Friday, May 19, 2006

A View Of Who Won't Be A Baby Mama

Have you checked out "Rhymes With Orange" yet? If you haven't you should.

Hi. I'm TEM, and I am childless by choice.

(Hi, TEM.)

Much to my mom's chagrin, the only pitter-patter of anything in my home will be from the occasional visiting child and from little cat feet.

(That's actual feet, by the way, and not low-level precipitation.)

It's nothing personal against kids, mind you. Children are great. It's fascinating to watch them grow, explore the world around them, change a little every day, and go from being tiny, helpless creatures to fully formed, complex beings. Babies, toddlers, children - they're probably the only things that could truly be called a miracle on this earth. It's just not a miracle I feel the need to experience. I enjoy being around children for a while, but I've never had that "maternal instinct" that women who have children or want to have children describe. Over time, I've come up with names, imagined what my child might look like, and wondered what it would be a mother, but it's nothing that's ever lasted. There's been no driving urge. The only feasible reason I've ever been able to come up with for having a child is so that, in some way, my father's name could live on. That thought, along with my occasional imaginings, has always been more cerebral than emotional. The desire to be a parent has to come from the heart and the mind, not just the mind alone.

It's a desire I've never had and know I never will have.

Before you ask, it's not because of my current social situation. I knew that I didn't want children when I was in my early 20s, but I kept trying to deny that thought. It couldn't be natural not to want children, I remember thinking. Every woman wants kids, right?

Well, a year or so before I got married, I experienced that moment of truth that everyone has when faced with a crisis of conscience. In my case, it was a cancer scare. After a routine Pap, some abnormal cervical cells were discovered. More tests were run, a biopsy was performed, and finally, I had to have cryosurgery. It was a traumatizing experience because I wasn't sure what was going to happen. Every night during the scare, I would toss and turn wondering if I would ever be able to have children, or worse, what would happen if it turned out I had cervical cancer.

(Did you know that cervical cancer was the 2nd deadliest form of cancer in women? Only breast cancer kills more women. Did you know that cervical cancer is thought to be caused by a virus in most cases? Read this article and check out this website to learn more about it.)

The morning of my cryosurgery was when I had my moment of truth. During the procedure, my doctor attempted to lighten the mood a bit by making a joke. He said he'd read that cryosurgery was supposed to be a bit uncomfortable then said that he wouldn't know because he'd never had it done to him before. "So," he asked, "am I making you uncomfortable?" He then chuckled at his own joke. I don't remember what I said, but I do remember that I managed to hold back my tears until everything was done and only the nurse and I were left in the exam room.

As I lay there silently crying, embarrassed by my tears, filled with worry and dread, the nurse took my hand, gave me a tissue, and said a very brief prayer asking for comfort during my time of need. Her words were comforting and soothing - just what I needed after the trauma and the awkwardness of the morning, and one of the rare instances where I've been able to appreciate a prayer for its power, though to this day I cannot remember exactly what she said. When she was done, she squeezed my hand, told me that everything would be fine, and that she was going to leave the room to allow me to get dressed. "If you need anything, just call me," she said. "I'll be down the hall." With that, before I could thank her for her kindness, she was gone.

I didn't get up right away. Instead, I chose to lie there on the exam table for a few minutes to compose myself. The first thing that came into my mind when she pulled the door closed was this:

"So what? You may not be able to have children. So what? You may have cancer. So what? This could be the beginning of the end. So what? Are you going to give up, or are you going to keep going?"

I immediately stopped crying. I knew I wasn't going to give up and let the situation pull me under - an amazing thought to have at the time because this was in midst of my first serious battle with depression. I knew I would find a way to keep living, because while whatever could've happened was frightening, giving up and dying was unimaginable. And, in that moment, I accepted the fact that I did not want to have children.

Over time, my acceptance grew, but getting others to accept it wasn't so easy. Shortly after I got married, a new doctor told me he considered refusing to give me a prescription for birth control pills because it was my "wifely duty, according to the Bible, to bear (my) husband children." (Note: Cursing a doctor out, reporting him to the State Board of Medicine and to your insurance provider cuts that bullshit out really fast.) Several people have told me that all I need is to "find the right man," and I'll be wanting to have babies right away. I've always responded that the right man will accept me for what I am and respect my decision. I had one suitor tell me that I clearly didn't know what I was talking about because all women want children. When I asked him how long he'd been a woman to know that for a fact, he disappeared. And over time, I've had several doctors refuse to perform a tubal ligation because I was either "too young," or I might change my mind - either later in my marriage or if I ever remarried. In other words, have a baby before getting fixed, even a baby isn't wanted. None of them was ever brave enough to say the real reason behind the reluctance was a fear of litigation if I did change my mind, even though I always offered to sign hold harmless for the doctor if I did (though not for any other circumstances). Not wanting children played a major role in the end of my marriage, and my break-ups with two serious boyfriends. They always thought I'd change my mind. I always thougth they'd accept the fact that I wouldn't and love me anyway. We were both wrong each time.

Here's some irony for you: I finally found a doctor willing to do the surgery, but my insurance doesn't appear cover the sterilization procedure I want. I ended up getting an IUD instead and am waiting my my insurance to catch up. If you read the information available about IUDs, they all recommend that users have a baby first, though the reasoning is never really explained. Some things never change.

What brought all of this very personal information to mind? News reports everywhere are all over Britney Spears and her recent parenting problems. She's dropped the baby, she's held the baby in her lap while driving (remember the days when this was standard procedure and there weren't car seats?), she's had the baby in a car seat installed the wrong way (from what I've read though, there are tons of caring and not so caring parents who have improperly installed child seats in their cars), she was clumsy enough to almost drop her baby (in front of a swarm of paparazzi eager to snap a picture of her new "baby bump" and her current baby falling to the pavement), she's (gasp!) pregnant again. Shortly before and during her first pregnancy, reports swirled fast and furious about how much she wanted to be a mother and have a lot of babies.

I wonder if she became a mother and said how much she wants kids because she meant it, or because it's expected of her? Did her moment of truth come at the right time or was it too late? Only she will know for sure, and if it did, I hope she followed her heart. If it didn't, I hope she's strong enough to endure and move past these difficult times for both her and her children.

More to come later, and I swear I'm off the baby thing for a long time.

Wait, I almost forgot. Cervical cancer may be deadly and viral in nature (a virus most of us carry in our systems, by the way), but if the FDA's advisory committee has it's way, it could become a thing of the past if a new vaccine receives recommendation. Had this vaccine come along soon enough, women like Evita Peron, comedian Julia Sweeney (a fellow atheist to boot), or any of the 12,800 women diagnosed with the disease in 2000 (4,600 of whom died) could've been spared this trauma. Let's hope the vaccine gets its recommendation. Keep hope alive.


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