How Endometriosis Absolved Me of My Guilt Over Not Procreating
For as long as I can remember, I have had what I can only describe as existential dread over the idea of becoming pregnant. I’m not talking about the ramifications of actually having a child and what that would entail in terms of my path in life. I’m not even talking about the fear of changes within my body, like gaining weight — which, while scary for someone with body dysmorphia and a history of anorexia, is something that I could rationalize in terms of bringing a healthy fetus to term. No… what I’m talking about is something deeper. It’s something that ties to an underlying terror of losing autonomy over my body and having it not just taken over by a fetus, but by the overwhelming expectations of my mother.
I know that having a child was literally the only thing she ever wanted. She desperately needed someone to love her unconditionally, to fill the gaping hole of insecurity within her that nobody else could seem to fill. As I grew up, my responsibility as her daughter became abundantly clear — find a good husband and give her a grandbaby. The weight of this expectation only continued to grow as I entered puberty and my mother began to comment on every aspect of my physical appearance and development. My body felt less and less like it belonged to me and more and more like an object that belonged to my mother first, my future husband second, and my eventual baby third.
When I finally found that mythical husband and married him, the fuse to the ticking time bomb of my becoming pregnant and giving my mother grandbabies was lit and burning with an urgency that I couldn’t ignore. But I couldn’t get rid of the dread I felt within me. I’m not sure I can adequately explain it, but not only did I not want the constant attention my growing belly would get from my mother, but I also had a physical revulsion to the inevitability of her touching my tummy, baby talking to it, and otherwise invading my physical space bubble without my consent. In my mother’s eyes, not only was it her right to see me naked and touch me since I came out of her body, I knew that by extension of that perceived right, she would feel like she was entitled to caress my growing body because that baby would be coming out of my body (which came out of her body) thereby ascribing ownership of the entire corporeal network to her. It felt covertly incestuous even though it was not sexual, and frankly, I wanted nothing to do with it.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, something else was growing within me which would eventually absolve me of the obligation to produce a grandchild for my mother — and that something was endometriosis. I had been struggling with symptoms since I was a teenager, and at the time birth control was the only treatment option they had offered. This bought me some time during the first few years of marriage. By our fifth anniversary, I had finally scheduled the diagnostic laparoscopy that would confirm that I had endometriosis. The surgery was scheduled for February of 2003. I didn’t tell my mother I was even having the procedure. I didn’t want the attention, pity, or barrage of questions about my future potential to procreate.
After my surgery and diagnosis, the doctor told me that in his estimation the likelihood of my ever getting pregnant without fertility treatments was small. I felt like in that moment, he had adeptly deactivated that ticking time bomb of anticipation to get pregnant and had promptly disposed of it. I finally had an excuse to not give my mother a grandchild. When I did tell her about the diagnosis and the doctor’s prognosis, she still held out hope that by some miracle I’d still get pregnant. I didn’t argue with her, I just continued on my birth control regimen and wouldn’t discuss it.
At the age of 36, I finally had a hysterectomy — a last-ditch effort to address my endometriosis, which for the most part did address my monthly flares during my menstrual cycle. More importantly, however, it made the discussion of babies and pregnancy a non-issue. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could sigh a deep breath of relief. I no longer had to keep making excuses about the time not being right or not having the money for kids, both of which were true but beside the point.
The irony of this was that the day after my hysterectomy, my mother came over and followed me into my closet where I was naked and observing my swollen bruised belly which had been blown up like a balloon for my procedure. She instantly wanted to touch it. I pushed her hand away and told her to go away. Her reply? “It’s my right to see you naked, you came out of my body.” That was the last time I allowed her anywhere near me without my permission.
While I can’t say that I’m glad I got endometriosis, I can say that in some small way it was instrumental in my being able to reject my perceived familial obligation without experiencing guilt. My body kept the proverbial score and settled it after a long, grueling match filled with blood, sweat, and tears. And the victory was bittersweet and empowering.
Getty image by Westend61.