I Regret My Sterilization

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“Surgery-688380_1280.jpg,” 2015, via pixabay.com, public domain.

This is hard. It’s hard to write about, hard to open up about, hard to think about. As a practicing and devout Catholic, I worry people will think I’m a hypocrite. No one wants to feel judged, much less invite scrutiny. I made my choice with full knowledge of Scripture and Church teaching, so I can’t plead ignorance. I knew what I was doing, I thought. I was confident in my decision. What I didn’t anticipate was the tumor of regret that has continued to grow since then.

Five years ago, after my third natural birth, I started having some gynecological issues. Moms, you know what I’m talking about. Trampolines were out, my running days were over, and intimacy with my husband was sometimes uncomfortable. They were inconvenient but arguably tolerable issues. Then I started having persistent pelvic pain, to the point I was struggling with everyday mommy tasks, especially with a toddler and two preteens.

I was also in treatment for severe postpartum anxiety and depression. With each birth, the PPD became progressively worse. With my third child, we even considered my hospitalization or a home care nurse because I was struggling, really struggling. My greatest fear was that with a subsequent birth, I wouldn’t be able to care for my children or worse, that my children wouldn’t have a mother because I would make a fatal decision.

When I found a gynecologist who was gentle and compassionate, I hoped together we could make a treatment plan that would help both my physical and mental health concerns. After some work-ups, I was diagnosed with moderate to severe endometriosis. The only treatment was exploratory surgery. We discussed my other issues and decided they, too, could be corrected during the same surgery. That’s when my doctor broached the subject of a tubal ligation.

Given that I was at the end of my childbearing years, and that my PPD was worsening with each pregnancy, sterilization was a logical treatment choice. It would relieve the looming anxiety of a potential pregnancy and a deeper descent into depression. Statistically, he told me, many women experience relief and enhanced intimacy when the worry of pregnancy is gone. He gave me a consent form to sign, which I did without hesitation.

My husband and I really didn’t discuss the sterilization much. He saw how much I was struggling, how my last pregnancy at 40 was difficult, and he knew he couldn’t be a constant source of support. As a former military pilot, now civilian pilot, he is usually away more than he is home. He wanted me to be healthy, and happy again. We trusted my doctor completely and truly believed this was the best choice not just for me, but for our existing family.

I met with my doctor again the week before my surgery, when I signed a second consent form that looked like it had been Xeroxed 800 times since the 1970s. This time, I paused. I’d had time to consider what I was doing and to accept I was relinquishing any more babies. My eyes filled as I scrawled my signature and my doctor asked me if I was sure. “I know this is what’s best,” I answered.

The surgery was successful in correcting all the issues I’d been having. Recovery from some parts of the surgery was difficult, but I was looking forward to getting back to running, playing with my kids without clutching my abdomen in pain, and having unfettered intimacy with my husband.

What I didn’t anticipate, in any way, was the loss I felt. It crept in slowly and I would have moments of acute sadness, especially when I saw new babies. Then I would brush the feeling off and remind myself how relieved I should be, how thankful I was that I didn’t have to go through all the sleepless nights and crippling depression again.

What I didn’t anticipate was that sex would change. It wasn’t joyful anymore. It wasn’t something I looked forward to or initiated. I didn’t feel desirable. It didn’t feel like a gift anymore, like something we were sharing. It was an act, and I participated because it was part of being married. It was dry, uncomfortable and unsatisfying, and very different from what my husband and I had shared before.

What I didn’t anticipate was feeling so unfulfilled and directionless. I’d been so satisfied as a full-time mom, and felt called to it. My three children kept my life busy and full and I loved having a full calendar, noise, activities, volunteer work, church, and the constant chauffeuring. Within a few months of my sterilization, I started to feel … unmoored. The life that was so satisfying before now seemed shallow and endless. Being a mom is so much more than just giving birth, but my children’s births gave me my direction, my vocation. I had willingly given up the possibility of any more gifts, the best gifts I had ever received. I questioned whether I could be the same mother I had been.

What I never, ever anticipated was losing our 12-year-old son last year in a tragic accident. His absence has left our house so terribly quiet, even with a 5-year-old and a 15-year-old still occupying the same space. The constant hum of activity, punctuated by the occasional argument, is gone. The noise and mess generated by a preteen boy is acutely absent. Our son can never, ever be replaced, but the void that exists now in my life, and in my heart, aches for a third child. I ache.

At the time, I thought I was making a wise decision, choosing sterilization. I had a list of reasons to justify it and only one glaring reason to refuse it: the clear and deep wisdom of the Magisterium.

“The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.” (CCC 2363)

By separating biology and spirituality, I compromised my marriage.

I regret that I didn’t do more homework. I didn’t ask about the possible negative side effects of sterilization, nor were they offered. I didn’t research other women’s experience or ask many questions, any questions, really. If I had looked, I would have quickly discovered the Coalition for Post Tubal Women. Reading their stories is both heartbreaking and validating. I know there are other women like me who made a well-intentioned but remorseful decision.

I took this to confession many times. My priest finally told me, gently and lovingly, “You have been forgiven. You need to accept that forgiveness so you can heal.” More than once since our son’s passing, my husband has suggested we look into foster parenting or adoption. My body won’t accommodate any more children, but my heart certainly can. I just need to fully accept my mistake didn’t negate my vocation, and that I’m still a good mom, the best mom, and a loving wife.

