Women have both the ability and right to take a multitude of factors into account and arrive at the logical decision about their reproduction status that's right for them. This statement should be both obvious and widely accepted as fact, yet so many doctors and other healthcare practictioners are undermining a women's right to choose when-and if- they want to procreate by refusing to provide them with permanent birth control procedures- even if, as explained later on in the case of Terra Miller, permanent birth control is medically-indicated, as pregnancy could lead to the woman's death.
Childfree women face discrimination and insults every day. I should know- I'm one of them. We're told we aren't fulfilling a biological duty we have as women to reproduce, we're told we're living unfulfilling lives, we're told we're useless, stupid and selfish, among countless other things. Our society is obsessed with women getting married and then having children. There's nothing wrong with that route, but it's not for everyone. This shouldn't be a big deal, and yet the thought of someone not wanting children is mind-boggling to a lot of people, including, apparently, doctors.
Mind-boggling or not, a woman's decision on whether or not to reproduce should be respected, period. Permanent birth control is sought for a myriad of reasons, from negative reactions or side-effects to other forms of birth control to simply not wanting to have to deal with other types of birth control for the rest of their lives. Some women even have diseases or conditions that would make pregnancy life-threatening, yet they're denied permanent birth control. Anyone's reasoning for not wanting to procreate should be seen as valid and respected, but in the healthcare world, it's clearly not.
Finding a doctor to preform permanent birth control on a woman can be anything from frustrating and disheartening to impossible.
It often involves multiple visits, wait times between appointments 'to give women time to think about their decision' and eventual downright refusals. However, it's completely different for men; their choices are usually respected and they're given permanent birth control without hassle.
"I was denied several times," says a woman I reached out to named Lynne Belcher. She says a doctor told her that, "ethically, she couldn't [preform a permanent birth control procedure] because she knew I would change my mind!" She then went to another doctor seeking the procedure, who instructed her to ask her husband first. "The system is cruel to women who don't want children," she says, "I finally found a doctor to put me on an IUD, but that's it."
Personally, I've tried almost every form of contraception available to women and have gotten nothing but side-effects. I was on the pill for years, but it made me lose my libido and gave me terrible acne before it stopped working for me altogether. I tried the depo provera birth control shot which lasts for about three months; throughout the entire three months, I had to be on a prescription anti-nausea medication because I kept vomiting. I was dizzy every day until the shot wore off, and I was absolutely miserable. I nearly lost my job because of it. After that, I even tried to have an Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) put in. It was extremely painful, and it started to perforate my tilted uterus (which could've potentially killed me), so I had to have it removed after six months in pain and misery. It also made me extremely irritable and gave me other unpleasant side-effects.
IUDs are the longest-lasting form of temporary birth control, and they're growing in popularity. However, they can come with a whole lot of negative side-effects, and they have to be painfully replaced every few years. Some doctors won't even give IUDs to women who haven't already had children. Overall, it's clear they're not always an ideal choice to more permanent, surgical forms of birth control for women who have made the decision that they don't ever want children.
"I had to fight tooth and nail to get sterilized," says Terra Miller.
"I went in at 21 and the doctor had the nurse get me on the table and get undressed," she explains. "Then, after a 20 minute in-office wait, the nurse was sent back in and told me that the doctor was refusing to see me, based solely on my age. It didn't matter that I was married, an adult, or that I have a disease that could spread to my organs and kill me if I got pregnant. Nope! To him, my age, even though I was an adult, meant that I had no idea what I wanted or needed in my life, and he didn't even have the decency to tell me this himself! He didn't even meet with me!" How heart-breaking and angering!
Nikole LaBelle is a woman in the military who knows she doesn't ever want children. She's been trying to get her tubes tied since she became a legal adult at 18. " I've gotten every excuse in the books," she says, "but the most insulting one was when my doctor told me I'd need my husband's permission and for him to be present for the conversation regarding my bodily autonomy." Ugh!
