Long before I was sexually active, I was terrified by the concept of getting pregnant.
The substandard sex-ed classes in my middle school only had to say on the topic of sex “Don’t even think about having it, you’ll definitely get knocked up.” My mother’s words of wisdom were: “Don’t bring boys to my house and use a condom.” So my education came entirely from an old copy of The Joy of Sex confusingly mingled in dog eared piles of Hustler and Penthouse magazines, poorly hidden under my parent’s bed.
The amount of semen and ejaculating that happened in the stories between those covers only served to cement my fear that the majority of sex was attempting to not get pregnant while bathing in white goo. There was almost no discussion of female pleasure. It didn’t really seem like a lot of fun.
And the more I found out about semen the more petrified I became of the entire male population. Including my younger brother and father. I had convinced myself that the commingling of the family laundry meant it was only a matter of time before my father’s underwear being washed with mine would lead to me finding myself with incestuous child. My mother was baffled albeit thrilled by my sudden insistence at washing my own clothes.
From there the phobia continued to gain weight so that I waited until college to lose my virginity. But I’d been on the pill since high school to lessen the amount of time I worried about all this semen just floating round in the universe waiting to impregnate me. Most people stay up late at night worried about natural disasters or the stupid thing they said earlier in the day, I worried endlessly about who would accidentally get me pregnant on any given day.
When I started having sex you better bet my fear of babies and Midwestern guilt assured I was convinced I was pregnant every single time I had sex. So there wasn’t much pleasure on my side of the equation. But I kept doing the lust and guilt spiral, obsessively taking my birth control at the exact same time everyday and checking every condom for a leak.
Eventually sanity took hold and the phobia lessened though the fear of pregnancy was always a blip in my mind, as I became a forward thinking sex positive gal. Then one day, I realized my normally clockwork period was missing. It was finally happening.
To complicate matters I didn’t know which man I was sleeping with to tell first. The guy I was reasonably sure had knocked me up, or the man I was living with? One programmed computers by day and gathered a small congregation of independent Christians by night. The other was an underemployed chef with three kids and an ex wife, neither of which he put effort into seeing.
I’m poly, so the problem wasn’t that there were two of them. The issue was that I was likely carrying around half of the DNA of the latter of the two men. He wasn’t a long term partner. He wasn’t responsible. He didn’t support the kids he already had. He was supposed to be a fling, my fun on the side. He wasn’t supposed to require difficult talks or weighty emotions. Yet here I was a week late: the very definition of complicated and serious.
Talking first to the man I loved and shared a life with was the obvious choice; I wanted to, desperately. But he fell on the polar opposite side of the fertility wars, making his baggage about babies bring another level of impossibility to the topic.
He’d spent years trying to procreate with his ex-wife, to no avail. So the universe was particularly cruel when it decided that she would immediately get pregnant with her next boyfriend. So how do I tell him that the unthinkable was happening a second time; there was a baby on the horizon and once again it wasn’t his?
Instead of the raging shit storm I was expecting when I told him, his only response was, “I see. And what’s your plan?”
“I think you know the answer to that question.” I wanted to hold off on saying the word until it was absolutely necessary. He was less collected now. My partner knew the word I wouldn’t say.
As a man who had struggled for a baby his entire adult life, the option I was considering, really the only option as far as I was concerned, was unthinkable to him. So it was with the religious fury of his convictions that he said, “I love you so I’m not going with my first reaction to take the dog and walk in the opposite direction. You know how I feel about the subject. You make the choice and I’ll support you, even though it goes against everything I believe in. But you only get to do it once. If we even have to talk about a next time, I’m gone.”
I was simultaneously relieved and terrified by his response. I was so sure his strong sense of Christian morals would mean that the first mention of abortion would cause him to leave and never look back. I didn’t know what to do now that this story had an alternate ending.
Of course nothing would be as easy as that first conversation led me to believe. After his great declaration of support, my partner spent the next weeks trying to talk me into any other option. Sometimes he claimed we had never had the one-free-abortion talk. As if I wasn’t conflicted or confused enough, he was making me question my sanity on a daily basis.
He never said the words but there was the sense that he was already thinking less of me, judging my character as flawed for entertaining the notion of ending a life, even one I had never asked for. This is what he did as a man of god--judgment and absolution--and I felt I’d been deemed unworthy.
During week two he had a grand epiphany that in his mind solved all our problems. He had decided I should have the kid. We would get married and together we would ask my lover to move in with us. We could be a big happy family! He walked around as if things had been resolved. All this before I had been able to talk to the other man in my life. My partner never considering for a moment that I wouldn’t find such an option the least bit appealing or that perhaps he should run it by my lover.
That is if we could ever contact him. The man I didn’t live with was unreachable as all of this was going on. This happened periodically: because he forgot to charge his phone, pay the bill, or that humans were known to answer such devices when they rang.
Admittedly I didn’t try very hard. It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with him or one that would go very well. He would only make puns, jokes, and weird noises. I knew not to count on any help from him. So I contemplated taking care of the situation without him being aware. He was likely to wander out of my life any day now, just as quickly as he wandered into it. But I couldn’t live with being that girl. He deserved to know.
