Aloha - I'm now pregnancy-proof for life. My 30-year-old womb will forever be a Foetus Free Zone. High-five!
Some did indeed respond to my smiling announcement with a high-five and a "Congratulations!" One looked positively horrified, and said "What if you change your mind?" Funnily enough, I considered that before having the operation. Short answer: I won't. Long answer: I really won't.
"Is your boyfriend OK with it?"
"No, he's desperate to make babies with me, but I was like: sod you, life partner, your wishes don't matter to me. No, I'm just shitting you. Yes, of course he's bloody OK with it. We talked about it and everything."
(Hey, question for mothers: when you announced “I'm pregnant!” did anyone wince and say “What if you change your mind? Is your man OK with it?” Just wondering.)
My man has seen me going “ugh” at babies for as long as he's known me. It wasn't a surprise for him when I said, “So, I think I'll get my tubes tied. Thoughts?” We talked at length. He doesn't want children, but he's less certain than me. So I laid it out for him: “I don't want to breed. Ever. If you want to have babies, you will need to make them with someone else. I would hate to end our relationship, and losing you would be terrible, but the fact remains: if you want a woman to have your babies, then you must leave me and go looking for her, with my best wishes."
So why am I so convinced I won't change my mind? No-one knows the future, right?
I am aware that many people find great joy and fulfilment in parenthood. I know that for some, the sight of their baby's smile is the most beautiful thing they've ever seen, that they experience more love than they ever thought was possible. I am happy for those people. I am not one of those people. To me, kittens are cute, but babies are fat little maggots who shit themselves and make awful noises.
I have heard, many times, "Oh, it's different when it's your own!" Are you sure? How do you know that my reaction to the ripper of my own perineum wouldn't be the same as my reaction to the ripper of someone else's perineum? Namely, "Ew."
Many happy mothers say that it was worth the pain, the nausea, the sleepless nights, the incontinence, the headaches, the carpal tunnel syndrome, the Bell's palsy, the jaundice, the life-threatening haemorrhage. Would it be worth it for me? Er, no. Because I don't want children. And let's be honest here, for some, motherhood is not wonderful. Some have bonding problems, breastfeeding problems, guilt, post-natal depression. Or how about post-partum psychosis? That just sounds like a freakin' walk in the park, doesn't it?
So, I went to my GP. My GP tried to sell me on the Mirena coil. I've read all about it, I told her. I've researched and considered all the forms of contraception available, and I'd like to get sterilised. So she referred me to a gynaecologist.
In many ways, I appreciated the honesty of the male gyno who said, “So, you're here because you want to get sterilised. What can I say to change your mind?”
“Well,” I said very fast, “I've wanted this for years and I understand that it's permanent and that's what I want and so does my partner and I understand that there are small risks involved with having surgery but I consider the risks worth taking and I have reasons for rejecting all the other forms of contraception, er, I know that if I want to get it reversed I'll have to pay about £4000 and the success rate is about 60% and I know that you need to know that I know that and I do know it but I don't CARE, because I'm not going to want to have it reversed.”
I paused for breath. The doctor looked somewhat shell-shocked. “Ok,” he said. “ Do you understand that there is a failure rate of about one in 200, and if you do get pregnant, it has a 5% chance of being ectopic?”
“Your periods might become heavy, irregular, and more painful.”
“That's fine, I'm used to that when I don't take hormones.”
And that, ladies, allowed him to tick all the boxes on his form. Literally. I had a look at it when he left the room. So take note – if you want to persuade the NHS to tie your tubes, that's what you need to know.
He gave me a consent form, which I read carefully and signed. He gave me an exam, which I found rather unpleasant – first time I've been fingered by a male gyno and I now know that I'm far more comfortable with a woman doing the necessary.
A month or two later, I met a nurse for a pre-assessment – she took blood, tested my urine to check I wasn't up the duff already, and asked me a few questions.
