Won’t Someone Please Think of the Children? A Case for Voluntary Female Sterilization

They say motherhood is one of the most rewarding things a woman can do with her life – that having a child is a fundamental part of womanhood. This is, of course, ridiculous. While there is a lot of value in taking care of a tiny human being, it’s not an obligatory part of being a woman. It’s totally fine to go through life with no desire to get pregnant, and it should be ok to get sterilized to make doubly sure it doesn’t actually happen. But unfortunately we live in a patriarchal society, and unfortunately, people (but lets face it, mostly men) still like to let women know what’s best for them and their bodies.

Holly Brockwell, journalist and founder of the women’s tech website Gadgette, recently won her four year battle with the NHS to become sterilized. Predictably, she has had to put up with a lot of abuse from Twitter trolls from when she first announced that she did not want to have children.  The abuse, which included cries of her being “selfish”, “stupid” and “in need of psychiatric help”, got so bad that she had to (temporarily) deactivate her twitter.

I am no longer surprised when I hear that X woman who made a decision about her life that goes against the “proper” way of femininity and womanhood has suffered a tirade of online abuse from faceless trolls. Brockwell has had to endure the usual comments that befall any woman who rejects motherhood, and more specifically, pregnancy.

The view that a woman who puts her own body and needs above a possible future desire to have a child is a damaging one. It pigeonholes women into an idea that they should keep themselves ‘ready’ for children, just in case in the far future they may consider procreating. It’s the standard for womanhood, that even if you don’t want kids now, just you wait, because in the future you’ll change your mind.  Who cares about you now, what about the potential bundles of joy you may hypothetically want in the future?

A common complaint about voluntary female sterilization is that it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, and that it’s self-centered to use NHS funds on a lifestyle choice. But isn’t more irresponsible and selfish to have a child you cannot afford or want, using thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in pre and post natal care? Isn’t it easier, and ultimately more effective, to remove the bullets from the gun than deal with a potentially failing bulletproof vest and a trip to the hospital?

The sterilization may not be reversible, but even if Brockwell changes her mind in the future, that shouldn’t be a problem. There are plenty of other options to acquire a child that don’t include pregnancy.  Things like adoption and fosterage should not just be considered a ‘Plan B’ if you can’t conceive yourself. Not physically giving birth to a child doesn’t make that child any lesser, and with so many children in care, adoption should be considered as an option more often.

As someone who doesn’t ever want to get pregnant but loves children, the fact that Brockwell has managed to get her sterilization gives me hope that this could be an option for me in the future. Pregnancy is messy, and can be generally unpleasant and I hope to avoid it at all costs. And that’s my choice. I’ve nothing against people that choose to get pregnant but for me, pregnancy is not an option. Maybe in the future I’d like to have children, and then I can maybe adopt or foster one, but right now I don’t see that happening.  Hopefully Brockwell’s move will continue a shift in attitudes, where abstaining from motherhood is no longer seen as shameful or wrong.

When people care more about a hypothetical future child than the wishes of a real present-day woman it tells us about how they see the woman. No matter how progressive you think you are, if you still think that being a mother is the ultimate goal of womanhood, you don’t care about women, you care about what their bodies can do.  A woman should be able to take a decision regarding her own body without having to put up with a tirade of insults and abuse with people telling her that they know best. Trust me, the person who knows what’s best for their body is the person that body belongs to, not thousands of anonymous voices on social media.

[Jo Reid]

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