I made a big decision over the last year, one that took Bear a bit by surprise but after a lot of conversations he’s been wonderfully supportive.
I decided that I will never again be pregnant*.
This has been a long time coming. I have been pregnant four times and have two children; this only makes sense with the trauma of miscarriage involved. Experiencing loss in that way adds a sad type of constant fear in your life surrounding pregnancy. Cub was born after I had come to the conclusion that we needed to stop trying to allow myself some time to heal. I was scared for a long, long time. I had the same experience while pregnant with T, constantly worried that I would lose her at any moment, that even if the chances were low, they still exist.
Honestly, I didn’t enjoy pregnancy at the best of times. I’ve never understood what exactly people are enjoying whilst pregnant. I felt sick. My sense of taste and smell warped into this unknown beast that meant I went off the healthiest foods available to me. I like rare-medium-rare meat and softer eggs and meaty large fish and haggis yet had to avoid all of them. I felt big all the time. I didn’t sleep well but felt consistently and constantly exhausted. My sex drive was non-existent and even physical contact from friends felt less meaningful. I would cry at everything (including a description of a bad TV advert on an American TV sitcom – how does that make sense!?). My skin was really itchy, to the point of wanting to rip myself apart, the entire way through and continued after my girls were born for months. Hair, skin, and nails continue to be weak and break easily – this will probably continue for at least another 6 months. Being on my feet was a pain, sitting still for too long was bad for me, and lying down was uncomfortable. Joints would ache because of the chemicals purposefully allowing your bones to bend around a growing child. My organs would be kicked repeatedly by pointy little feet and hit by hands, pushing them up into my rib cage, giving me reflux, making me feel full even if barely eating anything, and being bloody painful. I was constantly of concern, dependent on so many others, simply because I was pregnant. Even the fascination with the incredible process of growing a human was something I was less emotional about than people expected of me. Academically it’s wonderful. Physically it sucks.
Mentally I was just not healthy when pregnant. With hormones running wild all over the place and stress at an all time high, I had nightmares every night for the whole nine months. In order to get to sleep Bear would have to read to me, despite my exhaustion and his own. I also experienced waking nightmares where my children (one unborn at the time) were in the back of the car as we plunged into water and I watched them drown. Getting out of my head was impossible and after 30 minutes of Bear calming me down I eventually slowed my breathing enough to fall asleep… only to be in the midst of another nightmare as I slept.
Speaking to my doctor about my mental health repeatedly as I nearer the birth confirmed that I was holding on by my fingernails, praying I would survive just long enough to give birth. I had hoped that, like Cub’s birth, T would arrive with a boost of happy hormones and I would be able to relax into motherhood once more. It happened, but only temporarily, and so this time I’m experiencing medicated post-natal depression, having to plan my day-to-day life in ways that give me the best chance of avoiding a black dog that stalks me.
Outside of all this is the fact that I have experienced labour, one of the most painful brain-shattering experiences in my life, as well as one emergency c-section, and one elective (although elective implies a choice I did not have). I have no judgement for women who choose c-sections rather than labour, but nor did it ever feel to me like a normal, natural way to have a child. Having a human literally cut out you, abdomen sliced open, sewn back together. The fact we have the medical knowledge to allow that is incredible, awe-inspiring, and important, but for me it was a painful and sad experience. I was not one of the first people to meet my child; I wasn’t even awake for the first couple of hours of her life. My blood loss was apparently really high due to cutting through scar tissue, I was on pain killers for weeks, and my abdominal muscles still feel painful after almost 3 months. It just isn’t something I could recommend, and that is despite holding a huge amount of respect and gratitude for those who cared for and operated on me. They gave me my daughters, but I will not ask them to do it again.
It has felt increasingly clear that I will not choose that experience again to increase our family, and as I cannot have a child without another c-section that means I will not be trying to get pregnant again. I said the same thing whilst pregnant with T to my husband, a counsellor, and have said so to anyone who has asked whether we would have a third. My children are wonderful, children are a gift, but I will not carry another child inside my body.
So what does this mean practically? Of course there are multiple contraceptive options but I am also considering female sterilisation. Others have suggested that medically speaking it is easier for Bear to have a vasectomy and he has even suggested he’d be OK with going through with that. However, I’m not sure I can ask this of him for one main reason: he would be perfectly happy having more children of his own. If the worst might happen and I’m killed in some freak accident, he could get remarried and be able to have more children with someone new if they both wanted. In contrast, I know that if that was reversed, if I were to lose Bear, anyone that I might date in the future would have to accept that I would never have more children. This makes it my choice, but also my responsibility. I’m not suggesting Bear isn’t perfectly supportive in avoiding pregnancy (men don’t tend to offer cutting into their junk if they aren’t onboard) but that pregnancy wasn’t something he physically has to go through. I do, and therefore it is something I wish to stop, and be in control of, for my own sake.
The level of fear and dislike of pregnancy means I am remarkably untrusting of certain contraception options. I am pretty useless in taking pills regularly and missing one isn’t a good idea. I physically shudder when I find out someone I know has an implant thing in their arm because the idea of having something injected into my skin and staying there repulses me. I have had coils in the past but renewing them every 4 years for the next two decades would be both uncomfortable and annoying**. The more I think, the more I wonder if a permanent solution isn’t the better one.
With a permanent surgical or non-surgical method my fallopian tubes would stop any chance of pregnancy. Having looked into all sorts of moral issues surrounding reproduction during my dissertation, I also know that I would avoid the abortive properties that many still consider some contraceptives to induce. I also know that by not getting pregnant I am not bringing another into our growing population (which already contains children who need homes), and an increasingly politically unstable world. I already have two beautiful daughters, more of my own genetic material is not required, and for my own mental well-being, not sensible. Therefore, this solution would also make it not possible.
Adoption on the other hand is perfectly possible, and an idea I have long hoped for. A wise friend once introduced me to the idea of the red cord: that which ties people together over distances even without them being biologically family. I whole-heartedly believe that more of my children are still out there, waiting for Bear and I to find them and love them. Maybe they haven’t been born yet, maybe our family will also include their biological mothers or fathers, maybe it will take years to find them.
Knowing this means that I do not mourn my decision anywhere near as much as people might expect me to. This is not a post that says I will never have more children, in fact the opposite: I am saying that I will not require my body to form my children, I will just need to care for the ones who desperately need me as and when they come along.
For those of you that know me personally and care enough to perhaps be a little concerned, please do not worry. I am not going to blindly jump into anything, nor could I as my GP can refuse to refer me on. If I were to go down the permanent sterilisation process it would include counselling, consultations, and the support of my dear husband. I am looking after myself and won’t do anything without a lot of thought and prayer.
Want to know more about fostering or adoption? Check out these links:
*at least not intentionally so. I am aware that life happens in unexpected ways and I am pretty sure that if I found myself pregnant then I would just get on with it and be grateful for the new person in my life. I will just be doing everything in my power to avoid that possibility short of becoming a nun (my husband would not be pleased).
**although the hormonal options do come with the positive of halting periods. This is at the very least a financial incentive and also cuts down on plastic/packaging in my life without sticking one of those cups things up myself.