Most women decide to take control of their fertility with (or without) input from a partner, and this choice comes in many forms. From condoms and birth control pills to having our tubes tied during a cesarean section when we’re positive our families are complete, we are all the masters of our personal child-bearing destiny. Before I became pregnant with my son almost 11 years ago, I spent almost 20 years trying to not get pregnant—and it’s a good thing I did because I conceived the first time my husband and I had unprotected sex.
Birth control after baby
I got an IUD as soon as my OB-GYN presented it as a birth control option three months after the birth of my son, simply because I was so exhausted I couldn’t even fathom the idea of having another baby. Five years later when I was due for a replacement, I didn’t hesitate to get Mirena #2. I never even had a conversation with my husband about it, because we were totally on the same “one-and-done” page at that point. With a child in pre-school and a thriving freelance writing career, I was 100% sure I didn’t want to go back to the world of bottles and diapers.
Another five years went by in a blink. Suddenly I was 42 with a happy, healthy 10-year-old, completely content with our family of three and enjoying more and more freedom as my son became more independent. So, when my OB-GYN initiated the “it’s time for a new IUD” conversation, I asked about getting my tubes tied. I never had any issues with my IUD, and thanks to pregnancy and Mirena I haven’t had my period in almost 12(!) years, but this isn’t all good—at least not for me.
Sometimes it’s about more than fertility
I have a strong family history of breast cancer, and my mom got sick when she was pregnant with me (thanks to the pregnancy-related surge of estrogen). She underwent chemo, radiation, a radical mastectomy and hysterectomy, starting right after I was delivered via C-section three months early. (And this was in 1976.) Thirty years later, my mom found out she was BRCA-gene positive (miraculously, I’m gene-negative) but I still have an extremely neurotic breast surgeon who insists on a mammogram and MRI every year to make sure everything is OK.
But there’s more… My annual mammogram and MRI have to be performed at a very precise point in my menstrual cycle to get the optimal view, and not getting a period thanks to the Mirena made this very difficult to pinpoint—so I’ve winged it for the past 11 years. I never considered tubal ligation (a.k.a. tube-tying) until my breast doctor told me that my last two MRIs were sub-par, so this was a big wake-up call. (And I know you’re wondering why my husband didn’t just get a vasectomy, but that’s a whole different story.)
Scheduling surgery is easy—the resulting emotions aren’t
When I got home from my last annual OB-GYN appointment, my husband and I had all of a three-minute conversation about it and I booked tubal ligation surgery for a month later. The following weeks before my procedure were filled with a tremendous amount of reflection—and guilt. I only told a handful of friends and family, and actually decided not to tell a few of my closest friends who have struggled with fertility (and are currently going to great lengths to get pregnant) until it was done. In my mind, electing to have my baby-making abilities taken away would be perceived as blasphemy to them—although they seemed to respect my decision after the fact, and one even asked if I would be her surrogate. (For the record, I still have all my “parts” and I can carry a baby—or IVF myself down the line, if I so desire.)
But perhaps the most shocking part of revealing my plans (or sharing my experience after surgery) was that so many people didn’t know that you can have your tubes tied at any time—not just during a cesarean section, which is how it most commonly goes down. Yes, I opted to go under general anesthesia and subject myself to the risks associated with invasive surgery so I could have the peace of mind that comes along with knowing I won’t get pregnant and have the best possible chance of catching breast cancer early. I couldn’t believe how many people didn’t get this, and it made me feel like maybe I was venturing too far out of the box.
My baby-making days are over
It’s been a little more than one month since my surgery, and I’m feeling totally back to normal (although the recovery was a bit more intense than I anticipated). I saw my doctor for a follow-up two weeks ago and he told me my period was coming soon. I’m totally ready for the return of my period physically, but I definitely have a heightened awareness of the ongoing emotional ramifications of my decision. How am I going to feel when I ultimately get my period again, fully knowing that it no longer serves its natural purpose of creating new life? As it turns out, this is the question I’m struggling with most (at least for the time being)—but I don’t have any regrets about my decision whatsoever. In fact, I had an unrelated doctor’s appointment last week and when I ticked the box that said, “There is no chance that I’m pregnant”—I knew for sure I made the right choice.
And most important of all, once I get my period again I can schedule my annual breast screening accordingly and be sure we get the best view of my “girls”—because being here for my husband and existing child is way more important to me than having the ability to make more babies.