someone so young.  Keep in mind, I’m twenty-three, not thirteen.  And, even though this should not matter one ounce, I’m happily married.  And that tubal ligation I’m receiving from my OB/GYN comes with an unwanted amount of patronizing misogyny and promises that I will change my mind.  He’s tying my tubes, but he is not happy about it because of my age…and my sex.

I can only interpret this one way: the medical industry, like society, sees women as primarily reproductive beings.  We are supposed to be baby crazy, drooling over tiny shoes in the Target toddler section and jealously browsing through our friends’ pregnancy photos.  The pain of learning we can’t get pregnant is supposed to rival the day our mom dies.  Protests of “I don’t want kids” are almost always met by some relative knowingly shaking his or her head, insisting that we will change our minds.

There is nothing wrong or unfeminist about women who dream of becoming mothers or are obsessed with all things baby.  Some women who don’t want kids eventually change their mind, and some girls who always dreamt of becoming a mother choose a different path instead.  All of this is fine.  However, it is wrong and unfeminist to assume that all women will change their minds, that all women are designed for childbirth, or that all women have formed an emotional attachment to their uterus.

I have never wanted to have children biologically; rather, adoption has always been the right option for me.  It is neither heroic nor admirable; it is simply a different way of building a family based on my reproductive, emotional, and social needs, combined with the unique experiences that shaped my childhood as an adoptee.  Furthermore, my partner supports this wholly, and he agrees that it is the right move for our future family.

While I’m self-assured in this decision now, it used to give me terrible bouts of anxiety.  We talk about childbirth, pregnancy, and the desire to bear children as being “natural,” insinuating that anyone, especially any woman, who strays from this path is somehow unnatural.  Getting pregnant and giving birth is merely a reproductive choice; there is no moral value assigned to that act.  I was born with my desire to not get pregnant.  I know my body and my mind and I have always known that pregnancy is not the right option for me.  My reluctance to bear children is natural for me.  What is a natural path for one woman does not have to be a natural path for another.  Women are not cookie cutters: we are not all designed to give birth, and reducing women to their reproductive potential particularly marginalizes those in the trans community.  Those of us for whom pregnancy would be unnatural, unwanted, or otherwise impossible should not be shamed or talked down to because of this.

Ultimately, I do not feel like I have the choice to render myself infertile; rather, sterilization is something I had to beg for, like a dog demanding dinner, all because the medical industry sees my vagina and thinks, “Oh, she’ll change her mind one day.”  Somehow, though, a twenty-three-year-old man can undergo a vasectomy without medical professionals putting up a fight.  Of course, this is because men are allowed to want lives outside of children.  Us women, we can take the Pill and have protected sex and, if worse comes to worse, in many states obtain an abortion or put the child up for adoption with little fanfare.  However, these measures are all predicated on the premise of not being ready to have kids…yet.  Men are allowed to say never; women are allowed to wait until they are thirty.

No woman should ever be persecuted, patronized, or judged for her reproductive choices, especially by members of the medical community, whose priority should be to manage our pain levels in accordance to our specific needs.  A substantial part of my feminism is predicated upon inclusivity, and if we adhere to narrow definitions of biology and womanhood, we ostracize those who, through no fault of their own, simply do not meet them.  I refuse to be reduced to my reproductive potential.  I am a woman, not because of my uterus or my eggs or my fertility.  I am not even a woman because of my vagina and clitoris, two parts of biological womanhood that I do derive pleasure from.

I am a woman because I said so.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

My name is Kate Ericson, and I am a writer, social justice theorist, and Feminist living in Washington, D.C. I have a Master's in American Studies from George Washington University, with a focus in women and gender studies. My hobbies include excitedly petting golden retrievers, eating pizza, and traveling.

Kate is a writer and social justice advocate living in Washington, D.C.

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