“The article I submitted to Wired868 protesting the hypocrisy and stigma surrounding women’s health rights went viral and held the interest of the nation for a few days.
“[…] The choice to bear a child is a woman’s right, as much as the choice to not bear children.”
Six months after fighting for the right to tie her tubes at the Eric Williams Medical Centre, Avah Atherton shares what has happened since then:
The reasons why I’m childfree at thirty? I’ve been pregnant before. I’ve had multiple abortions. I held a sick infant in my arms and watched helplessly as she turned blue and stopped breathing.
I think the idea of something growing in me is repulsive. I’ve been molested by men I trusted and can’t have relationships without fear of assault. I don’t think I will be a good mother. I suffer from mental and physical illnesses that I’m worried about passing on to my offspring.
All of the above is true. None of the above is true. Does it really matter if any or all of it is true? It doesn’t.
It’s been six month since I got my tubes tied and I regret nothing.
Six months ago, I was on the cover of the Trinidad Express. I had been refused the bilateral tubal ligation surgery that is regularly administered through the public hospitals on the basis of my age and presumed psychological issues by a surgeon at the Eric Williams Medical Complex.
The article I submitted to Wired868 protesting the hypocrisy and stigma surrounding women’s health rights went viral and held the interest of the nation for a few days.
After an interview with i95.5 FM and the Express, I was advised by a friend and advocate for women’s rights to attend a seminar regarding sexual and reproductive health rights which was being attended by key partners in the region, including the head of the Women Clinic.
After listening to members of Family Planning, the Pan American Health Organization and others bemoan the prevalence of underage mothers, the high case of infant mortality in the region and the need for public education on sexual health, I described my treatment at the Complex to those in attendance.
Many knew who I was—the front page story was hard to miss—and applauded my choice, including a mature mother of three. One public apology and a meeting with the head surgeon to set a surgery date later, I was finally allowed to make a decision about my body without anyone else’s input.
On the day that I was admitted to the gynaecological ward, I was nervous but mostly overjoyed that I had managed to fight for my sexual and reproductive health rights. That fight wasn’t mine alone, as I had heard from so many others about how they experienced similar treatment. My win was a small victory for all of us.
During the night, I listened to the stories of the women who shared the room with me. Of the three women, one had her womb removed due to childbirth complications, another was struggling to carry a child to term and the last had suffered a miscarriage.
They looked at me and asked: “Why are you so happy? What are you here for?”
And the answer I had was never voiced, out of respect for their choices: I was ensuring that the trauma they spoke about so casually would never be something I experienced. Because the choice to bear a child is a woman’s right, as much as the choice to not bear children.
In the aftermath of my surgery, I remember feeling a keen sense of relief. The subconscious fear of becoming pregnant that I had carried with me for years, was finally gone. The stigma surrounding my choice had not.
Even as I lay in bed, groggy and in discomfort, a nurse stopped by to leave her two cents. According to her, I was ‘lucky’ she wasn’t on duty when I was admitted or she would have turned me away. I had made a ‘terrible’ choice.
Somehow, in my groggy state, all I thought about was comforting her. No, I was not going to regret it. Yes, I know what it meant for my future. Don’t worry, I told her, I’ll be fine. She shook her head and left.
I could only laugh at her audacity and presumption. Women are not defined by their ability, or lack thereof, to have children. We are inventors, business owners, housewives, doctors, mothers, engineers, astronauts, pannists, dancers, athletes, singers, lovers, soldiers. We are bold, fearless, vulnerable, angry, compassionate.
We can be all of these things and none of them. We decide.
We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Avah Atheron’s initial Letter to the Editor on her attempt to have bilateral tubal ligation surgery at the Eric Williams Medical Centre.