An article in the August issue of Chatelaine caught my eye and spurred some heated discussion between my best friend and I recently (I’d link out to it but the Canadian women’s magazine doesn’t appear to put their feature stories online).
It was an article about the sterilization of women and how inaccessible that option is for the majority of Canadian women — not because it’s not covered by universal health care and is an expensive procedure, but because there is no blanket rule regarding who can and who cannot get sterilized. And since it is harder to reverse getting one’s tubes tied than reversing a man’s vasectomy, a number of doctors in Canada are unwilling to provide the service to women of childbearing age for fear they will change their minds and want children one day.
Since there are no guidelines for the procedure — the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada is currently drafting them, but they won’t be available until next year — most doctors screen candidates on a case-by-case basis to try to determine the likelihood of regret. Doctors take into account a patient’s age, any risk associated with a postpartum surgery, the odds of the current relationship failing, whether the woman has other young children and the possibility of loss of a child.
I remember hearing rumours when I was a teenager that a woman could not be sterilized — unless there was a threat to her life that made sterilization absolutely necessary. But after reading this article, quoting a number of women that went to their doctor (or many doctors) demanding the procedure, I’m a little dismayed and offended.
A man can walk into a doctor’s office and say he wants a vasectomy, and the procedure is performed — no questions asked. Why can a woman not do the same?
Yes, there’s the argument that a vasectomy is much-easier reversed than tubal ligation, however if I am choosing to get my tubes tied for whatever reason, then I should be understanding that there is a risk — if I change my mind in 10 years, a reversal might not be successful.
But as the patient, I take on those risks. And please tell me in what kind of medical procedure is there not risks? Should we stop doing living organ donation because there’s a chance of infection or even death to the living donor? It’s small, yes, but it’s still there. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
What this boils down to is being a woman. A woman is supposed to want to procreate — she’s supposed to be born with that mothering instinct in her. So women who know they do not want kids — that they will never want kids — are seen as women that just haven’t figured out they want kids yet (I swore I’d never have kids when I was younger and I was told to just “wait and see,” my mind would change. I’m 28 and still don’t have kids or plan to in the future).
It’s because of this doctors are hesitant to sterilize a woman, and that’s a double standard. I’m 28 — almost at the end of my prime childbearing years. If I were to wait 10 more years to have a baby, it still would be difficult due to my age by then (nearly 40). So then why can I not decide to get myself sterilized?
But what really bothers me about doctors unwilling to sterilize women in Canada is the fact if I get pregnant and choose not to have the baby, I can get an abortion. Why is it that I can choose to get rid of a baby, but I cannot make the decision to prevent myself from ever getting pregnant in the first place? That’s some backwards logic to me.
Maybe a woman who doesn’t want children is not the norm, but it’s also a very selfless decision. As more women throw themselves into their careers, more women are making the choice to remain childless.
I don’t believe the need to have a child is more ingrained in a woman than a man. I also believe that women are intelligent beings and if they choose to sterilize themselves, then they also accept the risk that comes with that choice.
And if a woman does get sterilized and changes her mind about wanting children, there are thousands of kids waiting to be adopted in this country and around the world. Perhaps that’s a better alternative than discrimination at a doctor’s office based on sex.
(Photo courtesy of onkel_wart on Flickr. You can see more of his photography by visiting his Flickr page).