On Sterilization & Future Regret

A recent Slate article by Bryan Lowder, titled "Sterilize Me, Please: Why Is It So Difficult For Women to Get Their Tied?" gets at one of the most frustrating experiences for many childfree women who want to choose permanent birth control. I can't tell you how many emails I have received from childfree women who were having a hard time finding a doctor who was unwilling to do a sterilization procedure, whether it be a tubal ligation, essure or adiana. All too often docs say the women will regret it down the road. But do they? Here are some numbers.

According to a Collaborative Review of Sterilization (CREST) study:

--There is a 12.7 percent probability that a woman will express regret within 14 years of sterilization.

--For women under the age of 30 at the time of the procedure, there is a 20.3 percent probability that they would "eventually want to take it all back" (compared to only 5.9 percent of older women).

The study does indicate that there are certainly other factors that can predict regret, including "partner/doctor pressure and disagreement among partners about the procedure." But overall, the CREST research shows that for women, sterilization at a young age is the strongest predictor of regret. The "trend" supposedly also holds true for young men getting vasectomies.

My initial reaction to these numbers was - this is not what I hear from childfree men and women of all ages who have gone through a sterilization procedure. Childfree men and women who want to opt for this birth control method are very sure about not ever wanting children and don't change their minds about this.

There are studies that support this - like a report that appeared in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. The study found that only about 7 percent of women experienced regret within five years after their own sterilization, and only about 6 percent of women regretted their husband's vasectomy.

What do you see out there - do people, especially those under 30 who undergo a sterilization procedure end up regretting it? Do you have a story to tell? Regret or not, many women feel they experience discrimination, but the docs don't see it that way. They seem to regard it "as protection against future emotional pain."

As Lowder says, this rightly "raises the question of whether a medical professional has any business worrying about a patient’s hypothetical future feelings in the first place." Is the physician who performed the procedure on a 24-year-old responsible for her potential 35-year-old heartache? I say no. She is of adult age and should be left to make her own decisions about her own life.  

Laura Carroll

Author of The Baby Matrix and Families of Two

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