Random Thoughts: June 23, 2011

A More Subtle Art of Eugenics?
by Jasmine Sailing

Earlier this morning I watched an Al Jazeera video about North Carolina getting around to apologising (and offering compensation) for forcibly sterilising people in the 70s: http://aje.me/liaMuI.

Not that apologising does a whole lot of good, right?

I'm constantly reminded of, and was again by this, the pushy encouragement of tubal ligations when I gave birth to my son in 1989. That was 12 years after the Eugenics policy in North Carolina ended. Was this pushiness a public service, or had eugenics become more subtle?

I was a pregnant teenager, and a welfare Mom (that was possible before I turned 18 because I'd been living on my own... I remember needing a signed statement of emancipation). Much to my pride, heh, I held out despite 2 months of premature labour and gave birth to my son a little over a month after turning 18. *phew* I was officially an adult before having a baby! Yeah, it's a pretty slim technicality.

Let's keep it in mind while I write this that I have issues with human overpopulation and I'm all for birth control. By no means am I advocating people having tons of kids. What's nagged at me about this over the years has nothing to do with that.

You can probably guess by my age at the time that I hadn't intended to become a parent, and you can possibly guess by the welfare that there wasn't another involved party. Odds are I would've preferred not being on welfare, I actually worked until I literally dropped at the start. Then the franchise I worked for sold without telling me (even though I was a supervisor... they gave me the day off, I walked by and saw completely different people... god, what assholes). I also became a high risk pregnancy and definitely needed the Medicaid.

Before I was high risk I went to Westside Clinic, one of the clinics affiliated with Denver General (the Denver county hospital, now Denver Health). The clinic was reasonable. I later had different experiences with Denver General that ultimately led to me giving up on doctors for 8 years. Perhaps this was the start of it, and I just didn't know it. (When I gave up on doctors it was because I felt like they would rather kill poor people, note that this was pissed off opinion rather than established fact. Not that I'm necessarily saying I've changed my opinion.)

Denver General and its clinics have ability to pay rates, so if this is your mindset: I was a liability even before I was on Welfare and Medicaid.

I developed gestational diabetes and hypertension. My right hip gave out on me for no known reason at the time (now it's known that my right leg is a little shorter than my left leg, and I have pinched nerves from disc compression in my lower back... it's probably safe to say I know all of this now because I have insurance and can see specialists), and I was barely managing to hobble with a crutch. If getting by wasn't already difficult enough... I was partially dilated, my baby had descended ("looks like twins!"), and I was having contractions for 2 months before the birth. I also had pre-eclampsia.

Big baby... my body wasn't quite up for it. But I managed. It was difficult. I was supposed to be on bed rest, but I needed to make my healthy meals (one nice thing I'll say about Denver General: they let me see a nutritionist once) and take care of things.

All of the problems led me to switching to Denver General, where I would've needed to go for the birth anyway.

The eventual gruelling delivery is its own story: this is more of a snapshot of life circumstances at the time. Everything wasn't completely awful, even though I was emancipated my Mom and sister helped out as much as they could (Mom lived in the mountains, and my sister worked nights, there were resultant limits and life was indeed difficult).

So now we'll move along to "after the delivery". Those mandatory 24 hours of being in the hospital post-delivery. I shared a room with 3 other women. That's to be expected in a low cost hospital. What wasn't expected was that part of our follow-up care involved urging us to get tubal ligations RIGHT THEN, because we were already there in the hospital anyway.

For anyone who hasn't given birth, let me point out that after a delivery (especially a long and difficult one like mine) one of the foremost things on your mind is "NEVER AGAIN!!!". It can take a while to get over this feeling. My sister was my labour coach, and she never got over it simply from being there during the delivery. I suppose it might be my fault that I have no nieces or nephews.

Also keep in mind who the people being urged to immediately get tubal ligations were: poor people, people who weren't white, people who were "white trash" like me.

Then maybe you can catch the drift of why this scenario always nagged a bit on the suspicious side of my brain. I was barely 18, and I was being urged (under terrible circumstances) to put an end to the possibility that I would ever propagate again.

I remember at least one woman in the room signing up for the tubal ligation. What prevented me from doing it? It was my Mom. Not anything she said... She had gotten a hysterectomy not long after I was born, and I grew up with her regretting it. It was very deeply ingrained into my psyche that even if you think you never ever ever in a million years want to have a kid, or another kid, it is entirely possible that you will deeply regret it if you take the choice away from yourself. Therefore I never could remove that choice, even though my body clearly can't handle pregnancy.

Mom got a hysterectomy for medical reasons. Not long ago I learned (from a women's care doctor) what the reasons must've been, and that now it would definitely be treated and there would be no hysterectomy. I've also wondered if the hysterectomy helped lead to Mom's death. We have hereditary hemochromatosis in the family, and lack of periods would have led to serious iron build up (she died from a sudden massive heart attack, one of the many problems iron overload can cause).

I remember briefly considering the tubal ligation, but knowing it wasn't something I could handle. I wonder how many women at Denver General consented to it, in whatever stretch of time this was their policy (or maybe it wasn't DG policy, maybe it was certain doctors and nurses, I have no clue). Itís not that it's a bad thing to offer, it's the timing that is most suspicious. It was never broached (at least not with me) before the delivery, including the time they checked me in to induce labour (9 days before it happened naturally) and then didn't induce because they were too busy. Why not discuss it before, instead of while the women are exhausted, in agony, and likely even drugged in many cases? While it was a major feat to get out of bed and go to our shared restroom?

They went around with the consent forms, so you could sign them on the spot, appealing with the logic that you might as well do it while you're there (and, frankly, the logic is a bit flawed anyway... might as well be in more pain from surgery while you're already going to be struggling to take care of your newborn?). I wonder how many women signed the forms in a fit of "never again" and regretted it later.

And now the big question, of course: were people with insurance at private hospitals being urged to get tubal ligations immediately after giving birth? I've never heard of anything of the sort happening.

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