Body

The Kiwi woman who opted to be sterilised

This month, as the news breaks of Holly Brockwell winning her battle for a publicly-funded sterilisation in Britain, Therese Henkin from The Australian Women’s Weekly looks at the situation in New Zealand and asks how easy is it to choose to be childless.

How easy is it to choose to be childless?
How easy is it to choose to be childless?

In 2016 its widely assumed women in New Zealand have a choice over their bodies and lives. But while the decision to forgo childbearing is on the increase, women are discovering they still have to defend their right to choose not to become a mother.

When Kiwi academic Virginia Braun decided to have tubal ligation eight-years-ago she faced barriers to becoming sterilised she hadn’t anticipated.

Then in her 30s, the professor had made the decision with her long-term partner they were never going to start a family.

“As I got older it was clear that if I were to accidentally get pregnant I wouldn’t have the baby. That was hugely stressful, and I felt so much anxiety about the possibility of getting pregnant when I was absolutely certain I wouldn’t want the child.”

Virginia booked in to see her GP and then a private gynaecologist, because public funding was not an option.

Holly Brockwell won her four year fight to be sterilised in the UK
Holly Brockwell won her four year fight to be sterilised in the UK

DHBs offer funding for sterilisation on a case-by-case basis but Family Planning national medical advisor Dr Christine Roke says being of childbearing age and having no children counts against the bid for sterilisation for women like Virginia. “The element of regret is always a concern and gynaecologists are often reluctant because [the woman] may well change her mind,” she explains.

Vasectomies are not rarely publically funded however the cost of a vasectomy - the male equivalent to tubal ligation – through the private system is considerably cheaper than female sterilisation and for many women who don’t qualify for public funding, the cost of the process makes a tubal ligation implausible.

A tubal ligation costs about $4500 and $5500 while a vasectomy has an average cost of about $400.

Virginia who was in a position to pay for the procedure privately proceeded with the tubal ligation and while the process was relatively smooth, she says the stigma surrounding the decision was not.

“My friends would say things like, ‘don’t you worry you will regret it?’ or ‘can you reverse it?’” she says. “I mean, you would never ask someone who was pregnant, ‘can you reverse that?’”

To read more about Virginia’s story and those of other women who have chosen to go child-free pick up a copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly June edition on sale on Thursday 19 May.

Criteria for considering a publicly funding tubal ligation in New Zealand includes
• A woman’s reproductive history
• The effectiveness of her current contraceptive methods
• Difficulties that would create medical complications in pregnancy
• The psycho-social impact of a pregnancy on the woman and her family
(Ministry of Health)

Facts
• In 2016 approximately 31% of New Zealand women are child-free.
• In 2010 women had on average 2.2 children, half the number of births per woman recorded in 1961.
• Childlessness rose 6% between 1981 and 2006.

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