As all of this was transpiring, it was the epitome of a Midwestern winters. The sun shone like a hammer, reflecting off every icy white surface. Everything froze solid within seconds of being exposed to the blowing arctic winds. A terrible time of year to have a crisis. There was nowhere to escape, even trying to do something as seemingly simple as breathe while out of doors reminded me instantly of the horrible pain and fragility of being alive. So there was nowhere for me to walk. No where to get out of the four walls I shared with my partner, who was doing everything and nothing wrong.
The best I could do was lock myself in the stalls of the stark grey bathroom at the call center where I worked. Confined there I would watch the movie screen on the back of eyelids play out the possibilities my life could take from here. I didn’t like any of them. I didn’t want a kid, and I didn’t want to be a woman who had an abortion. There didn’t seem to be a good answer or a happy ending.
Week three and I still couldn’t get a hold of my lover. I went on with life as normal the best I could.
In the course of this long month it somehow never occurred to me to take a pregnancy test. The suffering of not knowing for sure seemed to be the penance I was forcing myself to pay for the life I had lived and the choices, or lack thereof, I had made up to that point. Whether or not I was pregnant I needed that month to think about what I wanted for myself.
The day I finally got my period, I was so sure it wouldn’t happen that I was unprepared. Caught at work bleeding through my skirt, trying to make it through the call I was on before I bled onto the office chair. Rushing home on my lunch break, I celebrated by messaging my partner to say, “I’m bleeding. We aren’t having a baby!”
In this loaded moment I chose a stunningly ill worded text message. “Oh. Thanks for letting me know.” Even through a phone screen I could tell he was disappointed. It wasn’t a good sign for the longevity of our relationship.
As for my lover, he didn’t show up again until well after the pregnancy scare was over. It turned out he had been upset that I was acting distant and not having sex with him frequently enough. Rather than talk about this like adults, he decided to not be around for a while. To which I explained that if he was upset about the lack of intimacy, I had a whole list of things I was beyond upset about.
That he hadn’t been around while I spent a month wondering if I was pregnant with his child. That the last time I had seen him, he had tricked me into thinking he was wearing a condom by putting it on then taking it off so that he could get away with having unprotected sex. That he decided to play this game without my consent at the same time I had temporarily gone off my birth control for a minor surgical procedure. That I spent the rest of that evening at his bathroom sink in a humiliating and vain attempt to wash his semen out of me. That he laid there snoring while I stared at the ceiling numb with anger and regret. That I got up for work the next day as if nothing had happened. That I couldn’t talk to him about any of these things. That I had trusted him, he had violated that trust and disappeared.
He didn’t have much to say other than a dismissive, “Okay, what do you want me to do?” I wasn’t surprised but I was still disappointed. The time when he could have done anything to help had passed. We were over.
The very next day after the most welcome period in the history of my life began; I decided to fulfill my life long dream of getting my tubes tied. I never wanted to worry about a whoops again.
This turned out to be no simple feat at the time in the conservative Midwest. At my first foray with my general practitioner, I was told a woman in her late 20’s can’t get a tubal ligation unless she has already has several children. She would consider referring me to a surgeon if my husband would come to my next appointment and state he also didn’t want children and never would. This felt so much like the 1950’s, it was nauseating.
None of the medical professionals I talked to could believe that I would never want children. I was only 20-something, there was no way I could possibly know what I wanted. They saw it all the time, I would change my mind and want to start a family any day now, I would see. Once my biological clock started ticking I would thank them.
I tried again, this time with my partner in tow playing the role of my husband. The minute he stated a lack of desire for children, the paperwork came out and I was magically allowed to have my tubes tied. No matter that I was lying about him being my husband and he was lying about not wanting children, once a man spoke up for my uterus I could have the surgery. This bothered me to no end but I was willing to sneak around the system if that’s what it took.
The amount of relief I felt knowing my tubes, and therefore my need to worry about kids again had been removed was proportional to the amount of pain I felt waking up in the recovery room. In order to do an endoscopic procedure the doctors fill the body cavity with air. The discomfort associated with the body trying to rid itself of all this extra gas is the one procedure modern drugs had no cure for.
“Now you’ll never have to find out that this is nothing compared to childbirth,” joked one of the nurses while offering me crackers and an ice pack.
When the pain ended, I was euphoric and it wasn’t just the opiates talking. I had never felt so free and comfortable in my body.
I hadn’t realized just how much time I spent worrying about getting pregnant or resenting my fallopian tubes for how easily they could ruin my life without my permission. That was all over. I was in control of my body and my sexuality now; I felt free!
The next thing I did was contact a photographer whose images I had a crush on. Now that my body felt like mine I wanted to document it. Nothing external had changed, but the way I thought about this sack of meat I walked around in was inexorably altered. I no longer hated my body with its teeny breasts, huge ass, and cellulite thighs. That’s what made me unique. All that mattered was I no longer felt like a baby making station. And, fuck, was that sexy!
So tubal ligation scar and all, I drove to meet the fetish photographer that would help start me down the road of being a body positive, sexually open and adventurous, rope slut. My smile in those first of many photo shoots we did together speaks to my elation about finally feeling like myself, welcome in my body and unafraid for the first time.