I just watched a video of a tubal ligation on youtube. Throbbing bile-colored masses, shiny pink walls, vascular cavities leading to pursed holes, bulging skin slick with blood and water. The inside of the body is not a beautiful thing.
“This which is my body, from the soles of the feet up, and down from the crown of the head, is a sealed bag of skin full of unattractive things. In this body are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, membranes, spleen, lungs, bowels, entrails, undigested food, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, mucus, oil of the joints, urine, and brain. This then, which is my body, from the soles of the feet up, and down from the crown of the head, is a sealed bag of skin full of unattractive things”. This is a meditative reflection and chant found in the ancient Buddhist scriptures of the Tipitaka. I read it some ten years ago and it resonates with me still today. I am reminded of this meditation as I watch the tubal ligation.
Christen Reighter gave a TED talk about her experience of elective sterilization. She details the difficulties in finding a doctor willing to perform the procedure, the intrusive questions, the condescending remarks, the assumptions about what it means to be a woman. She says that “women aren’t only supposed to have children, they are supposed to want children”. A woman who does not have a child might make sense in the context of her personal history/medical misfortunes/relational foibles, but a woman who is explicit in her desire to be childless is suspect. We are baffled by the woman who does not at least want a child.
Land is described as barren when it is unable to produce crops. Landscape is said to be barren when it is devoid of trees, in places where there is a dearth of life for long stretches. We say women are barren when they cannot have children. Barren is infertile, unproductive, empty, wasted, hollow. But what about if, instead of thinking of of emptiness in terms of poverty, we thought of emptiness in terms of potential. Think of the invitation that is proffered by a blank canvas and a palette full of colours. Think of an unfurnished room looking over the ocean. An entire yard free of clutter with space for swings, midnight gardens, reading nooks, fountains. A new notebook, hundreds of blank pages waiting to be filled. I am not suggesting that children are mere clutter, only that there is potential in space.
Unlike Christen Reighter, I am not pursuing sterilization. Christen Reighter describes herself as a person who has always known she did not want children. I am not this person. Four years ago I ended a relationship with a man because he did not want children. The boyfriend before that didn’t want children either, and I was hell bent on convincing him. In hindsight, I feel I was reacting, not against the possibility of not having children, but rather against the constriction of options. What I wanted was choice, not children. Also, in my life, certainty has been a fragile thing. I am changeable, not fixed. The permanence of the tubal ligation does not accord with my mercurial nature.
I am imagining a forest, culled of trees and decimated by wildfire. The ground is charred and pockmarked with holes where trees used to root. Blackened tree trunks extend skywards like the hairless tails of so many street dogs. In nature, fires occur regularly and are necessary for the revitalization of many ecosystems. Conflagrations rage and sweep away decay and brush, making way for new growth. They return nutrients to the soil. They instil resilience and strength in new generations of flora. Despite the appearance of the landscape following a fire, fires are often critical to reproduction. Certain seeds need the heat of fire to be cracked open, to germinate. That which appears dead and razed becomes a landscape of creation.