A 22-year-old woman sparked a debate on TikTok when she claimed that her gynecologist refused to consider her for a tubal ligation – a medical sterilisation commonly known as “getting your tubes tied” – after asserting that she doesn’t want children. Now, the viral video has women calling out the sexist double standards they face after deciding to be childfree.
Olivia Downs – a college student from Massachusetts – went viral when she reenacted a conversation she claimed to have with her gynecologist in a video that has since gained more than 1.7m views.
“Hi, Mrs Gynecologist! My name is Olivia. I never want children. I’ve had this made up in my mind since I was old enough to think of the concept. Can I please have my tubes tied?” she began in the video.
“No,” she responded as her gynecologist. “It’s permanent.”
“Yeah, I know!” Downs said. “That’s why I asked. I’d like that option.”
The gynecologist replied: “Well, no. You might meet Mr Right and change your mind.”
Downs assured the gynecologist that she still doesn’t want children, regardless of who she finds as a partner. “No. It’s not my plan. It’s not in my five year plan, it’s not in my ten year plan, my fifty year plan. I don’t want that,” she said.
“Yeah, but you might change your mind, and it’s permanent, so here’s a brochure for an IUD,” the gynecologist said.
Downs then held up a brochure for IUD hormonal contraception, allegedly given to her by her actual gynecologist. “It has the same efficacy rate. We put it in your uterus and you bleed and cramp for three months,” they said.
She simply responded: “No. No thank you.”
The video reenactment between Downs and her doctor is an all too common experience for many women, especially for those who maintain that they don’t want children.
“Voluntary childlessness” – also known as living a childfree life – has grown in popularity among US adults in recent years. In November, a survey from the Pew Research Center found that 44 per cent of adults said it is “not too or not at all likely” that they will have children someday, a seven per cent increase from 2018.
While there was no single reason why a number of Americans have lost interest in becoming a parent, some survey respondents cited financial burdens or the unsettling “state of the world” as reasons to remain childfree.
Although more adults are deciding to be childfree, cisgender women still struggle in convincing their healthcare providers to consider sterilisation.
“People need to understand NOT wanting kids!!!!!” one TikTok user commented.
“THIS! YES!! I NEVER WANTED AND NEVER WILL WANT KIDS!! I’ll be 40 in four years,” said someone else, to which another person replied that they will also be 40 years old and “very happy about the decision” to not have children.
Many people called out the sexist belief that a woman will change her mind about having children once she meets “Mr Right,” while others pointed out that having children is just as permanent as the decision to be sterilised.
“Mr Right is someone who also doesn’t want kids,” one woman said. “How hard is that to understand?”
“Kids are permanent too like…?” another user commented.
“I’ve always hated the ‘what if you meet a man’ argument because, yes, let’s make life decisions on the chance a man comes into the picture,” one person said, to which Downs responded: “Whoever I end up with I’m going to ensure that they ALSO want to be child free.”
Speaking to The Independent, Olivia Downs said she has always known she never wanted to have her own children, and consulted her OB/GYN about having a tubal ligation during their annual check up.
“I know doctors are typically discouraging of this request so I kind of knew she was going to say no but I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask, plus it’d be good to have it on my record so they could see a history of the request,” she told us.
When her doctor recommended the copper IUD instead, she left the appointment feeling frustrated and disappointed. “She gave me the ‘wait until you meet Mr Right, you might change your mind, it’s permanent’ and told me a story of someone she knew who ended up changing their mind in their late 30’s after always saying they never wanted kids,” Downs said. “I had a feeling that would be the reaction but my heart still sunk into my stomach hearing those words.”
Downs shared her story to TikTok on a whim, but didn’t expect it to receive thousands of views within a couple of hours. But what was more shocking, she said, were the similar stories from other women who were denied tubal ligation.
“It is so frustrating listening to these stories because these women have some serious reasons other than ‘I don’t want kids’ and are still being denied. Although, I think ‘I don’t want kids’ should be a valid enough reason in the first place,” she said.
For her, the issue stems deeper than just wanting to live a childfree lifestyle. “It’s really about the American healthcare system and our society’s attitude towards women making decisions when it comes to their bodies,” she said. “I had a lot of men commenting things like ‘People need to understand that humans are meant to breed and create more humans. People who don’t want kids are wasting that privilege away.’”
“We need to get out of the outdated mindset that a woman’s only purpose is motherhood and not place a woman’s value on that,” she added. “What about women who are unable to conceive? Does it make them any less of a human?”
As millions of Americans await a Supreme Court decision in the potential overturning of Roe v Wade – the landmark case that legalised abortion in the US – calling out the constant policing of women’ bodies is more important than ever. “I just wish doctors would listen to their patients and instead of giving a no straight off the bat, realise that there is a bit of nuance to each case, and realise that women are not children incapable of making decisions about their bodies!” Downs said.
“If I’m old enough to make the decision to have a child, I’d argue that I’m old enough to make the decision not to,” she added. “This is not an issue within women, it is a systemic issue having to do with our healthcare system and legislature.”