A woman who is a patient talks with a doctor and a nurse from a hospital bed.
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

The day I got my Fallopian tubes cut out of my abdomen, I woke up from the anesthesia grinning.

I like to think my body just knew, even before my brain woke up, my life had changed for the better. Maybe I was high. But I woke up from surgery, looked around at the hospital, and giggled.

I finally did it.

It had been a lifetime coming, including six years bouncing to various doctor’s offices to find one who would respect my full reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.

“I don’t want kids. Never will,” I would say. “I want to be sterilized.”

“You might change your mind,” they would say patronizingly. “You’re too young.” 

I always wanted to joke about their fortune-telling abilities and ask if I would change my mind about other things too. Maybe suddenly I’d want to take up bank heists, move to the South Pole, or other things I never wanted.

I wish there had been some lightbulb moment I could point to as the one reason I never wanted kids. But maybe being able to point to one moment as the genesis of that philosophy makes it less valid: single thoughts or events are fleeting and can change as quickly as they come.

Instead, I’ve always known I didn’t want children, since I was a child. It’s been a static, permanent force, as ingrained in my body as my blue eyes or my memories.

But that self-assurance didn’t earn me bodily autonomy until four days before my 28th birthday.

I’d been asking doctors to tie my tubes since I was 21. Everybody said no, pointing to the procedure’s permanence. It’s the END of your fertility! You can never go back.

(I wanted to say, Yeah, that’s the point).

But that “ending” was actually the beginning I wanted: the start of a life wholly and irrevocably mine. It felt like I was trying to get to a starting line. But doctors could only see me breaking the tape of a finish line I’d never cared about.

Sterilization would be the beginning of a brand new life. No more worrying about taking daily pills that made my skin break out or my brain depressed. No getting IUDs shoved into my uterus. No more pulling my hood up at the drugstore and hoping no one I knew saw me buying Plan B. I would never have to worry about my life being permanently altered by a child. No. My life would be completely mine.

Of course life is often dictated by other things: work, friends’ schedules, weather. But I can’t control those. What I can control is how much of the rest of my life I own. I’m not selling that stake, just to fulfill the ideal of family and happiness set forth by society, or the doctor I met five minutes ago.

So I kept fighting. I collected my medical records (my “paper trail”), did more research. In the child-free corners of the internet, I found the name of a doctor in my new state who’d done sterilization procedures, and set up the consultation. 

On that day, I drove to the office blasting music to calm my nerves: B*tch Don’t Kill My Vibe by Kendrick Lamar and Story of Adidon by Pusha T (“It’s about to be a surgical summer,” he rapped, but also I hoped).

I walked in carrying my bag of paperwork, my hands shaking.

I get especially nervous in OBGYN offices, where most of the artwork depicts babies or pregnant stomachs. I never saw myself represented on those walls. When a doctor would deny my choice to be sterilized, I felt even more invisible.

But this office was different. There was a painting of a winery: deep purple grapes in front of a warm sunset. On the opposite wall was a beach scene: empty sand bookended by tall trees, puffy white clouds on the horizon. I imagined all the wineries and mountains and beaches I would visit without a child in tow, and felt serene.

When the doctor walked in, I expected condescension or the word “regret” to be thrown around. I expected a fight. But she asked how old I was, what I used for birth control, and if I was sure. That was it. No questioning what my boyfriend thought, or who would take care of me when I’m old. 

“My job is to be your provider and caregiver,” she said. “You get to make decisions.” From there, she gave medical details: cutting the tubes out instead of tying them meant a lower failure rate, and doubled as cancer prevention.

I wanted to cry at the simplicity (and science-based nature) of the whole interaction. Why did it take six years to find it?

If the birth rate is our barometer, women in the U.S. are choosing to not have kids in record-high numbers. Not all those want to be child-free permanently. But some do. Whatever their reasoning, it’s time we start listening. 

It’s time for doctors to trust women’s feelings and desires, no matter what. Someone who wants children shouldn’t have to justify their choice. But child-free people shouldn’t have to prove their validity either.

As new abortion limitations pop up constantly, there’s another quiet, insidious way women’s reproductive rights are limited. It took me six years and four doctors (in four states) to get a safe, legal medical procedure. 

I hope more doctors will meet women wanting sterilization with medical care, not patronization or flimsy fortune-telling. There’s a difference between doctors sharing medical concerns, vs imparting personal beliefs. In my experience, no doctor ever gave me a medical reason to not be sterilized: just guesswork on what would make me happy.

I’m grateful for every privilege and stroke of dumb luck that’s kept me from carrying an unwanted pregnancy. The day I woke up in that hospital, smiling under the oxygen mask, will always be one of my happiest moments.

Now, the rest of my life stretches in front of me with a brand new openness. It shouldn’t have taken years to access that empowerment and joy. But it was worth the wait.