November 17, 2007

Shoulds and Shouldn'ts

Guest Post by
Purple Woman & Mental Health Advocate
Gainseville, Florida

I have a mental illness.

There. I said it, got it out of the way. It's relevant to Purple WomenTM, though, because being mentally ill puts me in a category all its own -- society thinks I shouldn't have children.

Back in the early part of the 20th century, thousands of women with brain disorders (including the non-disease "hysteria", a label slapped on some women who didn't meekly obey her menfolk) were given involuntary hysterectomies because it was thought such women shouldn't breed. While the eugenics programs are done and buried, the mindset still persists
among many doctors.

I've been wanting a tubal ligation since I was fourteen or so, although I've never had the money to follow through. I've brought it up with various doctors, though, and the response is always the same. Their first reaction is the one most childfree women get -- "You'll change your mind when you're older." But then they find out that I have a mental illness, and suddenly they can't wait to schedule the surgery for me.

I don't want children, and never have. I'm lucky that I feel this way, though, because pregnancy and motherhood would be very hard on my mental stability. Yes, I could have a kid if I really wanted to, but I'd have to do it under a doctor's close supervision, and I'd have a lot of issues that other women don't have to deal with.

Lots of women with mental illnesses -- including both my sisters -- make great mothers. They each have a daughter, and my middle sister has a son on the way. Having a brain disorder does not automatically make a person a bad parent. There is medication. There is therapy. There are support groups.

You should value your ability to choose, whether society wants you to have children or not.
A hundred years ago I wouldn't have had a choice. I can't ever forget that. And neither should you.

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Teri said...

Thank you for this post Steff and for joining us on PW Count Day. This is just the beginning.

Angry Grrl said...

Thank you for this reminder. My state, North Carolina, did not end its eugenics/forced sterilization program until 1974. That's right, 1974. You can read about it here:

Mrs. Synthfool said...

I'm VERY glad I had the ability to get a tubal (ligation) at 25, though it did take a fight to get it (see:


Angry Grrl said...

Monica -- good for you for standing up for your rights!! I'm so glad you didn't let them intimidate you.

IndyPindy said...

Great story. Clinical depression runs in my mother's family. I have had three major bouts of depression, so I need to stay on a low dose antidepressant for the rest of my life. On occaision where I have let it run out and not refilled it, I really feel the difference. My energy level, my ability to handle stress, the way I feel about myself and my life. And I get migraines.

I can't IMAGINE dealing with pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood! I need my sleep - I have learned that prolonged lack of sleep will bring on depression for me. I wouldn't be able to take my medication while pregnant or breastfeeding, so I cannot IMAGINE how I would manage to be present for the child, or my partner. I can imagine myself becoming one of those mothers who screams and locks herself in the bedroom due to lack of sleep and being overwhelmed.

Thank God I don't want to have kids. But you are right - women with mental disorders should not have sterility forced upon them. And how do the qualify "mentail ilness"? Depression? Seasonal Affective Disorder? Both of these are so common, especially in milder forms, that many people don't even know they have them.

Then there are doctors who overdiagnose depression and premenstrual dysphoria in women because they think that anytime a woman doesn't feel absolutely happy all the time she must be depressed, and a pill will make it all better.

Meg from The Bargain Queen & All About Appearances said...

I have a friend that wants a hysterectomy because she has been battling cancer. She doesn't want kids, but the doctors still won't do it -- in case she changes her mind.

When I was planning my breast reduction, several people, including my mom, couldn't believe I'd do it and risk being able to breastfeed (not that mom and I were able to work that out when I was an infant).

But, on account of a non-fatal, maybe genetic condition I have (and who doesn't have some sort of 'condition'), a supposed friend told me that I shouldn't think of having kids. She didn't have much sense about her, though, so I could care less about her opinion except that it was the first time someone had actually told me NOT to have kids.