Holly Brockwell: I never wanted a baby - yesterday my sterilisation dream came true

By Holly Brockwell

Holly Brockwell was trolled after speaking out about her desire to avoid motherhood. Photo / Facebook
Holly Brockwell was trolled after speaking out about her desire to avoid motherhood. Photo / Facebook

It is one of the last taboos - a woman who dares to say she does not want children. So when UK writer Holly Brockwell, then aged 26, asked doctors to sterilise her, she unleashed a storm.

First, NHS staff said she was too young. Then the personal abuse rained down, much of it vile. It took an unflinching four-year battle in the public eye before, finally, she won.

Yesterday, Holly, now aged 30, had her operation. Here is her passionate and honest account of that fight, one that many will find controversial - but one which everyone must read.

By the time you read this, I will be just waking up - still a little groggy and sore, but euphoric. Because for the first time in my life, today I know for certain that I will never have children.

That might seem like a strange thing to be excited about. For many people, it would be devastating news. But for me, it's everything I've been fighting for over the last four years.

I've been patronised, ignored, harassed, judged and demonised, but I've never wavered in my determination to be sterilised.

It might seem like a drastic choice for a 30-year-old. I was only 26 when I started asking my GP for the procedure, and they reacted the same way as many people that I've met since: 'You're far too young to even be thinking about this.'

Really? At 26, I'd been legally considered old enough to create new human life for a decade. So why then was I too young to make an equally permanent alternative decision?

I understand their concerns but this unwillingness to give me autonomy over my own body is part of a national debate: how much say do patients have over what happens to their bodies? Particularly when it comes to women, whose bodies and wombs have long been treated as public property.

Now, finally, after a four-year battle with the health service, I have had the operation.
It was a simple procedure at St Thomas' Hospital in Central London: doctors made an incision by my belly button, and put a metal clip on each of the fallopian tubes. I was in and out of surgery in less than an hour, and went home the same day, feeling nauseous but delighted.

READ MORE: • Woman abused for wanting to be sterilised

Yes, I feel like my stomach's been run over, but that's only temporary. However, the effects are forever. I might stop keeping an emergency pregnancy test in my desk drawer for a start.

Over the years, I have heard the same arguments again and again, from medical professionals, friends and strangers.

People ask about your reproductive plans surprisingly often if you're female, and I've never felt the need to lie. 'You'll change your mind one day... Your biological clock will kick in and you'll regret it... You'll meet the man of your dreams and want to have his babies...'

And those were just some of the kinder responses.

When I didn't bow to their idea of my life, the commentary got nastier.

'You're selfish,' I was told. 'You're naive... You'll die alone... What's the point of you, then?

'How can you deny your parents the grandchildren that you owe them? How can you be so ungrateful that they had you?'

People said I was a waste of a perfectly good womb, that I was insulting people who couldn't have children, that I should never have sex if I didn't want babies.

When I wrote online about trying to get sterilised, the criticism became a crude insult.

'You're broken inside... You're incapable of love... You're someone who wants to have sex with no consequences... Thank God there'll be no more of you.'

I've suffered horrendous attacks on my character, looks, career, even my partner. I've been called names that I can't repeat in a family newspaper, and all because I don't want to become a mother.

Sadly, some child-free women get these kinds of comments from their own families, whereas mine has been supportive.

My mother has known for a long time that I don't want children and has admitted she felt the same at my age. She eventually gave my father two daughters.

He committed suicide five years after the second one - me - was born, and my mother had to raise her children on her own.

Like me, she went on to have her tubes tied. However, she later had the operation reversed because she remarried and knew that her new husband wanted kids of his own.

She had three more children but her second marriage also failed, so she's worked her whole life to care for us, often by herself.

I can't thank her enough for not sugar-coating the truth - that raising a family is so hard you have to want it 110 per cent.

I know she had dreams and ambitions she'll now never realise. She's not bitter: she doesn't regret us, or wish we didn't exist.

