I Know What’s Best for You: Stories on Reproductive Freedom, edited by Shelly Oria, is a multigenre anthology with a focus on the crisis of reproductive rights in the United States. The book’s international supplement features sixteen additional works of fiction, nonfiction, and art by contributors from around the globe. Order the book, and receive the supplement, I Know What’s Best for You All Over the World, free as an ebook. Editor and author Shelly Oria will be touring through the summer of 2022, joined by contributors to the book as well as many other writers and artists.
Never Mine Alone
by Anne Marie C. Befoune
“I went to the gynecologist to get information because I wanted my tubes tied. He said no because, though I was single at the time, the man I might meet someday might want a child. For this doctor, my body and uterus already belonged to a guy I have not even met yet!” I laughed aloud when I read that on social media. It seemed so stupid at first, but then I realized that my reality was not that far off. My womb has never been mine alone.
I knew very early in life that I did not want to have children. It was clear to me, but it took decades to gather the courage to voice this truth. I remember this beautiful woman I admired when I was younger. She was a little over fifty, had found success in her work, and was happy. There was something about her that fascinated me. When I shared my admiration for her with my mother and her friends, the first thing they told me was that she could not be that happy and that fulfilled—because she did not have children. She was faking her happiness. I was about twenty at the time.
My sister was the first person I told I did not want to be a parent in this life or another. I was twenty-seven and it was about noon. She didn’t say a word. She went to her bedroom, locked the door, and stayed there until the next morning. She told me years later that the shock was violent. When my mother heard the news, she thought I was a lesbian, the most abnormal thing for anyone from a traditional African home to be. By my mother’s reasoning, I had to be abnormal not to want children, and I had to be disgusted by men not to want to make one happy with a family.
My blog posts on the topic were met with incomprehension and sometimes aggression. I was too Westernized; I was turning my back to “our African culture.” I read too much, and it probably affected my brain. No wonder I never wore makeup; I was definitely a lesbian. I was sexually unsatisfied, that was the reason why “ma head no correct,” as we say in Pidgin English. No one ever asked me why: Why didn’t I want to have children? Why did I prefer to focus on myself instead of building a family? why? Maybe I would have shared my childhood trauma if other people cared a little more about me as a person rather than as a being with a uterus.
Despite the contraceptive barriers I built around myself, my Little Human chose me as a parent. I was disgusted by the idea of bearing a child, but I knew I would not abort the baby. From the day I got that positive pregnancy test, I felt the utmost respect for that being who picked the most improbable person with one of the most hostile wombs to bear her, give birth to her, and help her navigate the world. I was scared to death, but I made myself ready. I, nevertheless, had a certitude: it should not happen a second time.
Because I had a lot of fibroids in my uterus, I had to have a C-section. I asked my gynecologist to remove my tubes and she refused. God manufactured female beings to bear offspring. I should be happy and grateful to be fertile. What if my partner wanted to have another baby? Soon after, what was supposed to happen happened: I got pregnant for the second time.
It was impossible to remove the fibroids in my uterus during the C-section, so the doctor wanted me to have another surgery a little more than a year after the first birth, which happened to coincide with my second pregnancy. The physical pain during my first pregnancy was unbearable, but it had started only after five months. This time was completely different. The day after I found out I was pregnant, I experienced the most violent pain I’d ever known. I thought I would die.
I asked my gynecologist whether abortion was an option. I am not sure I would have aborted the baby. But I am sure that I wanted to have options, to know that if I went through the pregnancy despite the unbearable pain, it was because I chose to, not because I was forced to. My doctor looked as if she might collapse when the word “abortion” was uttered. She told me it was absolutely impossible, that no one in their right mind would get an abortion. It was illegal, my life was not in danger, so I had to suffer the pain—it was the will of God. She assured me as a doctor that she knew exactly the intensity of the burning sensation in my uterus and the gravity of the situation, but I would have to endure it for eight more months, if the baby was strong enough to last that long. She knew the fibroids had slowed the development of my first child, but God would be merciful this time as well. I had to have faith. The pregnancy turned out to be an ectopic one, so I had to be cut open again. When I asked my doctor whether my tubes could be taken out during the procedure, she shushed me. “Don’t say that again!” Did I not want to make my child and partner happy by bearing several other babies? She was a gynecologist and had patients unable to conceive. I was lucky enough to be fertile; what I wanted was an insult to all the people who could not have children.
Culturally, legally, and religiously, our wombs are not ours. We do not have control over how they are used or not used. Our value as beings seems to be reduced to our ability (and our assumed burning desire) to bear children. Parenthood is the compass with which society measures our happiness and fulfillment. No child: not happy, not fulfilled. One child: a little happy, a little fulfilled. More children: fully happy and fulfilled.
What hurts the most is the infantilization of the adult I am today, the adult I already was when I first shared my lack of desire to be a parent. I was treated as if I did not know what I was talking about or what I wanted for myself. I was insulted and belittled. I was ignored even when I asked for a medical option to free myself from pain that would have kept me bedridden for months. God and the law were not backing my will.
Though I am not sure my mother and I have the same definition of happiness, she taught me that an unhappy parent cannot raise a happy child. I will teach my daughter that she should never accept being reduced to her womb. I will teach her never to feel guilty about her true wishes in life. And I will teach her that no one—not the culture she is part of, not the law, not even God—should define for her the path she takes.
Anne Marie C. Befoune is a writer and a podcaster. She uses her words as weapons to break traditional and cultural shackles that prevent people from living the lives they want for themselves.
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