This is a portrait of a young woman looking directly at the camera, the photo shows a white woman with blonde hair who is giving direct eye contact to the camera
female sterilisation (usually called tubal ligation) works to prevent pregnancy for women wanting a permanent type of contraception, Image credit, Cara Wheeldon

Charlie Sage was 16 when she decided she never wanted to have children.

“I’ve never had maternal feelings. Don’t get me wrong I do like children, I’ve got a few nephews, but I’ve never wanted any myself, I wouldn’t want to take them home.”

Her decision not to want children has been mainly shaped by her health issues, including IBS, migraines, anxiety and depression, as well as epilepsy, all of which she says dominated her childhood years.

“When I was younger, probably between the ages of three to 12, my mum spent most of her life in hospital with me and she spent most nights at home watching me.” She explains, “I feel like she had no life at this point because she was in constant fear that she might lose me to a seizure.”

‘She thought that i might die because of her’

Now 25 and living in Alfreton, Derbyshire, Charlie says her health issues have only solidified her decision not to have children.

“I know it might sound selfish, but I’ve got enough medical issues myself,” she says. “I don’t feel like I should be bringing a child into the world if they’re going to have to go through everything I’ve been through.”

They are medical issues that she’s not only experienced first-hand but that she has seen through her mother who, Charlie says, blames herself for the epilepsy that she passed down to her through childbirth. “She thinks that I could die because of something she’s passed on to me.”

But for Charlie, along with a lot of other women under the age of 30, her desire to be sterilised is being met with resistance, she says, by doctors.

This is a drawing illistrative piece that shows a woman holding a poster that says her body her choice, the drawing has a few other women around her.
Women under 30 are much more likely to regret sterilisation, according to the NHS, Image credit, Adobe Stock

According to Charlie, doctors have never offered her any additional help beyond contraceptive options. One of which was the injection, which, after causing irregular periods for a prolonged amount of time, ended up affecting her working life, “I’ve had to swap my job over to something a bit less active,” she admits.

“They advised that I could take a mini pill with it,” she says, but after that too proved ineffective due to her epilepsy medication, she was advised that nothing else could be done for her other than referring her to an epilepsy specialist at her request. “I feel a bit lost at this point because no one seems to care.”

‘why can’t i just be sterilised and be done with all of this?’

She recalls the letter the healthcare worker sent to the epilepsy specialist when referring her.

“He wrote a letter saying that I’ve been thinking about sterilisation,” says Charlie, “but at the bottom of it he’d actually written that he thinks it’s very unusual for a girl at this age to be thinking about having sterilisation.

“He also told me that it’s unlikely any gynaecologist would even go near me all because of my age.”

Her negative experience with seeking sterilisation has left her feeling resentful towards the healthcare field, “I don’t like going to see male doctors now,” says Charlie, who claims she was never even made aware that counselling should be offered to those considering sterilisation.

“If I can’t get pregnant then why do I still have the option? why can’t they just get me sterilised and be done with it?”

This is a photo of a DIY reproductive system, the photo is shot on a pink background and there are two plasters covering the fallopian tubes to highlight a woman's tubes being tied.
Young women are much more likely to be influenced into sterilisation by their partners, says Dr Tetyana Palamarchuk, Image credit, Adobe Stock

Charlie is not alone in her feelings of frustration as a woman seeking medical advice, according to a survey posted in 2022 to GOV.UK, the leading website for the UK government, more than 84% of women expressed how there have been times when they felt ignored by healthcare professionals regarding their overall health.

But for Charlie, these frustrations have only been made worse by a recent cancer scare, “I’ve actually just had a smear test that came back abnormal,” she says, explaining that every doctor she has consulted regarding her fears of cancer in her future has ignored her concerns.

‘Nobody seems to care unless you’re dying or dead’

“I begged him for a smear test early because of the cancer that runs in the family. They told me they can’t do it any earlier than 24 and a half years old and that’s because the results might come back wrong.” Now on her second smear test at 25, her fears have become reality with her most recent results, “so now I’ve got to go for biopsies,” she says.

“So, I do have health concerns in general both for future children and myself and they still won’t consider it,” she says, adding that, “It feels to me like they don’t care unless you’re dying or dead and it’s too late.”

When she persisted on the sterilisation issue, Charlie claims she was met with a blank refusal about when she’d be able to have the procedure done.

“They told me it would most likely be in my late 40s, they just fob me off every time. They always tell me I’m too young and I might change my mind when I’m older.”

Which is leaving her feeling like she isn’t being taken seriously in her pursuit of sterilisation.

“Normally a doctor would take notes on your record if you said something,” says Charlie, “but they’ve never written anything down about it. They’ve just ignored me.”

“Even though I’ve spoken to my partner and told the doctors that we’re both happy to not have children,” she says, “We don’t want children and we most likely never will.”

‘they told me i can’t be sterilised until i’m at least 40’

Dr Tetyana Palamarchuk, who has 19 years’ experience working in obstetrics and gynaecology in the UK, explains that for women like Charlie, the decision to refuse sterilisation is mainly down to age and mental maturity.

“Younger women tend to be impulsive, they don’t think about the far future or the consequences,” she says.

“The regret rate in those under 30 is much higher and this leads to increased rates of often failed reversals,” Palamarchuk explains.

But for Charlie the fight is not over, she intends to pursue seeking sterilisation until she finds someone willing to listen to her.

“If you don’t want children that isn’t unusual, that’s completely normal,” she adds. “Just don’t let anyone try and tell you anything different.”