Do you think women know that non-invasive procedures like Essure are an option? Do you think childfree women have the same trouble securing any form of permanent birth control, no matter which type they want? Have you encountered resistance from medical professionals about sterilization options?
After I got my tubes tied last year, I got a lot of questions from friends (and strangers) about what a tubal ligation actually means. It's not a common procedure for a young (under 30), relatively healthy childfree woman to have, and most of my friends (parents and non-parents) rely on other forms of birth control, permanent or otherwise. I realize that a lot of Bitch readers know a lot about their bodies and reproductive health, but in the interest of clearing up some misconceptions about tubal ligations specifically (I'll get to other permanent birth control like Essure later this week), here are a few of the questions I've fielded and how I generally answer them.
Before I launch into talking more about sterilization and permanent birth control next week, I want to quickly touch on (and probably later come back to) something that's been on my radar the last week or so. You no doubt realize I read tabloid gossip if I'm able to come up with a photo montage like this one. So imagine my surprise when I read what Italian model-actress—known lately as George Clooney's girlfriend—said to Italian Cosmopolitan magazine.
Does the history of sterilization have links to modern consent forms? How has forced sterilization intersected, if at all, with the fight for women's right to be voluntarily sterilized? Rebecca M. Kluchin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of history at California State University, Sacramento, and author of the book Fit to be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980, was kind enough to answer some questions via email about the history of forced sterilization, the stigma of voluntary sterilization for childfree people, and how the struggles for and against sterilization have differed.
If we're going to talk about voluntary sterilization—or even the simple act of opting to have few or no children—we've got to get everyone on the same historical page. While I tend to take for granted that people understand the history of forced sterilization in the U.S., as well as countries such as China that mandate single-child families as part of population control, it may not be a given that everyone understands the connections between modern eugenics, race/class/ability privilege, reproductive justice, and the struggle for voluntary sterilization. Much as I know loads of folks use it as a jumping off point, skimming the Wikipedia entries for compulsory sterilization and eugenics in the United States only gets you so far.
As someone who writes about choosing to not have children, what I seek are equitable conversations about honoring and giving space to all sorts of reproductive options—in a way, I suppose I want "choice feminism" to extend to us all. In the end, I simply want Bill McKibben's Maybe One to have a shot at being even half as popular as What To Expect When You're Expecting. (I know, a pipe dream, but a gal can hope.) I want every option put on the rhetorical table, for every issue to be given equal consideration when we set out to make decisions about how we live. Just because people claim to not have a bias against something doesn't mean room is made at the table to share those ideas or validate opinions. How can we talk about private, personal decisions related to fertility, childbearing, adoption, family, and love without squashing each other's values and opinions? How do we navigate this rocky terrain?
Reality TV tends to focus on and highlight extreme behaviors and choices—sometimes with the intention of normalizing them. For me, nothing has been such an obvious statement about our culture's obsession with parenting and procreation as the "we have a million kids" shows that have sprung up over the last few years—and there are quite a few, particularly for U.S. audiences. I'm referring specifically to 19 Kids and Counting, Kate Plus 8 (sorry Jon), Raising Sextuplets, and Table for 12, all of which celebrate the chaos of having 8-plus people in the house. (You can also lump in TLC's Sister Wives, since though they have 3 mothers and no sets of multiples, they also have more than 10 kids.) Why are all of these shows so popular? What do they tap into that makes them worth watching? Do people secretly long for the chaos advertised in this programming line-up, or is it simple one more way to make an easy buck by exploiting a family who can likely use the cash?
On Saturday night, my partner and I were walking out of a local grocer when he decided to buy one of the newspapers being sold by the homeless couple on the corner. I was holding our grocery bag as Andreas paid for the paper, and as the woman handed it to him, she asked him something, then reached over and patted my stomach before he steered me away. I chuckled as we turned towards home. "Why did she poke me? That was funny," I said, because I hadn't caught what they said and didn't understand what I did hear. He looked at me, stricken, and began to shake his head. Then it hit me. She wanted to know when I'm due.
Oprah and Babs talk about how tough it is to have kids as a working woman—or in Oprah's case, the unambiguous lack of regret in regards to opting out. Skip to 7:30 in the video, where the discussion about having kids starts. Transcript after the jump.
When I think about the idea of celebrating children, I come back to the same question again and again: Why shouldn't an intentional choice be celebrated? When feminists talk about reproductive justice, it's often within the context of not just the ability to, say, have an abortion, but to raise a child the way you see fit, or to give birth on your own terms. The very notion that we should be in charge of our own bodies—that if possible, we shouldn't just wait for things to happen to us—is central to a conversation about rights, health, and justice. Don't you think intentionally opting out is worth a few streamers and noisemakers too?