A couple of weeks after that, I found myself in the day surgery unit. I was scared shitless. I've never had an operation before, and I couldn't shake off the nagging fear that I would perish on the table, or possibly panic, freak out and run away. I shared these fears with the kindly anaesthetist, who didn't call me a silly scaredy-pants, but took my feelings seriously and did what she could to make me feel better.
Wearing a hospital gown and paper pants, I was wheeled into a tiny room to get knocked out. They injected something into a drip in my hand, told me it sometimes stung a bit, and that it would take about 30 seconds to send me to sleep. And that's the last thing I remember, until I came to, feeling a bit woozy.
Immediately, a nurse beside me said, “You're in recovery. The surgery went well. How are you feeling, any pain?”
I only had mild pain – one or two on the scale of one to ten. I was brought a cup of tea and a biscuit, and asked again about my pain level. Still two. The nurse left. My pain started to meander gently back and forth between four and seven. “Well, this sucks,” I reflected, in the easy-going manner of the mildly drugged. I hated to bother a nurse when they had other people to look after, but I did manage to whimper at a friendly dude, “Is it normal to hurt this much?” Really what I wanted most was reassurance that yes, it was normal, and not an indication that anything had gone horribly wrong.
I was given reassurance and two co-codamol. Then I was given something morphine-esque and a hot pack. The hot pack felt like the best thing ever. They brought me a sandwich, and more tea. I munched dutifully on my sandwich, and asked could I get up and get dressed yet? I was gently told that no, I should stay where I was for the time being. I lay there for several hours, feeling waves of period-ish pain, cuddling the hot pack and listening to the woman on the other side of the curtain throwing up. I explored my midriff gently – one large dressing on my navel, one just above the pubes, and one off to the side.
Finally, I was allowed to get dressed. I felt a bit sick. I knew that the cardboard sick-receptacle was under my bed. Still feeling groggy, I swung myself off the bed, grabbed the sick-pot and sat on the chair before anything bad had a chance to happen. I started to feel decidedly horrible – hot, sweaty, sick and faint. I told the ill feeling to bugger off. It got worse. “Er, excuse me, but, er, help?” I called, pathetically.
A couple of sweet, sympathetic nurses were at my side straight away. One suggested I get back into bed. “I really, really don't want to move,” I moaned. The hot pack on my abdomen was replaced with a cold pack on the back of my neck. I was sweating profusely now. I sat forward, and looked at the bed. I saw what I thought were bloodstains and looked quickly away. “Ugh, blood, yuck,” I mumbled.
“It's iodine,” said a nurse. “They cleaned your skin with it before the operation.” When I looked again, it was gone, and I climbed back into bed. I managed to leave about an hour later.
Opiate withdrawal made me clingy, jumpy, and bitchy. Oh, so bitchy. All the way home, my poor boyfriend had to listen to a constant stream of comments like “See that guy? On the other side of the road? Looking at me? FUCK that guy. Die in a fire, you syphilitic jizz-stain.” Then my phone beeped and I nearly had a heart attack. Then I snuggled close to my boyfriend, and whined, “I'm soooooore. Will you look after me? Will you stroke my hair? NOT LIKE THAT. On the top of the head. Ah, that's nice. I love you. You're the best. OH MY GOD why are these fucking train announcements so fucking loud? Fuck you, Scotrail. Wank-splats. Why have you stopped stroking?”
I think the opiate side-effects were the worst thing. The horrible mood wore off after a couple of days, but it wasn't until five days after my operation that I finally managed to have a shit.
It wasn't long, though, before I was crowing in triumph to my friends. I felt great about being sterilised then, and eight weeks later, I still do. I researched it, I argued for it, I was brave enough to go through with it. I am massively grateful to the surgeons who clipped my fallopian tubes shut, the anaesthetists who kept me asleep and alive throughout the procedure, and the nurses who looked after me as nicely as my own mum would have.
Most of all, I am so glad to have the NHS. I made a reproductive choice, and they were rightfully there to support my exercising of that choice in exactly the way that I had chosen.