“I didn’t just get sterilised for myself. I got sterilised for the movement.”

Rebecca, Berlin

I met Rebecca in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and she took me to the local park that’s become her safe haven. Walking with her through the tree-lined grounds of the Baroque palace of Schloss Charlottenburg, I could imagine how this beautiful place has brought her a lot of peace.

We have a certain idea of what a woman is supposed to be. It’s really deeply entrenched, and we shouldn’t push that or do anything to test it. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, and moved to Berlin five years ago, and I can’t think of anywhere in the world where that idea isn’t deeply entrenched.

It’s sexism. Motherhood is a really easy way to keep women down. When you have a kid, you’re physically out for nine plus months, you can’t work, you can’t earn your own money, and then you have to take care of a child or it dies. It’s a way to keep women disenfranchised.

Also, I don’t find myself significant enough to need to leave behind a legacy. It takes a bit of an inflated ego to think, “I need to leave a permanent mark on this world, through the existence of another human being”. A child doesn’t exist to fulfil my need for legacy – they’re here to have their own life and be their own person. I don’t want to bring another person into this world, if I can’t guarantee that they would grow up in better circumstances than I have. I just don’t want to give them that life, if I can’t make that promise.

So I always knew I didn’t want kids – it was an innate thing. And by the time I was 18, I was already researching sterilisation.

Privacy laws are so strict in Germany that when people want to share the sort of information that would help like-minded people get services that are legal, gynaecologists are a bit touchy about that. Whereas back in the US, these lists exist, and no one really seems to care.

So I googled surgical gynaecologists in Berlin, and checked to see which ones specifically listed sterilisation as a service on their website. I emailed five, saying, “I’m 28, I don’t want children, I’ve never had any children and I would like to be sterilised – would the doctor perform that procedure on me?” One office emailed me back and gave me an appointment. And that doctor was just like, “Yeah, you’re an adult, you can make this decision yourself. I’m not here to question you.”

But the law’s kind of murky, so she sent me to get a second opinion. And that doctor was not as helpful. He was the head of a public hospital and explained to me that, according to their health guidelines, they can’t sterilise women under, I believe, 35 if they’re childless. So he would agree to let me have the surgery done, but not at his hospital.

The hypocrisy really gets me, because I could go in pretty young, 21 or something, and be like, “I want children. I can’t conceive”. And if it had been long enough, they would try and help me. And I wouldn’t need more of a reason than to say, “I want children”.

So the surgery had to be performed at a private hospital. I was there from about 8am to 4pm, and it just felt like a really, really intense ab workout for a couple of days. A lot of American women go back to work the next day, but here I have the chance to be off sick when I need to recover. So I ended up taking two weeks to lie around and play video games, and I healed perfectly fine.

It’s been a little over a year. And it’s still kind of surreal and weird to think I’m now sterile. But yeah, it’s wonderful.

I actually have polycystic ovary syndrome, so I never felt particularly scared about getting pregnant in the first place, because I was probably not very fertile. But I didn’t want to have to worry about it. And I guess this sounds a little petty, but it’s the principle of it all. I wanted to get sterilised. And it’s my right to do this to my body if I want to do it.

There’s a poem I really, really love. It’s by Rupi Kaur, and the last lines say I want to “make this mountain taller, so the women after me can see farther”. It’s a very, very beautiful line, and it really touched me. It made me realise that I didn’t just get sterilised for myself. I got sterilised for the movement – to normalise it so more women can just do this.

It’s really nice to meet other people who think like I do. Especially whenever I feel like an alien, like there’s something wrong with me for not having that innate feeling of wanting a child. But I want to mother things. I love taking care of my cat. I love taking care of my friends. I just don’t want to be a literal mother.

My feelings towards children have definitely changed over the years. I used to really dislike them and be kind of grossed out by them. But, the other day, I saw a picture of my friend’s nephew, and I was like, that is the cutest thing. I can acknowledge that babies are cute, and sometimes fun to be around. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s just not what I want for me. I know that deep inside me, and I can’t really say why I know. It’s just my truth.

To anyone who’s on the fence about having children, I would say, don’t get sterilised. Only do it if you’re 100% sure. And if you are sure, stay steadfast and firm. Don’t let any health professional talk you into believing that you don’t know what you want, or that you’re not capable of making these decisions.

I know it’s really hard. I’ve left doctors crying because they talk down to you and make you feel crazy – it’s a kind of gaslighting. Be strong in what you know, and what you want. Come in with that attitude, and be persistent. And just keep going until you get a doctor to approve the surgery.

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words edited by James Glazebrook