Fem Food For Thought: “The Right NOT To Have Children”

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**The symbol of Madrid en la Puerta del Sol: El Oso y El Madroño

A little less than one month ago, I was lying atop a stiff (and probably dirty) mattress, waiting for my sister to finish getting ready in our Madrid hostel.  I was starving and in order to pass the time, I picked up the August 2012 issue of Vogue I had bought two weeks prior, waiting for our flight to take off into the skies for eight hours, at JFK international airport.  To my surprise and delight, I stumbled upon a feminist critique on the gendered practices currently [re]occurring throughout the field of reproductive medicine in the Beauty & Health section of the magazine.  The title of the article to which I am referring read as follows:

“Q: Just how hard can it be to avoid getting pregnant?  A: Much harder than you’d think.  PAMELA PAUL CONSIDERS A BREWING UNDER-THE-RADAR ISSUE: THE RIGHT NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN.”

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The article itself follows the biographical tale of 27-year-old Erin Iwamoto-Galusha in her search for, “the right birth control,” (Paul, 122).  Iwamoto-Galusha had decided pretty early on in her [young] adult life that she did not [ever] want to conceive children.  Looking for a low-maintenance and permanent solution to the potential problem of [accidentally] getting pregnant, Iwamoto-Galusha sought to undergo the surgical procedure known as tubal ligation – or more commonly called, getting one’s tubes tied.  Much to her dismay, Iwamoto-Galusha encountered a series of obstacles put forward by more than five physicians who refused to perform the surgical procedure upon her request.

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Tubal ligation is one of the most common forms of female sterilization, or the act of making an organism unable to reproduce.  It is, however, a more invasive procedure than its so-called-male counterpart: the vasectomy; this is largely due to the anatomical differences in fe/male sexual organs.  Regardless, tubal ligation is an easier alternative to using condoms, the Pill, intrauterine devices or the diaphragm if one is so inclined as to never entertaining the idea of bearing children.  Erin Iwamoto-Galusha was one of these decisive women.

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The medical community, however, was less than decisive when it came to respecting Iwamoto-Galusha’s wishes.  Among the many obstacles presented to her was, perhaps the most paternalistic in nature, when Erin’s physician required she ‘bring her husband [of five years] into the office’ so as to affirm her conviction.  Could you imagine a man being asked the same question upon requesting a vasectomy?  And the issue does not simply fall upon the axis of gender, as several of Erin’s physicians were female and equally, if not more, hesitant to say yes.  In an equally condescending maternalistic fashion, her female doctors tried to [re]assure Erin that they, too, had once desired the very same childless freedom but eventually found a partner later in life with whom they wished to conceive children with.

There is something to be said about the permanent ramifications of surgical intervention and, albeit, the necessary application of thought and [re]consideration that ought to go into making one such decision.  However, it is also imperative to remain critical of Erin’s [non]treatment by the medical community for several years.  Her doctors’ hesitations speak to a much larger discourse surrounding the ideology of women.  That is to say that women are assumed to be less than capable of autonomously deciding on their lives, bodies and destinies.  That is also to say that women, particularly young women such as Erin, are [subconsciously] expected to physically embody the meaning of the word fruitful.  After all, what purpose do women have – through which to connect with one another – if not [re]producing life?

Of course that last question was [intended to be read as] ironic, but hopefully most of y’all got that part.  The point of this article, I think, is to reinforce the significance of constantly questioning, resisting and challenging those dominant norms set in place by hegemonic institutions like Western medicine.  Erin Iwamoto-Galusha ultimately practiced her autonomy and successfully received the birth control option of her childless dreams.  Congratulations, Erin!  We’re (well, at least I am) sorry you had to endure so many hiccups along the way toward achieving your own personal uterine liberation…but your story serves as a warning to all women who, in the spirit of Sandra Morgen, aim to place reproductive rights back into their own hands.

For another blogger’s feminist perspective on this story, check out BlogHer.

…Besos, kittens!

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Categories: Creative Blog Posts | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Fem Food For Thought: “The Right NOT To Have Children”

  1. Yes, yes, control of women’s bodies has long involved not only the routine denial of the basic human right to have children (through coercive contraception and involuntary/coercive sterilization) but also the enforcement of reproduction through age/parity policies. A notable legal challenge to this particular restriction was the Hathaway v. Worcester case (1973). You can find the abstract here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11645993 Kluchin’s Fit to be Tied also has a lot of great information, and it’s available through Hunter College in e-format.

    That there is a reluctance on the part of individual doctors outside of hospital policy means it’s worth considering how the industry functions: in the U.S., fear of litigation is a strong motivation for unnecessary c-sections, and doctors don’t view tubal ligation as a good choice next to the alternatives. The paternalistic view that women’s bodies don’t belong to them –just an extension of a history where fathers and husbands had to grant approval for the surgical cures for hysteria (hysterectomy, ovariotomy), only married women could easily obtain oral contraceptives post-Griswold, and where mandatory delays for abortion still exist — the state, the doctor, and the father just kind of blend in together, don’t they?

    There’s a resistance to vasectomy that is linked to masculinity.

    I wouldn’t have expected to come across this in Vogue, of all places. Maybe there’s some hope for the glamour rags? Still, I hope you got it from the airline or some waiting room and didn’t pay for it…..

    • I did pay for it but only because I had 8+ hours to kill! You are the best, thanks so much for all your support, Professor! Can you send me the link to your blog?

  2. Christine Galotti

    “Are you familiar with Kluchin’s Fit to be Tied? It’s available via Hunter Library as an electronic format book. I mention it because it does cover the disparity between reproductive rights abuses such as coercive/involuntary sterilization and the age/parity constraints placed in middle-class white women, who could obtain tubal ligation only after x number of children/x age, depending on the state. There is a brief discussion of Hathaway v. Worcester (1973), which challenged the age/parity restrictions on obtaining sterilization on p. 217- in the attached chapter, and elsewhere in the book. The book could be better written, but it’s a useful source. I require a couple of chapters for my 100 classes now. You can find the legal abstract for Hathaway here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11645993” ~Professor K.DeLorenzo, WGS Professor at Hunter College

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