Written by Standard Issue


Why I Got Sterilised

By the late 70s, Sally Firbank knew her daughter was the only child she’d ever want. Plus, she wanted to remove the cloud of maternity uncertainty for potential new bosses. She recounts her tube-tying tale.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

“And why does a pretty young thing like you want to be sterilised?”

It was the summer of 1979, and an appointment with the eminent consultant had arrived after many years of pestering my lovely GP, who knew that this wasn’t going to happen before I was 30.

The great man was standing at the end of the couch, and my foot was itching to place a well-aimed kick.

“Because I don’t want another child.”

My daughter was eight, and although the original grand plan had been to have a couple more, we had currently only reached 40 per cent of the standard family average of 2.5 children. And I didn’t want to have any more, ever.

Just as important at the time, in order to advance my career it was necessary to assure employers they wouldn’t be taking a chance on someone who might want time off to have a baby – or a whole clutch of them.

“Why doesn’t your husband have a vasectomy?”

Just like the 1960s gave us the pill, the late 70s was the era of the vasectomy. I’d jumped straight onto the pill bandwagon at age 17 when we decided we would get married in two years and not start a family until two years later, when we were both 21.

“Because I don’t want another child, or be on the pill for another 20 years.”

We had stuck to the plan; married at 19, and at 20 I came off the pill and got pregnant straight away. For my 21st birthday I asked my parents for a pram.

My mum’s reaction to the joyful news a few months earlier had been: “Oh no, you’re not, are you?”

“Suppose something should happen to your daughter?”

I loved her so much, but in the first year I suffered from postnatal depression, and always felt that the umbilical cord had not been properly cut. It felt like we were connected permanently, so every time she cried or made any sound, my stomach would churn with anxiety and pain.

“The consultant smiled and said not to worry as he would be very neat and I would be able to wear a bikini. ‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘Will I be able to play the piano too?’ – because I didn’t do that before, either.”

That passed, but the realisation had hit that I wasn’t the natural mother I had expected to be, even though babysitting the various nieces and nephews in the family always seemed so easy and enjoyable.

“I wouldn’t be able to replace her; it wouldn’t be the same.”

When I told my husband that I couldn’t bear the idea of having any more kids, he was very disappointed. After our first split, I thought it might help if I gave in and got pregnant a second time. On receiving the negative test result, I collapsed with relief, and decided that this was not going to happen again.

“What would you rather do, sterilise me or give me an abortion?”

He got the message and the appointment was made before my 29th birthday.

The GP had said that with the new advances in surgery, there would be just one small hole ‘’here, and here” on either side of my abdomen where the tubes would be tied and I would be able to return to work within a couple of weeks.

Imagine my surprise then, when the night before my operation the consultant perched on the hospital bed and – well within kicking distance – told me that he would be making an incision from “here to here” as he didn’t trust this new-fangled technology, and that I would need six weeks to recuperate. I was too shocked to even move my foot.

As he got up to go, he smiled and said not to worry as he would be very neat and I would be able to wear a bikini. “Thanks,” I said, “Will I be able to play the piano too?” – because I didn’t do that before, either.

The operation went as well as could be expected. For a few weeks the bruising meant my stomach looked like it was hiding twins, and was excruciatingly painful. But I was able to provide future employers confirmation that this bitch had been spayed.

Was it the right decision? Hell yes. Within a few years we had divorced, he remarried and had two more children. I remarried and didn’t.

And 30 years on, we’re all living happily ever after.

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Written by Standard Issue