to protect what i believe from myself

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{Image is a photo of the path between two college dorms from the quad behind to the road beyond- source.}

I remember what first drew my attention to her. I was fascinated, and somewhat envious, watching her and her girlfriend spend meals in our dorm’s dining room in silence. As all of us chattered noisily around them, the two of them would quietly, yet vibrantly, passionately gesticulate – communicating with one another in ASL. I would try not to stare, but there was something so beautiful about the physicality with which they made points and counterpoints in what were obviously debates, and the tenderness with which they shared their quieter, more private thoughts. There was an exclusivity to their dance, one to which the rest of us were clearly not invited. A shared language that hinted at something far deeper – a shared experience. Though both were hearing, they’d each grown up loving someone who was not. And they chose this physical language over a verbal one – the one that might seem a simpler default. There was something intensely symbolic in that, I thought. All these years later, I still do.

We walked to campus together one day, the first time we’d ever been alone with one another. I don’t remember how or why we came to chat about such an intimate topic, but it was college – the most intimate was not just the most political, but the most ripe for declaration to veritable strangers.

She told me that she had chosen to ensure that she could not biologically bear children. I can’t remember now her chosen method, whether it was an elective hysterectomy or a tubal ligation, but whichever it was, it was permanent and it was radical.

I was aghast. Not at the thought that she’d never have children, as that would, of course, be a choice that she would be free to make, but that she would, at nineteen or twenty, whatever she may have been at the time, make that decision irrevocable.

She explained her reasoning, which was apparently well thought out and undoubtedly sound at the moment in which we stood in time. If she wanted to be a mother, she said, she would adopt. She was fiercely devoted to ending overpopulation and believed with every fiber of her being that we all could contribute to the solution by providing loving homes to the millions of children around the globe without them. “I won’t be part of the problem,” she said.

“But … but …” I stuttered. “But what if you change your mind? I mean, you can still adopt a child – or a whole slew of children – and that’s wonderful and beautiful, but .. but what if you decide that you want a biological child as well? What if you someday yearn to carry a child? To share that experience with your partner?”

She listened, smiling.

“I mean, your idealism is amazing and admirable,” I said, “but what happens when it fades and your reality changes and your belief system evolves? Then what?”

She smiled at me, as if she were about to let me in on a secret.

“That’s precisely why I did it now,” she said. “To protect what I believe from myself.”

“But … but …” I stammered.

“I know,” she said.

She was still smiling.

11 thoughts on “to protect what i believe from myself

  1. This is an interesting conversation starter. I’m torn on how I feel about it because I think that there are some beliefs that should be protected from ourselves and some that should be allowed to evolve – either because we change or because society changes and we need to change with it. At the ripe old age of 47 I can tell you that I am miles away from many of the beliefs I held at 19. Some of them were immature and have merely changed over time. Some were simply wrongly held beliefs. My message to my children has always been that life is all about change and that is a good thing. That, as Anne of Green Gables said, every new day is a fresh start with no mistakes in it yet. You can restart, reinvent, reimagine your life over and over again. There is no “prize” for getting it right and no punishment for mistakes other than natural consequences. The consequence of making permanent decisions so young is that you live with them forever. Your friend was clearly intelligent and thoughtful. I hope she still feels as strongly now about her decision as she did then.

  2. I wonder how she managed to make it happen. Many doctors won’t perform those procedures on so young a person. I have an intentionally child-free friend who said that he had at least one surgeon express reluctance to perform a vasectomy on someone so young who didn’t already have children–and my friend was in his 30s at the time.

  3. This is something that I am considering doing. And I’ve had the same conversation with myself… What if I change my mind? And like her, that’s one of the reasons that I want to do it… So I can’t change my mind.

  4. Hi, Jess! I have a question that’s totally off topic but I couldn’t find a link to email you from…can I ask if you’ve e we had genetic testing done with Brooke or anyone in your family? If you don’t want to answer, I completely understand. I only ask because I am going next Friday tower with a geneticist to talk about testing for myself. I’m diagnosed autistic, depressed, and generalized anxiety disorder, as well as Raynaud’s and Fibromyalgia and its led me to a lot more questions than answers. I’m hoping genetic testing can help find some of those answers I seek. I was just curious if that was ever a route your family had traveled or if you thought it would be worthwhile? Thanks. 😊

    • The only genetic testing we’ve done is for BRCA1 and BRCA2, which appear to be implicated in breast cancer. (And we’re currently pursuing a more newly developed test on my doctor’s recommendation, given that my my aunt, my mother’s mother and my mom all had breast cancer. That said, I’d be very cautious about spending a lot of money on something like this (as these things don’t come cheap) since the field is really still in its infancy. But if it’s reasonable and you think it might give you some more insight into yourself and your kiddo, well, self-knowledge is never a bad thing. I’d just be very wary of getting taken for a ride. I hope that helps.

  5. People grow and evolve (hopefully) each and every day. At 72, I feel that I never want to stop growing and evolving. I only hope that the young woman, about whom you wrote, is happy with her decision today.

    Love you,

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