this someday surgery
My surgery is Tuesday afternoon. This afternoon, as I was driving out to pick up books to read while I'm convalescing, I realized something that caught me off guard for a moment: I was happy about the upcoming surgery. Yes, nervous, incredibly - anything that involves a high likelihood of general anesthesia should be treated with the respect and caution such drugs deserve. But happy. Relieved. Calm. It was going to happen, and I was glad of it - glad and grateful that I live in a country, during a time, that lets me decide the future of my own fertility.
The decision to not have children was made a long time ago, long before most of you knew me. Andrew may or may not remember, but Matthew does; one of my cross-country phone calls led him to mention that he remembers me talking about planning this someday surgery … twelve years ago. (…and to subsequently say "It's about damn time you got around to it.")
"Since I was sixteen I have been considering having my tubes tied. I have not been waiting to make up my mind, per se—I have been giving myself some years of time to ensure that my decision is not a hasty or rash one. As the years have gone on I have noticed the tenor of my questioning changing. Previously it was, "Do I want children, ever?" But in the past couple of years it has gradually moved towards, "I know I don't want children. But have I thought long enough about it to make sure this permanent choice is the right one?""
'Emily Dickinson girl,' 3 January 2001
I've had two pregnancy scares, one of which was many years ago, and one in September 2004 that made me realize just how serious I was about not having children. (It's quite a funny entry. Go back and read it if you didn't catch it the first time around.) The scare I had in September was enough to make me realize the precarious nature of my position; without something permanent and decisive I would spend the rest of my childbearing years frantic with worry over the usual lateness of my somewhat-irregular periods, wondering if the third time around, I'd roll snake eyes and end up with a consequence I really didn't want.
After the scare last September, I made myself a promise. No more waiting, no more vacillation. This had been in the planning stages for long enough. It was time for me to grow a pair, and stand behind my decision. I was twenty-eight, for crying out loud - three years past the age I'd always said "if I'm still sure, I'll have it done."
I am not brave. Had I been brave, I would have marched into a doctor's office three years ago and said, "Fix this. Now." Instead, I waited until circumstances very nearly forced my hand. After September, a couple of friends pulled me aside to talk to me, and both of them said the same thing: when the chips are down and you're facing the immediate and sudden reality of possibly being pregnant, you discover your raw, unvarnished opinion on the subject. For both of my friends, it was excitement, hope, and possibility. Me? I, uh, muttered obscenities for three days and nearly bit all my nails off. It got really hard to think over the non-stop, three-day chorus of "oh shit what am I going to do IF?"
(…and what's up with the gambling references? First 'snake eyes' and now 'when the chips are down.' I really should have a more original take on the subject, but tonight doesn't seem to be that night.)
I've struggled with the decision of childlessness for a long time. Deep down, I would like to understand why I'm different, and why the sight of a baby or a small child doesn't set off the raging maternal instinct I see in many … most … of my friends. Over the years, my attitude toward my decision has run the gamut from apologetic ("what is wrong with me?") to viciously defiant ("you want 'em? you birth 'em!") - but always with a touch of defensiveness. Even though I don't always admit it, I'm always bothered and a little frustrated when someone asks why I don't want children - because I've never heard the converse questions ("Why do you want kids? Are you sure you won't change your mind later?") asked.
I think it's because the implication is that in the end, my mind's opinion is the one that needs to be changed. It's so easy, ducks-in-a-barrel easy, to take potshots at doctors who insist on querying the minutiæ of my decision but who would find it rude and unconscionable to ask "But are you SURE?" to a woman who was trying to conceive. Both pregnancy and surgical sterilization are generally irreversible; it's oh-so-tempting to say that either both decisions should be heavily scrutinized -- or neither of them should be.
But that's a perfect world, one which bears little to no resemblance to the one in which I currently reside.
* * * * *
"A friend said to me once that while most people choose to make their legacy a living, breathing, genealogical one, that some people find they have another calling in life. Afterward, I asked myself, over and over, if I honestly felt truth in that statement—if, without having children, that in the end my life would still have meaning and value to me.
Then I remembered that I've always been a fan of Emily Dickinson."
I drove home this afternoon, the windows down and the music up, the spring sunshine soaking into my skin, and I remembered that this decision was made a long time ago. After Tuesday, I don't have to worry about this any more. I'll have surgical soreness and a couple of little scars as reminders, but no fear. Not any more.
Jeff will call a couple of people after the surgery's done Tuesday afternoon, to let them know how I'm doing. If you want to be on the list, email or call me before Monday evening to let us know what number to reach you at. Once I'm situated and resting comfortably, hopefully he'll have the time to post a quickie entry on cat.net.
See you on the flip side, kids.