In my last article, "How I Thrive," I described parts of my recent personal transformation and mentioned that I chose to have my tubes tied in the fall as part of my self-liberation. In reality, it's been part of my sexual liberation and one that I think more women, and mothers, should know about. Bottom line: Tube-tying leads to great sex.
It all started 16 years ago, when I began dating my husband, to whom I've been married for nearly 11 years. I had an active dating life until then -- I was 27 and in graduate school when we met. But the moment I started talking to him, I knew I would marry him. And I was right. We were married five years later and had our daughter when I was 35, our son when I was 37. And done.
When we began having sex, we used condoms. Since we were clearly, and very quickly, monogamous, I tried going back on the pill, which I had used in college with my steady boyfriend. But I never got used to the side effects of the hormones in any type of pill -- regardless of the hormonal release schedule -- like weight gain and emotional unpredictability and, worst, feeling dry. Since I didn't want to experiment with any devices like a diaphragm or IUD, which releases hormones and can have painful side effects, or try any more hormonal methods like a patch or a routine injection, we resorted to the easiest method of birth control we knew: the "pull-out" method.
This is not a medical column, and I do not advise this practice as a means of birth control, but we were experts at it, and we never got pregnant. Somehow. In 16 years. When we watched the Season 4, Episode 4 Portlandia "Pull Out King" skit, we were practically rolling on the floor. So us. In the gender-bending skit Nina (Fred Armisen), a curvy gal with a red-haired bob and a girly voice, tells Lance (Carrie Brownstein), a dark-haired, deep-voiced dude with a mustache and ponytail, that she thinks she's pregnant. "No, I've never gotten anyone pregnant. I can't. I'm the Pull-Out King. You don't know when I'm in; you don't know when I'm out. I'm that good!" he declares proudly. To prove his status, Lance has a showdown with the owner of a pull-out sofa shop (Jeff Goldblum), who advertises himself as the "Pull-Out King." It's hilarious, of course, with tons of double-entendres and back-and-forths, and the couple ends up with an enormous pull-out couch that takes up all of their living-room space, but no baby. (Nina just had indigestion from a bad burrito.)
The problem with the pull-out method, other than being unreliable, is that I grew tired of it quickly. It's fun every now and then, if you're going for the porno explosion of grandeur, but as a regular thing, I was left feeling empty. For me, sex, a thrill-ride, is mostly about connection. Skin-to-skin. Eye-to-eye. Mouth-to-mouth. And, the pull-out is the disconnect.
Other than when we tried to conceive and while I nursed (our daughter, for 18 months, our son, for a year), we reverted to the tried-and-true pull-out method, our dear, dear friend.
But after a while: I hated it.
Like Betty Draper on Mad Men, with my new body came other changes. I'm not advocating weight loss for everyone. And I believe women of all shapes and sizes are sexy and should be celebrated as sexy. But for me, losing the baby weight kicked up my sex drive and boosted my confidence. I excitedly bought lingerie and actually wanted sex again.
But not the old way.
I had been thinking about it for some time. Debating. Would I ever want a third child? No. What if one of our children died? No. Adopt. I played this loop over until I was sure of my decision, my choice, to not bear any more children. No matter what.
I made an appointment with Jan, the nurse practitioner at my ob-gyn's office. She showed me two brochures, each with a different procedure --a tubal ligation aka abdominal laparoscopy* operation (effective after three months) or a vaginal, Essure tubal implant* (no surgery, effective immediately). Both methods can be quite painless, with a much easier recovery than a vasectomy*. And most health insurance carriers cover the cost of tube-tying procedures as a form of birth control.
Then Jan asked if I was interested in an endometrial ablation*. "What is it?" I asked. She described a simple uterine procedure that eliminates one's period, with no other hormonal implications. Commonly covered by insurance to help women who suffer from excessively heavy periods or from painful cysts, it also can be used safely to rid a woman of her period, for non-medical reasons. I had never heard of this! After 30 years of having a period, cramps and PMS and no longer having a biological need for one, I was more than interested. Ultimate freedom awaited me.
But, first, I mulled over my options. I thought the "quick-fix" made the most sense, since it's a fast, easy procedure, with no waiting period for unprotected sex. So I scheduled the Essure procedure and the no-brainer ablation. After doing some research, I learned the implant has been known to fall out and cause serious side effects, and that a class-action lawsuit, spearheaded by Erin Brockovitch, is underway. That was out. No question. I canceled it and scheduled the laparoscopy, which entails general anesthesia and two incisions the size of a fingernail, one under the belly button, one above the pubic area.
I finally showed the brochures to my husband. I had planned on surprising him, but was glad I included him in the process. Normally averse to any type of surgical procedure -- and too squeamish to endure a vasectomy despite my years of suggestion -- he was excited about this one, and said his mother had her tubes tied after her third kid, his sister, in the 1970s. I think that made him more comfortable with it. But I think, like me, he was mostly excited about how this could change up our sex life. The morning of the procedure, the day before Thanksgiving, I woke up and left the house at dawn. The sky was all rosy pinks and yellows, stunningly beautiful. I took this as a good sign. My mom drove me to the hospital and dropped me off to find parking. As I walked down the hallway to the intake office, I began feeling nervous and sentimental. I sat on the pre-op bed and talked with my male nurse, who was funny, chatty and comforting. I let the bittersweet emotion sink in. This was a big decision, not something I took lightly. It would mean no more children, taking away that privilege. I had always wanted to be a mother and feel blessed by my kids. After some quiet contemplation, and some anti-anxiety medication, I was calm and ready.
The surgery and recovery were a walk in the park. The procedure took about half an hour. After waking up in post-op, I walked out without any issues and minimal cramping. Later, I experienced some minor cramping (nothing beyond needing a Motrin) and some spotting, which lightened but continued for about a month. It was a breeze compared to the necessary, medical surgery I had endured in the summer.
After three months, my husband and I were more than ready to try out new ways of having sex. The combination of my self-liberation and lack of concern about getting pregnant has been extremely freeing. I feel more experimental and open and that had led to greater connection and pleasure. The lack of a period is icing on the cake -- it's such a freedom not to experience any of the effects of a period and still feel like myself.
I am opening myself up to writing about these procedures because they have been gratifying for me. Both, a gift. I hope more women who are done with or not interested in having children -- and who practice "safe sex" -- can experience the same joys of sex that I do. "Post-delivery tube-tying" and "endometrial ablation" are not part of regular dialogue shared by mothers, and I think it's time they are part of the conversation of "how-tos" that can improve women's (and men's) sex lives.
*For more information on these procedures, please discuss with a general practice physician or obgyn.