“Yes I can imagine it But- I don’t need to” : ‘Imagining’ ableism in women’s health settings

 The blogger who wrote ” Now that the NHS has finally agreed to sterilise me, I can relax. I don’t have to keep taking pills that make me sick or worrying about replacing a patch or coil. I don’t feel sad or regretful, or worried that I’ve made the wrong choice. In fact, when the consultant signed the form, I felt elated – something I’d never get from a positive pregnancy test.  And I’d like to see the day when both choices are respected equally.” So would I. I have been there, where my choices are not respected.  I have sat and raged or screamed internally and felt the blankness of utter despair.  The comments are always the same, whether from strangers, friends or medical professionals. When someone hears my decision, they tend to assume I’ve made a snap judgement without considering the implications. They don’t even stop to ask ‘”Why” and then without waiting for an answer: they try the guilt trip. “Don’t you think that’s a bit selfish?” (yes the irony is not lost on me!) if you want to know more the rest is here: https://ladycrookback.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/choice-is-optional/

This “non-essential operation which will be risky and painful” was proposed for me by several people before I was 25. I am disabled and we still live in a society in which a certain proportion of people would prefer if I did not have children, so much so that they hint, suggest, nag, coerce and criticised me for not getting sterilised and were prepared to come out with statements like “A miscarriage would be better in your case”  when I tried to discuss my desire for children.

The concept of pressuring young affluent women to have children seems to be as toxic as its opposite. Like many  women of my acquaintance this gulf in the experiences of the white able bodied feminists and the rest of us is one reason I am ‘outgrouped’ by those in society who frequently claim to be wholly on the side of human rights for all and especially women’s rights.  I have had hate from social workers of feminist groups more than I suspect she could imagine. In the end power wins. I could paraphrase her and say that I have wanted kids since my late teens and always known I wanted them. I’ve wanted them for years, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision to make. It’s one I’ve researched, considered, weighed-up and defended, over and over again. And I have had to defend it every bit as hard as any woman who didn’t want kids.  The idea that ALL women who want kids get instant approval, shows a lack of research or total denial that disabled people fall into the category of ‘people’ at all. In fact many of those who choose to have kids ARE questioned and belittled repeatedly on their fitness for parenthood and are in extreme cases refused the privilege through forced sterilisation, forced abortion or forced adoption.
But to pick up where this writer left off, the kicker is usually, “Who’ll care for them/you/your husband? What will you do if he dies?” As if I were totally incompetent to parent or even care for myself! And yes, I wonder who will care when I am old?” Not FOR me but about me, the way we cared about our parents, the way I saw my mother care about her mother, her aunts and the sense of community that middle class houses with kids over for long summer days exudes…. I know _I_ won’t be around to help my mother in old age. Or maybe I will, even if she did advocate her own daughter’s sterilisation and give zero emotional support when the doctor accused me of selfishness, and then advocated destroying a potential burden on the free healthcare rather than thinking taht my child might be the support that rich women are often told they will need. .

Sterilisation is drastic: a big, irreversible, serious decision. Made by someone else for ‘your own good”. Would they say the same to a 26-year-old woman who decided to have a child? Yes if the woman is poor, or has a history of familial abuse or is disabled, so does she say ‘woman’ and see only her own group? The GP thought I would “change my mind” if threatened enough. Can you imagine a woman in their late twenties having to go to a doctor over and over again to beg permission to have a baby? That’s what I’ve had to go through and if she cannot imagine that then she really should not have tried to get support for the reverse side of the article. I have a great deal of respect for the choices of individual women but when they assume taht their situation is unique and then layout an ‘impossible’ scenario that is actually as familiar as their own skin to many women, they are no social justice advocate!

It’s been surprisingly hard to convince the NHS that _my_ decision was valid.Impossible in fact. I’ve been on every form of the Pill since age 16 had everything from near psychotic mood swings to no periods for 3 years. Ended up with PTSD that was ultimately used to PROVE that I would be an unfit mother but that very PTSD was brought about by the abuse, inherent, structural and internalised ableism in society taht set up in my mind and in the mind of all those around me that I am not fit to have children and that this is NOT eugenics, this is “choice”.  My mobility issues and previous jaundice and puts me at increased risk of blood clots but never once in all those years was I asked did I smoke, did I want to be on the pill or was I feeling OK? In other words the first time i really realised my GP was failing to do proper checks on my well-being while on the Pill was when a friend said, “But surely they check you every year?”

No. I’m disposable.

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