The human condition: elisa and claudia: we have no regrets

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Elisa Francesca Roselli, 38

"I HOPE you know I consider your request most untypical!" was the line I heard over and over again from my doctors, right up to the moment they anaesthetised me. I was sterilised on April 4 1985 at the age of 28. I had no children and was unmarried and it has gone down in my memory as the most joyful day of my life.

There's never been a moment in my life when I thought I would marry and have a family. I was only 12 when I first heard about sterilisation and I announced to my Catholic relatives in Italy I would be sterilised as soon as I was of age. Curiously it didn't even shock them. It was so outlandish to their ears they simply classified it as the delirium of a child.

Then at 14 I had a brave and wonderful biology teacher who was very concerned about human overpopulation - from that point on I wasn't just privately anti-procreative, it was political.

I'd always been aware that in some cases children were neither necessary nor desirable because I was an unwanted child. I owe my existence to a slip-up with a diaphragm. My mother was a woman of outstanding creative talents and intelligence. She'd grown up in Italy under Mussolini's fascism and in a Catholic family. But she had the spunk to leave the church and the country and become a professional artist in a period when women were being actively discouraged from pursuing careers. I quickly destroyed her marriage, damaged her career and eventually her mental health. She saw herself as an evil woman because she didn't want children and carried a lot of guilt because she was part of an environment which saw women as baby-making machines.

I tried the Pill for 18 months in my twenties. My conclusion was: "Never again". I asked about sterilisation when I was 21 and 25 but was turned down. My family history was dragged up, and I found I had to spruce up my childhood and make it look like it was really unhappy and I was badly socialised. Doctors demand self-incriminating reasons such as: "I'm selfish". It can't be something like "I'm concerned about overpopulation". At 28 I saw the same doctor as at 25 - and although he still said it was unthinkable I badgered and got a referral. I got the operation on the NHS after a six-month wait.

I expected a lot more pain and inconvenience but I went in on Thursday, was back home by Friday and by Saturday was more or less back to normal. For two years my feet didn't touch the ground, I was so happy. I felt so much more myself. For me sterilisation was about bringing my body into line with my spiritual outlook.

Before the operation I'd always been bored by children but I was beginning to feel openly violent being around them. I saw them as an attack because I'd always had to defend my position. Now I'm more relaxed and can even recognise the sweet, well-mannered ones among the brats.

Have I ever regretted the sterilisation? You must be joking. Sterilisation isn't for everyone but I'm proof you can make the decision at an early age.

Claudia (not her real name), sterilised at 30.

I WAS 27 when I first made inquiries about sterilisation. There was an ad in the paper advertising abortion in big letters and sterilisation in small letters. Although the counsellors didn't say no outright, they were making all sorts of noises that they weren't happy about my age. I thought: "I'm not paying for this and getting a lecture." I felt like slapping them round the face. I knew my own mind, I'd known since 13 I didn't want children.

I'd married at 24 and my husband was happy with my decision. I'd had moments of thinking: "Wouldn't it be nice to have a baby? I wonder what it would look like?" but it was never a serious option. I did psychology at university and we were taught that maternal instinct is not something you're born with, it's something you develop. This idea that all women have got a clock ticking away is rubbish.

After I was turned down I doubled up on my contraception - the Pill and condoms or cap. I knew I didn't want children, but I wasn't sure if I could go through with an abortion, and the thought that I might be a resentful mother was horrible.

Three years later the counsellor at another clinic agreed to put me forward for sterilisation. Thirty seemed to be the magic age. I was married again and my husband was happy not to have children. Before I had the operation I sat down and asked myself a lot of questions, such as: am I willing to forgo 18-plus years of my life to a child without resentment?

The answer was no. I distinctly remember the day of the op, as the clinic was quite infamous for its terminations. It was a room crowded with girls aged from 13 to 21 with their mothers and boyfriends. Girls were fainting and - I can't quite explain it - but I had some sort of guilt that I had had the foresight to prevent what these girls had got themselves into. The operation itself was uncomfortable but that was it.

It's only been recently that my husband and I have come out of the closet about not wanting children. People beat you over the head for it. I was really hurt when a consultant's wife I didn't know said: "You're 36 and you don't have children!" My parents have been supportive, but some relatives think I'm unsentimental. People think you're hard and materialistic, but you couldn't get a softer person than me. It's not that I don't like babies. When I was working on a ward where babies were going into theatre, I was always the first one cuddling them when they came round from the operation.

It's not general knowledge that I've been sterilised, but I remember once I was nursing at a hospital and we were talking about how everyone there was having children. There was a pregnant 38-year-old, Anne, who had always said she didn't want children. Everyone kept saying to me: "You'll be next! Anne said never, and look at her." I couldn't help blurting out: "I bet she never had her tubes tied!" You could have heard a pin drop.

It's a bit melodramatic saying I'm a different person since the operation, but it's definitely given me freedom and peace of mind. I thought, "Let's get on with living."

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