A medical professional requiring a significant other's express permission to have permanent birth control performed is horrific. It completely undermines a woman's autonomy and sense of self; it undermines her decision-making capabilities and very identity as a person capable of making logical personal decisions. Denying women birth control without a husband or significant other's consent is saying that she's unable to make reproductive decisions on her own. What century is this again? The Dark Ages?
I personally know several men who have gotten vasectomies- permanent birth control for men. None of them had any problems whatsoever with doctors questioning their decision, hassling them, making them wait to give them time to think, needing a wife's express consent, etc. They all just went in, scheduled their appointments, and simply got their permanent birth control procedures preformed.
Amber Williams is a woman whose husband had a vasectomy done at 25 years old. "The only hassle was the two month long wait, but that wasn't a "think about it" waiting period- it's just that the doctor only came to the clinic once per month to do them en masse and the next two dates were already fully booked. I think that alone says something about how easy it is to get a vasectomy."
Cherilyn Danks has an eye-opening story. She is a 41-year-old woman who's been trying to have permanent birth control procedures since she first became an adult. "I'm old enough to serve my country, go to jail, pay taxes, but I am not capable of making a very personal decision for myself?" she says, clearly aghast and frustrated. Her husband recently got a vasectomy. "My husband never met the doctor performing the procedure. He literally called last week, has his consult (first meet and greet) this Monday and procedure Friday." What an absolute slap in the face! She'd been asking over half her life to have a permanent birth control procedure, but her husband was able to get one within a single week.
You might be thinking, If it's so easy for men to get vasectomies, why doesn't the male of every childfree partnership/marriage get sterilized so the woman doesn't have to worry about it?
1. Sterilization isn't something that's sought only by married/partnered women, and many women feel that- for themselves- they want to have it done. Also, many unmarried/single women have made the decision to be childfree for life and want to be absolutely certain to never get pregnant. I made the decision to be childfree when I was a child myself. When I started online dating- where I met my husband- I filtered out anyone who either said they had kids or wanted them in the future. I knew that someone who isn't also childfree would never be an ideal match for me, and didn't want to waste my time; my husband actually did the same thing with his account. He knew he never wanted children and filtered out women who either wanted kids or said they wanted kids in the future. I personally know many other childfree people who date online and do the same thing.
2. Many men simply don't want vasectomies. Maybe they don't want to deal with the pain of the procedure, or the heal time. Some men can't afford it, and some are afraid of possible long-term side-effects that can come with the procedure. Some men feel that their 'manhood' or masculinity would be affected by not being able to procreate any longer. Any reason not to have a vasectomy is valid and should be just as respected as a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices.
Any reason a woman has for wanting permanent birth control- no matter her adult age- should be respected by healthcare providers. It's astounding that in this day and age, women are being degraded by being told they're too young for permanent birth control, or that they need their husband's express permission first. Women who could die if they get pregnant are being turned away when asking for permanent birth control. This alone should outrage you. Women are autonomous beings capable of arriving at their own locial and rationalized decisions concerning their own reproduction; not respecting women's choices is demeaning and wrong. Other birth control methods aren't for everyone, and the side-effects can be devastating for some women, like me. Not every childfree man wants to go through a vasectomy, and his decision should be viewed as valid, no matter his reasoning.
What needs to happen is this: healthcare providers need to start listening to women. They need to hear out their reasoning for seeking sterilization, and they need to stop enforcing arbitrary and unjustified age restrictions for adult women.
I was just as sure at 18 and single as I am now at 25 and married that I'll never want children; I even brought my childfree status to the table when online dating by weeding out men who had or wanted kids. A woman's right to choose if and when to procreate is so incredibly central to her well-being, life and autonomy, and any decisions she makes regarding her procreation need to be respected whether or not you personally happen to agree with them, period. Until healthcare practitioners start seeing this, women everywhere will go without permanent birth control procedures they deserve, have a right to, and sometimes even physically need to ensure their physical safety.