Why I Chose Permanent Sterilization At 31

by Jenny Schweyer
jes2ufoto / iStock

After I gave birth to my third child in 2001, I was 99 percent certain he was my last. With a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old at home and then an infant, I had my hands full, and I truly felt as though my family was complete. I was ready to take permanent measures to ensure that there wouldn’t be a future “oops.”

However, friends, family, and even my doctor cautioned against doing something permanent at that point. “You’re only 31. You still have a lot of good childbearing years ahead of you,” friends would say. “You just had a baby. Your hormones are all out of whack. You’re not thinking clearly. Don’t do it yet.” Not thinking clearly? I might have been exhausted, but I wasn’t brain-dead. Said a friend who had six kids and was trying for a seventh, “Oh, you’ll change your mind. Just wait.” (Wait, what? Just because you want seven kids doesn’t mean everyone does.)

In spite of my certainty, I held off asking my husband to consider a vasectomy (a procedure he wasn’t too excited to contemplate anyway). We struggled through the rhythm method while I was breastfeeding. I say “we,” but it was really only me dutifully recording my periods, taking my temperature every morning, and documenting the viscosity (so gross) of my mucus discharge. (Could there be anything I would rather do less with my time than this?!)

After breastfeeding was done, I went on the pill. My libido dropped immediately to nil, and we were barely having sex and completely negating the need to take the pill in the first place. After an 18-month struggle with no sexual desire, I talked to my doctor who then put me on the mini-pill. My libido came back, but so did an extra period. I was bleeding every two weeks instead of every four. How’s that for disrupting one’s sex life?

I knew, then, that the time had come. I had no more longing for a fourth child then than I did the day I gave birth to the third, nearly four years earlier. We needed to talk vasectomy. Unfortunately, my husband’s feelings about the V word had not changed over the previous four years. Having had a friend who had problems with “intense pain” and “so much bleeding” after his vasectomy (wow, I have no idea how that feels), he all but put his foot down entirely. We spent two years using condoms with me hoping he would change his mind. He didn’t.

It was time to take matters into my own hands. I couldn’t force my husband to undergo a vasectomy, but I could control my own reproductive future. I knew by then that it didn’t matter if I ever got remarried or if I lost all three of my kids at once: I did not want to have any more babies. So I went to my doctor and asked for a tubal ligation. She referred me to an obstetric surgeon who ended up suggesting a different procedure: salpingectomy.

With this surgery, the fallopian tubes are actually removed as opposed to just being “tied.” He explained that new evidence was suggesting that this procedure was healthier for women, as a significant percentage of ovarian cancers begin in the fallopian tubes. “Basically,” he said, “the idea is that if you are sure you aren’t going to use them anymore, there is no reason to keep the fallopian tubes at all because they’re a breeding ground for cancer.” Plus, with tubal ligation, there was still a slight chance that pregnancy could occur. With salpingectomy, there was no chance of future pregnancy.

Some doctors (mostly male), he explained, are resisting offering this surgery to women as birth control because they think women will change their minds afterward and want to get pregnant again. Tubal ligation is reversible for women who regret their birth control decision. Salpingectomy is permanent sterilization.

“But who am I to tell a woman what she does or does not want?” my surgeon said. “If you’re done, you’re done. It’s no one’s right to question that choice.” Finally, someone who got me! It’s what I’d been waiting to hear for six years.

My husband supported my decision, but I didn’t tell many other people. I just didn’t want to deal with the criticism. I underwent my surgery, which was fairly uncomplicated. I was home by the end of the day and back at work within two weeks.

Instead of feeling, as friends had suggested years ago, regret or sadness at not being able to have any more children, what I felt was complete, utter freedom. No more stupid condoms or pills. No more taking my temperature and evaluating my mucus. I was free! Not only that, but my surgeon called me about three weeks later to tell me that the lab had examined my fallopian tubes after the surgery and actually found a cyst in one of them, a potential precursor to a cancerous tumor. “You made the right decision,” he declared.

It’s been eight years since that surgery, and in all those years, I’ve not had even a scintilla of regret. I have a full, exciting sex life. That cyst that very well could have been a tumor by now is but a faded memory. Oh, and my kids? They’re all teenagers now, and they are the lights of my life.