If 42 year-old me could have talked to 23 year-old me as she was getting ready to get married, she would have remarked on the fact that forever is a fallacy, truth is relative and what you absolutely need and want out of life is an ever-changing target. 23 year-old me would not have listened, because if there’s one thing that 23 year-olds know, it’s everything.
For that matter, if 35 year-old me could have talked to 21 year-old me, she would have said that the giant tattoo on my chest really might, someday, be in the way of goals loftier than proclaiming loudly whatever the fuck it was I needed to proclaim loudly by getting a tattoo on my tit that covered much of my chest as well.
Not that either was wrong. Or even a bad idea. Just that my young idea of “permanent” and “true” and “real” might change over time. The existence of divorce and tattoo removal lasers suggest that, at 42, I am not the only person who made permanent decisions in my 20′s only to have them proven temporary in my 40′s.
It is from that perspective that I chimed in on the spate of articles circulating today about the horribly ageist and patriarchal practice of denying young women their agency by asking, sometimes very sternly and with waiting periods, if they are absolutely sure they want their tubes tied. (And why, yes, that is sarcasm you detect in my tone.)
23 year-old me was never going to have children. 42 year-old me has a daughter starting high-school next year. While I do NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, think that everyone can or should have children – if anything, I think far fewer people should – I think it is impossible for any 20-something year-old to know what they will want forever. I do. Sorry if that’s ageist. Further, I think it’s irresponsible for any doctor to perform a permanent and life-altering procedure on someone without a waiting period and very serious discussion. Seriously. When I had my nose done I had to pass a psych evaluation and wait at least a month to make sure that I didn’t have a body dysmorphic disorder. And that seemed perfectly reasonable to me. It still does.
When I was 28, and preparing to give birth to the daughter I never expected, I asked my doctor to tie my tubes while we were in there. Over the course of my pregnancy he had proven the kind of doctor who never questioned me, trusted my instincts over anything he learned in medical school and listened to how I chose to live my life when offering his opinions. When I asked him for a tubal, having not yet given birth, high on hormones and anticipation, he told me that it made him uncomfortable because I had no idea how I was going to respond to motherhood. He suggested that it might be better to consider this an open dialog, and keep checking in. It never occurred to me to be offended by this. He was right. I had no idea. I loved being a mother more than I ever would have imagined. But I did what he asked and kept an open mind. For a year, every time I got my period, I would send him a note saying that there was no fucking way I wanted another kid, but that I was keeping an open mind. Indeed, I was.
When my daughter took her first steps, and I got that first taste of what it was like to not have her stuck to my hip all the time, I knew for sure. No more kids. Ever. Seriously. I called him, told him, had it done a couple weeks later. I have never regretted it. In fact, I had an endometrial ablation a few years after that. Hell, if I’m not having babies, I don’t need these pain in the ass periods either, “close this fucking shop up but good!” I was never one of those women who was inspired to sing Kumbaya while prancing through wheat fields when I embraced my womanly goddess-given power through the monthly pain the fucking ass of my dirty, messy, stinky goddam periods. My body, my choice. (And so help me, if anyone tells me that I’m denying my feminine power because I bought into the patriarchal idea that my periods are dirty, I’ll find a kitten and kick it. I get to experience my body however I want, thank you.)
The point is, when someone suggests that you may not be able to see the future, they’re not being oppressive and patriarchal, they’re being honest.
This matters to me for several reasons, not least of which is the VERY REAL war on women’s bodies that is being waged by oppressive and patriarchal institutions, and I don’t want this Red Herring to obfuscate the actual problems.
- Transvaginal probes to show women what the fetus looks like if they’re pregnant? NO. We know what’s going on and don’t need your religious guilt trip.
- Laws that protect rapists and blame victims? No, we did not cause our rapes.
- Laws that punish working mothers? Single mothers?
- Laws that try to use condoms as proof of prostitution? (As if, dare I say it, there’s anything wrong with prostitution in the first place, which there’s not.)
- Systems that enable pedophilia, child pornography, rape and abuse of children?
- Laws that don’t protect the rights of same-sex couples? Or partnerships of more than two people?
- Society that freaks the fuck out about “kinky” sex, as if there’s any such thing as normal sex?
- Laws preventing the sale, ownership and use of vibrators in many states.
There are plenty of VERY REAL wars taking place in, on, for and about our bodies. It’s possible that this is NOT one of them. It is at least possible that asking a woman, especially a young one, if they are really sure that they want this very permanent procedure that will change the course of their life is good medicine, and not patriarchal oppression. Really. It’s required for cosmetic procedures. And those don’t change the way your body functions. No one is saying you can’t have your tubes tied, if you really want it, you should. But it’s okay to make you think about it, at least as long as I had to think about my nose job.
If 42 year-old me could talk to her teenage daughter, she would say, “you are entitled to your opinions and to do what you want with your life and body, but your reasons need to stand up to thorough examination commensurate with the impact they are likely to have on your life.” Oh, hey, I said that just the other day. It was when she asked me why I didn’t care at all that she was dying her hair purple, when her friend’s moms thought it was a sign that I was a reckless mother.
Purple hair has no impact on her future. It’s her body, she can do whatever she wants with it, as long as it doesn’t impact her future. If she wants a tattoo, she can do that too. But there will me much more discussion about it.
If she wants to permanently alter the way her body works, in a way that will limit her life choices in the future? Well, she can do that too, but there will be a metric ton of discussion about it. And then she can make her own decision. And feel confident in it. Because a decision that is thoroughly hashed and vetted tends to stand the test of time.
I’m divorced now. The tattoo is gone, but for a shadow, from my chest. I am glad that I could undo both of those permanent decisions. I am getting remarried, to a man who I think will last a lifetime. Our relationship – and sex life – benefit greatly from the bumps my 42 year-old road has provided. I am so glad that I cannot get pregnant again, because the truth is, staring in his blue eyes and feeling the fire he ignites in every pore of my body, I’d probably want to. And I am so glad that I can’t, because the last thing I really want is another kid.
I will never tell you that your life would be richer if you had a kid than if you didn’t. That’s an arrogant load of crap. Is mine? Sure. But it also might have been richer if I hadn’t had a kid and had been a chain-smoking novelist in Eastern Europe, as was my plan. There is no right answer. Not for me, not for anyone. But there is also never harm in being asked to really think long and hard about the decisions that are truly not reversible. If you don’t feel like you can or should explain them, then you may not be ready to make them.
Ageist? Maybe. But I’m not trying to oppress you. If anything, I’m trying to build up the strength of your convictions so that you don’t have to carry around the weight of regret. I’m not saying you don’t know what you want now. I am saying you cannot possibly predict what you will want in 20 or 30 years. None of us can.
If there’s one thing that I know for sure, the older I get, it’s nothing.