I recently stumbled across a piece featured on Bustle.com in which phenomenal actress Tracee Ellis Ross revealed that one of her biggest pet peeves is when people constantly ask her when she’ll have any children of her own.
To give you a bit of context (not that there should be any context around being asked invasive questions like this), Tracee’s character in Black-ish was pregnant during the course of the third season of the show, and while we see this kind of narrative all the time, people often seem to think it’s okay to assume that it’s okay to take that same story off-script.
Ashley Rey from Bustle reports that Tracee revealed in an interview with Vanity Fair that she has literally had to tell people to “get out of her womb” because any decision-making regarding children (having them or not) is none of other people’s business.
Her response hit me hard – because I’m 33 years old, don’t want children and still have people trying to convince me that I am going to change my mind.
For me Tracee’s response proves that it doesn’t matter whether you want to have children or not, people are always going to think they have some form of jurisdiction over your uterus. And for me, that’s the crux of the matter here.
I have got nothing against people who want to have children. This piece is not an us vs them debate because I’m all too aware that the couples who want to have children are inevitably faced with invasive questions of their own.
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No, this is about me not wanting to be a mother.
I’ve known for more than five years that having children was not something I wanted. I never wanted it back then, I don’t want them even more now. In fact, I feel so strongly about the issue that I would bypass sterilisation and opt straight for a hysterectomy.
And yet, every time I mention this to someone, the following happens:
- Pearls are clutched and I’m told that it’s my role as a woman to have children since nature designed me that way.
- People – and that includes medical professionals - tell me that I’m too young to make such a permanent decision and that I should wait a few years in case I change my mind.
I can understand, respect and obey medical decisions. What I don’t appreciate though, is people thinking I don’t have a solid grasp on what I want and don’t want and making decisions for me based on the fact that they think I might have a change of heart.
- I’m told that my life would be meaningless without children and that it would be selfish to not give my parents any grandchildren.
I find it absolutely fascinating (read: rude) that people think it’s okay to assume on your behalf what kind of decisions you should make.
Asking someone when they’re planning on having children is not only invasive, but it can also be inconsiderate and insensitive. For example, what if the person you’re interrogating can’t have children? What if someone has a terminal illness and won’t be able to live long enough to enough to be part of their formative years.
I have a disability and have depression. On good days I work very hard to be able function (even with my meds), on bad days I cannot even get out of bed.
I don’t want the responsibility of looking after someone who needs full time attention and I wouldn’t want to subject any child to parenting that wouldn’t stem from love, but obligation. And I know that on my worst days – that child would likely be neglected.
Would I want to leave my child in the care of my partner or friends on my bad days?
I know it seems like an option, but the truth is I wouldn't because it would become a permanent crutch to rely on for me. I know my loved ones would only be to happy to have the opportunity to play caretaker, but what if one day becomes a month or more? No. I wouldn't want to place that burden on anyone else.
I like kids – and I like them even better with the knowledge that they’re not mine. I also think there are many folk who have depression and still manage to be wonderful parents. I just don’t think I would be able to count myself as one of them.
Speaking of loved ones, what would happen if I fell in love and my partner wanted children and I don't?
That's always the million dollar question isn't it? But I've always planned on being honest and saying upfront that I don't want children. It's the only route to go for me because I wouldn't want someone to invest in me only for them to find out they're wasting their time. It wouldn't be fair to that person - especially if he wants to commit to something more permanent.
READ MORE: You should be able to trust your gynaecologist, right?
I often find it very easy to shut someone up when they demand I consider parenting. I usually end up offering to leave the child with them after giving birth and that’s when the implication of what having a child actually means.
The point is there are many reasons why women choose not to have children – and each and every reason is valid.
And while I know that undergoing a hysterectomy is an extreme option (one that wouldn’t be done immediately, I should add, since I know it’s irreversible and painful and carries risks), I would like to add that the problem for me is that I was told no because I was too young to understand the repercussions of making a decision like that.
For the last couple years my period has also been nothing short of hell. I've been on different medication and the pill hasn't really helped for me. And I'm so tired of experiencing menstrual days that feel far longer than the days I haven't been bleeding.
