I've always known motherhood was not for me. But everyone else, including my doctors, thought they knew better.

From an early age, my baby dolls were never my own children. Either I was a nurse taking care of them at a hospital, or I was babysitting them for a friend or loved one. When I played The Game of Life with friends and realized I was going to land on a dreaded child space, I would cheat, stopping either a space before or a space after and hoping no one would notice.

My feelings about motherhood didn’t change as I got older. Those moments when people say, “Oh, doesn’t that make your ovaries hurt?” have never hurt me in a good way. I will “ooh” and “ah” over a dog or a cat in a stroller, but a baby in that same stroller doesn’t excite me.

So when I found out that becoming permanently child-free through surgery was possible, I started asking. What I didn’t know was that I would be asking for 14 years.

I was 18 when I first brought it up with my doctor. While I was a legal adult, I was not entirely surprised that I was told to wait. What did surprise me was how long this went on. From 18 to 22 it was, “You’re too young; you have to wait until you’re 25.” When I asked again at 25, I had to wait until I was 30.

Once I turned 30, I was ready. I prepared my case and scheduled a consultation with my OB-GYN. When I’d asked her about the surgery in the past, she had always simply said, “You’ll have to wait until you’re 30,” without emotion, so I just knew this was going to be it.

Boy, was I wrong. She screamed—actually screamed—at me never to use the word “sterilization” in front of her again. I tried another doctor, and got another response. “I’ll be frank,” she said. “You’re young, you’re a runner, you eat healthy and would be in excellent physical condition to become a mother. No one is going to do this for you.”

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I asked a total of nine doctors over the course of 14 years to perform this elective surgery for me. I was on one form or another of birth control throughout, and never, ever wavered in my decision that children weren’t for me.

The way I see it, becoming a mother is a choice, like becoming an astronaut or a soccer player. Not becoming a mother is also a choice. The same choices aren’t right for everyone, and it’s entirely possible to know it from an early age. But even the feminist movement seems to stop short of supporting my choice. The overarching message, to me at least, is that it’s OK to put your career first, it’s great to be independent and go it on your own, but you should still want to be a mom someday. I’m still trying to put my finger on why this one choice is the one our culture can’t seem to accept.

I’ve been told, in a multitude of ways, that it should not be my choice. I’ve been told I’d make beautiful babies; I’d be a great mother; even that I owe it to the world to have children because I’m intelligent. Wonderful compliments, all. But I’m not convinced.

I also can’t tell you how many men—men I wasn’t even dating—have told me I would change my mind when I met the right man. They ask me what will happen if I start dating a guy who wants children.

In fact, I’ve got that one covered: It’s my policy to tell a man who gets to a second date with me that I will not be having children, for him or for anyone else. I ended a relationship after nearly a year when the man I was seeing decided he wanted a baby. He deserved to find someone who wanted to do that with him, because it wasn’t me.

It will never be me.

In 2017, I developed Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, a digestive disorder. SIBO is not well understood, but it was awful. I was constantly tired, my hair got dry, my nails stopped growing, my skin was flaky, I gained weight. Sometimes I would spike a fever or endure spasms that literally made me lie on the floor in pain. I never knew what I would be able to eat from day to day. I tried elimination diets and spent hundreds of dollars on naturopathic remedies as well as western medicine, but it would not go away.

Then I contracted another colon-destroying bacterial infection, C. diff. I was told stress was making me ill. Yet no amount of medication, meditation or yoga helped.

After nine years in Manhattan, I decided to move back to Ohio. My family is here, and I brought my cat, Henry, who I’d adopted after the ASPCA rescued him from a kill shelter. I could not be more in love with Henry. I want to be the best version of myself to be able to take good care of him—and having him around has made me better able to advocate for myself.

Before I moved to Columbus, I did some research on how best to network in my field of marketing. I found a few groups to join, and one in particular brings together women in marketing from around the country. Within this community, we use Slack to keep in touch. There is a #not-a-mom channel there, and as it turns out, that channel changed my life.

People don’t realize what a lonely place it is to know how badly you do not want children and not to have a place to feel safe sharing those feelings openly. Finding this channel validated these feelings. I met women with experiences similar to mine: strangers telling them they would change their minds, or baffled by and unaccepting of their choice. The Slack channel introduced me to the larger #childfree movement, and I now follow this hashtag on Instagram. When this account’s content pops up, I truly feel less alone. It’s taken me a year to gain enough courage to be public about my choice, and being part of this online community has helped me be able to do it.

One day, a woman on Slack posted an article that included a link to a Reddit thread called r/childfree, and there I struck gold. Users keep a list of doctors around the country who have performed sterilization for voluntarily child-free women like me, and there was one right here in Columbus. I called her immediately and made an appointment.

On the day of the consultation, my heart was beating out of my chest. By the time the doctor came in, I was shaking. I laid out my case, told her of all the doctors who had told me no, the birth control methods I’d tried, and told her I have never, not even for a millisecond, wavered in my conviction that having a child was not right for me.

The doctor looked at me. “You are a grown woman who has obviously done your research and knows what you want,” she said. “Who am I to tell you no?”

I began to cry. I felt heard for the first time in my long quest to gain agency over my own reproductive system. We scheduled the surgery for three weeks later.

I wore a red Pax Philomena caftan to the surgery center, and after I woke up in recovery and put it back on to go home, the nurse told me I looked better than anyone who has just come out of major surgery had a right to. I told her it wasn’t the dress; it was a realized dream. A dear friend brought me home, and another girlfriend came over with Champagne and pizza. It was a celebration. I didn’t drink too much—I was on Percocet, after all—but I had to have a glass. I was blissfully happy.

I was also in ridiculous pain. The physical aftermath was more difficult than I’d ever anticipated. It took six full weeks for my body to recover. During that time, I learned to baby myself, to baby a body that until that point had been rebelling against me for years, and a beautiful thing happened: It changed my perspective.

Now, nearly a year later, I am completely healed. My scars are barely visible, but more importantly, I’ve lost all the weight I’d gained with SIBO and C. diff; my digestion is 98 percent better; my hair is growing; and I am still buzzing with a low-level thrill that I actually did this.

Perhaps it was the surgery; perhaps it was being heard. After so many years of being told that what I wanted was wrong, I’d stopped listening to myself. Now I’m listening. I pay attention to my intuition, and I’m kinder to my body. I focus on the things that make me feel good, like nature runs and hikes, yoga and meditation. I don’t follow prescribed diets but create foods and meals that make me happy. My sterilization surgery, so hard to attain and so painful to recover from, healed more than my body—it healed my relationship with myself.