“I’m not having any more children.”
“Oh, you say that now…”
“Yes, I do. Because I’m not having any more children.”
“Haha, everyone says that, but they all change their minds…”
I’ve spoken with my health visitor a grand total of three times – one phone call and two home visits – and we’ve now had this exact conversation three times. Once at every meeting. I assume she forgets each time that she’s already given me the “don’t think you’re done yet” speech, which implies it’s a speech she gives to everyone. She starts out sneakily – getting me on side by commiserating with me about how much harder it is second time around, when you already have a toddler to look after. We talk about this for a few minutes before she hits me with, “It’s easier with the third one, though.” Which is when I tell her that there will not be a third one, two is enough, thank you very much. And then she starts explaining to me that I cannot possibly be trusted to know my own mind or make my own decisions. This is the only way I can interpret her refusal to accept what I’m saying, anyway. My responses are getting progressively more snippy, and if we have this conversation a fourth time it will end with me shouting, “WILL YOU STAY THE FUCK OUT OF MY UTERUS!!!” Which is an unsettling mental image in many ways.
It isn’t just her. I’ve had similar conversations with a midwife and a sonographer. When I was in labour with my first child the doctor asked me if I’d be having another one in between contractions. Erm, I’m kind of still busy getting this one done right now, can we focus on that?!
I know that unsolicited baby-making interviews are an occupational hazard of having children. Or even just of being female. Most women know the acute irritation of hitting 30 and suddenly finding themselves explaining to random strangers in the supermarket or at the bus stop that no, they’re not planning to have children right now, or yes they do have one but they’re not currently sure about whether they’ll have another, and no they haven’t tried that particular herbal remedy but if they do decide to try for a baby they’ll certainly consider it. And it is exhausting. It’s also baffling that people feel comfortable to grill women they do not know about these issues with no regard for whether they might be struggling with infertility, miscarriage, baby loss, pregnancy illnesses, abusive relationships, bereavement or any manner of painful situations that might have prevented them from having children they desperately want, making these conversations intensely distressing. They also shouldn’t have to justify themselves if they just don’t want to have a child. It’s none of your damn business.
But I accept that random people on the street are unthinking and inconsiderate a lot of the time, that’s just something I’ve come to terms with through the course of being alive on this planet for more than an hour. What I cannot get my head around is why actual medical professionals are pushing this idea that every woman should want to have as many babies as possible, and if they don’t then there must be something wrong with them.
That’s what’s been at the heart of every one of these conversations I’ve had. “Every other woman wants more children” (which is demonstrably not true), so if I don’t want to keep going, then I’m flawed or deficient in some way. I’m not a real woman, not a decent mother. I can’t possibly have decided to draw the line at a second child, because what kind of unfeeling, baby-hating bitch would that make me?
As a healthcare professional, surely they should be encouraging women to make informed, considered decisions about how many children they feel physically, emotionally and financially able to deal with? Surely they should be promoting a responsible approach to family planning, rather than pushing the idea that we should all be acting like crazed bundles of hormones, mounting our partners at every opportunity to try to stay constantly pregnant with no regard for any practical considerations?
Of course, if you want hundreds of children and you feel able to look after them all, go for it. But that should be your choice. There shouldn’t be an assumption that, if you have a uterus, you should keep stuffing it full of babies until it collapses in on itself and falls out of your vagina, taking several other internal organs with it.
Sorry, was that too graphic? Well then maybe you shouldn’t have been interrogating me about the inner workings of my genitals.
I’ve come to the conclusion that healthcare professionals working in maternity services could do with some serious sensitivity training, because they don’t seem to be able to talk to women about their motherhood journey without putting both feet and most of their lower bodies well and truly in it. Someone needs to be explaining to them that the women in their care – who are in an extremely vulnerable place when they have need of this care – all have different feelings on pregnancy, childbirth and what kind of family they want to create. Not every woman wants to be a constant baby-making machine, and they shouldn’t be made to feel like there’s anything wrong with that at the point when they’re exhausted, battered and bruised from giving birth, emotionally drained from caring for one or more children, and struggling to navigate their brand new reality.
Having a baby is such an intense experience. It’s long and painful and can be quite frightening. It leaves you in various kinds of agony, grappling with sleep deprivation when you were beyond tired before you even started. It also changes your entire life, even if it’s not your first baby (but especially if it is), and forces you to reevaluate your very very existence. It makes you constantly fearful for the safety of this tiny being you’re responsible for and anxious about your parenting abilities, bringing on the worst kind of imposter syndrome. Did I mention how fucking tired you are, which makes everything feel so much more overwhelming?! When healthcare professionals walk into this weary, confused, self-doubting and emotional situation, they need to be highly mindful of the words and preconceptions they bring with them. They need to keep their own preferences, ideals and choices out of it.
Hey, maybe she’s right, maybe I’ll change my mind (doubt it – husband’s booking the vasectomy as we speak), and if she ends up coming out to visit me and my third child then she can sit quietly smug knowing that she did indeed know better. But that would all be best kept to herself. Because I am a grown woman capable of making my own decisions (and if she doesn’t agree, she really shouldn’t be encouraging me to have more children), and I deserve to have those decisions respected. What goes on in my uterus is no one’s business but my own.
Keep the hell out of it.