With counseling, prayer, sacraments, and medical treatment for the after effects, I’m finding healing. My marriage, too, is healing. Grief has complicated the process but hasn’t halted it. If anything, grief creates a void that allows more room for grace, and with grace, there is peace.

“Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

 

Copyright Dawn Wright, 2015, all rights reserved
Photo: “Surgery-688380_1280.jpg,” 2015,  via pixabay.com, public domain.

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About Author

Dawn Wright is an enthusiastic convert, wife, homeschooler, catechist, writer, reader, knitter, and rising graduate theology student. She deeply loves her three children, two here on earth and one in heaven. Trusting prayer, the sacraments, and the love of her community, she blogs at www.giftedgrief.wordpress.com to reach friends, family and other bereaved parents with the hope her faith. You can also find her on Twitter @luvteach2, and on Instagram at catholic_nerd.

8 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us. I know how painful it is, and I know how scary it is to admit all of this in a Catholic setting. I wrote recently about how I came to forgive myself after my tubal after years of horrible guilt. It’s a long road there, but it’s achievable.

    I’ll be praying for you. 🙂

  2. Oh, Dawn, I am so sorry for your suffering and for the loss of your son. You are in my prayers and thank you for the reminder of the grace found in the sacraments and the necessity of accepting our forgiveness in confession. I needed to hear that today. God bless, Meg

  3. Linda Couzens on

    I am sad to say that I had a total hysterectomy for advanced endometriosis 18 years ago. I have replayed the decision and its consequences from every angle. Ultimately I conclude that at the time I was tormented by all of the ‘what ifs’ that might happen if I tried to have a baby. I had a difficult disease and it was treated and now I have to do what I did not do back then: I ask God to help me be the woman and the wife that he wants me to be everyday in every decision I have to make. As often as needed I say the prayer that you can only say for yourself, ” Jesus, through your precious blood I command the evil spirits of doubt, distraction, anger, regret, etc. to leave me, depart from me, now and forever. I command it in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

  4. I had a hysterectomy at age 45 for advanced endometriosis; 2 years later I had my ovaries removed. I have felt that same physical pain, Dawn, and all the awful and embarrassing symptoms that came along with this condition. And honestly, I feel nothing but relief that this is all behind me.
    Your sterilization was not something you did in order to find a convenient way to permanently avoid pregnancy. If you had had uterine or ovarian cancer and you had to have those organs removed, there would be nothing on your conscience, and I maintain that the same should be true in this case.
    Please know that you are in my prayers, that you may find peace in your heart, your motherhood, and your marriage.

  5. Kathryn Woeppel on

    Dear Dawn and to all mothers,
    I share in your pain as I too had a tubal ligation done. My marriage was a mess and I thought it was the best thing to do. I had a Catholic doctor who never really talked to me about all of it, perhaps he just wanted the money he would get for it. Months later I finally felt the impact of what I had done to my God. 5 years later my husband agreed to pay for the procedure to be undone. Insurances pay for the sterilization but not the undone part. I was going to Heaven! The next year I lost a baby who was tied up in the scar tissue where the clip had been. I felt I had killed my baby. It took years and years to forgive myself even though Heaven reached out so many times to me. Thank goodness for the kindness of a priest who finally reached to my brokenness and I finally felt that Our Lord had forgiven me. You see, He tells us this when we repent but it is so difficult to forgive ourselves. It is like we slam the door on God with our grief. It will be 30 years since that day. Let Our Lord and His precious Mother guide our lives ladies. Let us live the rest of our lives in peace. Ave Maria.

  6. Dawn,

    My sincere condolences on the loss of your son and on the pain of having the tubal. I was actually on this website because I will be new to homeschooling. I clicked on your post because it struck a cord with me. My story is a long one but I too had a tubal. Through much prayer I had it reversed 3 1/2 years later. Then I read your blog and sobbed. I too have lost a son, extended family surrounding the lost, have ended up.in the ER with cheat pain that turned out to be “anxiety” and had shingles twice in my 30’s that I am positive was stress related. I understood and could relate to EVERY word of your blog. I pray for you on your life long healing after the loss of your beautiful Kai.

  7. Dawn–Thank you for having the courage to write this. You were certainly faced with an incredibly difficult situation–what a blessing to have a priest who is assuring you of your forgiveness! I do hope your story will help other women to reconsider sterilization. As a certified natural family planning teacher, I always like to remind couples that NFP can be used to postpone pregnancy, even for an indefinite amount of time and in serious situations. “NFP-only” doctors can also help find solutions to some of the health issues you described without automatically resorting to sterilization or chemicals. NFP is a very different means to the same end–it can help maintain the joy and the gift elements of marriage that you felt you lost after your tubal ligation. My heart is so touched by your story! Thank you for the reminder that God’s grace can heal anything–I do hope He is giving you and your husband a return to Joy!

  8. I don’t agree with you.After the constant worry of getting pregnant on NFP and having a number of kids, two with severe autism, I was happy to have a sterilisation and have no guilt at all. As a mother you must look after the ones you have

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