Good morning madam, would you like your tubes tied while we"re in there?
Good morning madam, would you like your tubes tied while we”re in there
10:11 PM on 18th May 2011
Now, here’s a question I never thought I’d be asked, or that I’d take so personally. Last week, as my consultant carried out the 37-week scan of my fourth baby, he asked me calmly if I wanted to be sterilised.
My jaw dropped. Sterilised The word sounds so bleak, which may be why doctors prefer the technical term ‘tubal ligation’ – a simple procedure that could be performed in a matter of minutes during my forthcoming C-section.
I was shocked – and I’m not easily shocked on the medical front. I’ve had three children for goodnessnakes (as the toddler used to say). I endured a trying two-day labour for one, during which there were some moments so gory I doubt they’d be brave enough to show them on the Discovery Channel.
Shocked: Lorraine was surprised and offended when her consultant asked if she wanted to be sterilised (posed by model)
And along with most parents, I have spent my fair share of time in A&E; there is little left on the birth and early years front for me to be squeamish about. So why was I horrified and physically repulsed by the mention of a procedure which can be carried out easily in a matter of minutes during my surgical delivery next Tuesday One that makes absolute medical and physical sense.
I am 42, this is my fourth Caesarean. Another pregnancy after this age, followed by a fifth C-section, is risky – not fatal but certainly reckless. And besides – or perhaps more importantly – neither my husband nor I wants any more children.
We know how lucky we are, the toast has landed jam side up for us nearly four times and I don’t want to tempt fate further. I’ve already run the gauntlet of hideous nightmares and fear of Karmic retribution with this fourth pregnancy. And it’ll be a long time before I forget the emotional day earlier this year when we raced to an emergency appointment at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London to see a baby heart specialist after my 20-week scan.
I’ve cried for each of the high-profile women who’ve miscarried late in pregnancy, sensing only the tip of the iceberg of their pain and then selfishly wondering if I’d be next. I am not emotionally equipped for another nine months of living this fearfully. No, this is it. The last one. The full stop for the chapter marked ‘Pregnancy’.
Sterilisation: Lorraine was horrified by the mention of a procedure which can be carried out in a matter of minutes during her surgical delivery
Five days to go and we will (hopefully) be on the other side. A family of six. I will no longer be the size of a Mini Cooper and my two girls (aged eight and seven) and boy (aged four) will have a new sister, which me and Mr Candy will be unimaginably happy about.
And that is why my first reaction to the sterilisation question was to reject it instantly. I don’t want to grieve for the loss of my child-bearing years, alongside the miracle of my daughter’s first day with us.
And yet . . . what is the sensible and logical reason for not having this done There is none, bar the layman’s thought that a C-section is complicated, why make it more so with extra fiddling about
Tubal ligation seals the fallopian tubes and stops the eggs travelling from the ovary to the uterus so fertilisation can never occur. It’s 99 per cent successful. It is not a hysterectomy. And the NHS performs around 40,000 female sterilisations every year.
My consultant says it’s up to me – he’s giving me the choice because he thinks another pregnancy may be risky. I picked this respected and experienced man, who also delivered my son, because of his straightforward, no- nonsense, practical attitude to pregnancy. If he says it’s safe, easy, advisable and effective then I believe him.
And yet, and yet . . . I doubt he can even begin to imagine what’s really at the crux of this decision; and that is the dark, Pandora’s box of fearful emotions that make up the female psyche. For when I discussed getting my ‘tubes tied’ with female friends, every one of them agreed with me. All said they would not have it done. Many were as horrified as I was to be offered the choice. Obviously this is not a scientific research group, but I asked women with and without children, aged 23 to 53. Then I roamed the internet to see what other mothers thought.
But even there, in the mad, bad world of virtual conversations, I noticed a theme: the dark abyss of women’s worst fears. The relentless ‘but what if’ of female thinking. Because last week, as I sat in that darkened room looking at a scan of my new child wriggling, the grimest of ‘what ifs’ flashed through my mind. What if something happened to all my children, what if I lost them in an accident, what if someone took them Where would I be then: childless and sterile
I could see that neither my husband nor my consultant would understand these irrational flights of dark imagining. To them, such thoughts are illogical, neurotic and downright crazy. Yet this is what I heard from the women around me, a long list of potential nightmare thoughts.
If you haven’t had children, you’ll label me morbid and depressive. But parenting is savage; it rips open your heart to a raw vulnerability that can at times be paralysing, no matter how sensible you are. You just have to live with it – like you do the stretch marks, sleeplessness and piles – for there is never a moment when you don’t fear for their safety. Keeping them alive is a huge responsibility, bigger than making sure they don’t grow up to spit in the streets or commit mass murder at a motorway service station.
The question of sterilisation brought all those illogical emotions to the fore for me. It frightened the life out of me, truth be told. It also made me question my own mortality. I would be a woman who couldn’t have children, heading towards the menopause. Finally, I’d be acknowledging my age in a society which has gradually made women more and more ageless.
If I am beyond child rearing then I am not young. And I don’t want to think about it, not out of vanity but out of another fear: the limited time I may have left with my babies. I am half way through my average life expectancy, after all. Mr Candy has listened to all my theorising around the question of sterilisation and concluded that logically it makes sense to have it done but obviously it’s my choice; he doesn’t mind either way. ‘It’s up to you,’ is as judgemental as it gets with Mr C.
So, what to do What would you do For the emotional side of me, the procedure feels a little like self-harm. There are, after all, other options to avoid pregnancy which are less intrusive. But for the rational side of me, it seems a sensible decision. The knot that will tie off a whole part of my life.
I have a few more days to decide. And maybe it’s time, as the four-year-old said yesterday, ‘to stop talking about this baby and just get on with laying it’.
Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of ELLE. Follow me on [email protected] until after the birth.