She just says she'd stick to her guns if she had her time again, and I'm taking that advice for myself.

It's easy for armchair psychologists to assume this family background is behind my decision, yet my elder sister has always wanted children.

When we were growing up, she would be the one playing at being a mother, while I was pretending to work in an office.

And that's exactly the way we've both gone: in 2014 she gave birth to the two most beautiful twin girls I've ever seen in my life; meanwhile, I went on to establish an award-winning company.

The past four years have caused a lot of reflection, and one of the things I've concluded is this: I don't think it particularly matters why I don't want children.

No one asks mothers why they do want a child. Wanting - or not wanting - children is instinctive: you just know, and I just know that I don't want them.

Partly, I want the freedom to pursue the things that are important to me - the time to develop and improve myself; the energy to be a good partner to my boyfriend, Zack; and the money to feel secure.

Those things are all possible with kids, but let's be honest, they're a lot more difficult. Luckily, Zack feels the same way as I do.

I've harangued him about it a fair bit (the last time being the night before the operation: 'You're definitely sure you don't want them?' Sigh. 'Yes'), but he's never changed his answer.

I love him to bits, but I'd break up with him immediately if he wanted children, and he knows that.

After endless rejections, I finally persuaded the medical profession and the health service.

I took all my articles arguing in favour of sterilisation to my GP, and she said: 'You're really serious about this, then?'

That's what it took to get the referral, and while I've had to answer the same questions over and over again, the answers are ones that I've known all along.

The main thing people ask is what I'll do if I change my mind. They think it's very likely, whereas I know it'll never happen.

The operation is irreversible in most cases, and reversal is certainly not available on the NHS. These days, I joke that I couldn't possibly change my mind - imagine the backlash after the fuss I've made. And what if the poor child Googled me?

That usually puts a stop to the comments, but I'm saddened that there should be any need.

In fact, I don't really understand the abuse I've had for what seems to me to be a sensible decision. I don't want a baby, so I'm making sure I don't get pregnant.

Yes, I've considered all the other contraceptives - most involve the hormones that make me sick, and the coil isn't an option.

Doing something permanent means I won't waste any more NHS time or money with prescriptions or dealing with side effects.

Another line of attack has been the claim that, in asking for an NHS operation, I'm somehow stealing from more deserving people: 'It's a lifestyle choice, not a medical emergency,' people say.

But having a baby on the NHS costs a great deal more, and that's a lifestyle choice, too. I even had an NHS employee sending messages claiming that I am 'wasting precious resources'.

She went on to say something far more disgusting about me. I reported her to her employers, who were quite rightly horrified.

Yet nothing in the past four years has swayed my decision, and certainly not the abuse. It's my body and my life. I'll do what's right for me, and that's not selfish - I'm putting myself before children who don't exist.

Not having kids doesn't mean I don't have a maternal side, either: I'm crazy about my nieces. I just don't want to be a mother - and that seems to be something that both men and women find difficult to accept, as I've found to my cost. I think there's a problem when society can't believe that a woman does not want children. I have received hundreds of messages from women who've had their choices undermined and sterilisation refused.

My consultant told me yesterday that he only does one procedure a year on women who have not had children. Yet, because vasectomy is cheaper and easier to undo, they are fairly common.

My doctor even suggested a vasectomy for my boyfriend who, at 24, is two years younger than I was when I was told I was too young to think of having my tubes tied.

I hope my fight has gone some way to changing attitudes towards women who feel the same way I do, particularly those many child-free women who struggle to be taken seriously by their families, friends and doctors.

I'm sore and my voice is hoarse from the tube that was placed down my throat. But I'll be back to work in a few days and organise a drink with some friends in a couple of weeks.

It's been a long road and I would like to mark the occasion somehow. I've won my battle. But until we accept that not all women are born to become mothers themselves, we haven't won the war.

- Daily Mail

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