I reached out on social media and asked some women to share their own experiences. And boy, have I opened up a can of worms:
*Responses have been edited for length or clarity
Policing women’s choices is worse than ever
Suzanne, a South African based author living in Finland says that the value of reproduction is so highly valued that if you even want to consider sterilisation, you’d need permission from two doctors. You’d also need to be over 30 and had to have three children and more.
The irony, she adds, is that the trans community is forced by law to get sterilised.
It’s shocking and also ties in with another reason that a transgender friend of mine refuses to have children. Not only do so many laws still discriminate against trans men and women, but my friend says that she can’t imagine bringing children into a world that doesn’t offer any safe spaces for her.
Monique says health reasons is only one of the many reasons she doesn’t want kids:
Helga was told that she wasn’t in a state to make the decision to have her tubes tied:
Yup! After I had my son, Ethan and he was six months old I went to my gynae and said I wanted my tubes tied. I emphatically knew I didn't want any more kids and it was not a rash or emotional decision.
I was told that they don't do that until someone is 35 (lie) and that I was not in a state to make this decision having recently had a baby. My son is nine now I am 40 and I STILL don't want another kid. I wish medical professionals would really listen and respect that female patients are not hysterical, emotional incompetents who don't know their own minds.
Meagan has known that she’s wanted a hysterectomy since her early teens:
Lize and her husband are going a different route – here’s why
My husband and I talked and he’s going for a vasectomy next month.
My gynae told me (re vasectomy) that he and I have to have the conversation of, if I die or we get divorced, whether he would maybe want kids with someone else.
We did, and he said if that does happen and he does want kids and it isn’t reversible, he will adopt, which is exactly how I feel. If I change my mind (I won’t) I’ll adopt.
I’m a huge advocate for adoption anyway and quite honestly besides not wanting kids I don’t understand the obsession with them being your own blood.
I know a friend of mine wants to have a hysterectomy and government hospitals won’t do it for her unless she’s had kids or is over 30.
So she’s waiting till she’s thirty (which is this year). The age seems arbitrary but then I guess any of them are - legal drinking, driving, etc age.
I’ve been fairly lucky with my parents. My mum had my sister in school and she obviously loves us but I think given a second chance she maybe wouldn’t have had kids.
My dad has made one or two minor comments but has since accepted it entirely. He pretty much couldn’t care less and really hates when people become super obsessed with their grandkids - he’s kinda like, why weren’t you like this with your actual kids?
I’m also lucky that my gynae for example has accepted it from day one.
I find it infuriating (borderline triggering) when people say I’ll change my mind, so I can’t imagine a medical professional doing that. But she just went “okay” and carried on. Like everyone should.
I turn 23 in two weeks and I'm pretty childish myself so I wouldn't wish myself on any kid. Anyway, when a coworker heard that I would be 23, she told me I NEED a child NOW— Shanice Singh (@Shanny_Singh123) June 13, 2018
But what do the experts say? And what is it like to undergo a hysterectomy? We chat to Dr Natalia Novikova, a Cape Town based gynaecologist, who weighed in on the debate:
We asked the following:
Q: Why do some people bypass sterilisation in favour of a hysterectomy?
A: Some women favour a hysterectomy because they suffer from very heavy menstrual periods and other gynaecological diseases unresponsive to other treatments. A hysterectomy may be recommended if women have certain diseases such as cancer of the uterus, ovaries or cervix.
It is a bigger surgical procedure, but it does carry more risks and complications in comparison to sterilisation.
Q: Does one have to meet certain requirements in order to have a hysterectomy done?
A: Women who elect to have a hysterectomy without any medical indication are generally requested to see two specialists to be counselled regarding the procedure and to ensure that they fully understand the consequences of the surgery and alternative available.
Q: Why do some gynaecologists suggest waiting a few years before having a hysterectomy done?
A: Having a hysterectomy once child-bearing is finished (past reproductive age) avoids some regrets about the procedure.
Even having sterilisation without hysterectomy has lead to, I have found, significant regrets - twenty percent of women who had sterilisation regret having the procedure done and five percent look for reversal of sterilisation, which is not a straightforward procedure with poor results in terms of possibility of pregnancy.
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