A few months ago, I underwent laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis, along with three other women. One of these women, who was in her 40s, expressed that she definitely did not want children, whilst simultaneously asserting that under no circumstances did she want a hysterectomy.
Hysterectomy is the ultimate cure for endometriosis, and yet she did not want to live without her womb. Perhaps this is largely because this removal would bring about the menopause overnight, and so I started to think about what our wombs – and menstrual cycles – actually mean to us. For women, they are not just baby-carrying vessels. Their value is not confined to their physiological reproductive purpose. Women have spent their lives, particularly those with illnesses such as endometriosis, actively planning around our pains and aches and being dictated to by our wombs. This woman could have guaranteed an end to her suffering, if she’d chosen to have a hysterectomy. The doctor took a tone of surprise. She doesn’t want kids, what’s the point keeping her womb, since she has no use for it?
Maybe it isn’t about the use it was put there for. Maybe, the forty years she has spent with it have meant so much more to her than the possibility of having a child. It dictates her moods, her clothing options, colour schemes, so much more than the maternal avenue. What’s more, for many women, pregnancy might not result in a child. It could end in abortion, adoption, or even miscarriage.
I think there are huge issues surrounding ‘the reproductive arena’ and the culture of pregnancy, in that people view our ‘reproductive organs’ as solely for reproduction, and pregnancy as a state in which a new family member should be guaranteed. Often, this simply isn’t the case. On the one hand, many, many women are not physically able to have children. Does this mean that they do not have ‘reproductive organs’? You can have a womb and ovaries, and they can still not be hospitable for, or suited to, pregnancy. So why do we still call them reproductive organs? Is that fair, or does it just spur on the idea that those who are infertile are, in some way, broken?
The idea that wombs exist to carry children, ovaries to reproduce, and nothing more than that, is damaging. Some people choose not to reproduce, some people have no choice. That does not make them any less female, or human. Choosing not to reproduce does not mean you are not in touch with your femininity, and it does not mean you don’t value your womb. In fact, more so it is proof that our wombs mean more to us than their biological ‘potential’. It shows that women will not accept this prevailing culture that we exist purely to reproduce, to fulfil our biological functions of becoming mothers. We are individual people, who might happen to have children.