Published 4 December 202010 December 2020 · Poetry / Main Posts Poetry | Salpingectomy Rebecca Cheers That evening I met Anna Brennan* … she was celebrating the removal of her fallopian tubes. —Jack Lindsay, The Roaring Twenties ‘Raise a glass to absent friends!’ with a swish of blonde with an actual wine glass raised to show my bare arm’s slope; and I lean back, so they draw close, a stage-murmured disclosure: the word’s round fal-lope along my tongue. Men draw back, bodies rigid in their stools; the women, forward for gossip or to bask in the boldness of my moment. Raise a glass to the too-young man eyes swallowed by his black hat’s brim who’s found the perfect pinch of salt for his memoirs. * There seems to be no mention in any piece of writing or any primary source on Anne of her undergoing surgery in the early 1920s outside of Jack’s nine words. * The removal of fallopian tubes or salpingectomy is distinct from tubal ligation; but who knows if Jack knew fallopian tubes from ovaries, uterus, or his own big toe, let alone what fate Anne said they met. * Gynaecologist Norman Haire active between the wars said female sterilisation was a major operation, necessitating two weeks in bed. Whether Anne’s fallopian tubes were crushed between forceps tied with catgut divided and lodged in the abdomen cauterised with electric current or simply cut away— before keyhole procedures existed her belly was sliced down the centre prized open and stitched shut. What bed could Anne have slept in, with a healing wound and a high risk of infection? In a dank bedsit in Darlinghurst? In the bush-surrounded house, hours from a hospital, of the family who threw her out? In the upstairs room of a grog-house on a surplus army cot? How many weeks, stitches, bedsores, how many pelvic pangs did she shake off to climb the stairs to some damp studio party to celebrate? * The Sydney Morning Herald reported on a woman who was, at 22 years old, carrying her third child all three conceived in spite of contraception who could not find a doctor to perform tubal ligation in case, later on, she changed her mind. The article is called It’s 2016 and women in Australia still aren’t allowed control of their bodies. * What spell could Anne have cast on the early 1920s to make her own fallopian tubes disappear? When the Family Planning Association, once the Racial Hygiene Association was the Racial Improvement Society (until 1928)? When those with the power to control birth had a different twinkle in their eyes. * The legality of sterilisation in 1920s New South Wales was undefined the only discretion in the hands of individual doctors. * Tiarne Barratt argues that while public consideration of sterilisation took on a decidedly eugenic focus … tubal ligation and vasectomy had an equally complex and parallel history of voluntary reproductive control— that while organisations and doctors who performed these operations may have been eugenicists patients’ motives were their own. * The RHA’s Sydney Clinic only opened in 1933 but from the start they argued that any person with hereditary defects had the right to readily accessible voluntary sterilisation. * perversions alcoholism insanity drunkenness tuberculosis prostitution were, in the 20s, sicknesses, unfitnesses to breed: to do so would lead to race suicide. * We don’t even know that Anne’s procedure was contraceptive in intent. Salpingectomy is indicated in cases of ectopic pregnancy; eggs trapped in sticky fallopian cilla ruthless, lost. Gonorrhoea, chlamydia miscarriage or abortion can spread bacteria, pelvic inflammation scarring pus bleeding painful sex infertility. We don’t know what Anne wanted or got but we know where all roads led. * The longer you read about Anne the stranger it seems she escaped institutionalisation no tubercular sanatorium no Sydney Hospital ‘locked ward’ for female VD patients no prison. Take ‘Ada’, a mother in interwar Melbourne committed due to puerperal insanity. Therapeutic abortion was performed and sterilisation was performed by removing a portion of both fallopian tubes … after proper consultation with [her] husband. She was discharged never did the dishes incinerated her husband’s best suit and told him that her wound is healed on the outside but not on the inside: she was re-committed she was twenty-eight. * What if every scalpel bears the ghost-intentions of every man who ever made the cut? What if the asylum’s walls are inside-out. * There is a version of this story, a Ballad of Anne Brennan, who outfoxes men in lab coats and the Church’s threats of hellfire to assert dominion over her own flesh there’s a version where Anne’s access to safe and total birth control was traded on some level on her status as race-traitor there’s a version where Anne puts a festive face on a painful medical horror but there’s no version that stands out from any other there’s no story but snippet in the voice of Jack’s animatronic Anna a metallic quality to the recording and there’s a million stories’ guts glowing in the dim light of this Anne-shaped incision. Notes: *‘Salpingectomy’ is taken from a poetry manuscript on the life of Anne Brennan, a bohemian figure and daughter of the poet Christopher Brennan. She was christened Anna but referred to by most peers and historians as Anne. This poem draws heavily on Stefania Siedecky and Diana Wyndham’s Populate and Perish: Australian Women’s Fight for Birth Control (1990) and Tiarne Barratt’s Master of Philosophy thesis, ‘Contraceptive Sterilisation: A History of Tubal Ligation and Vasectomy in Twentieth Century Australia, 1926–86’ (2015). Italicised text is sourced from these works, including Barrett’s quotation of Norman Haire. The Sydney Morning Herald article referenced in the poem is Clementine Ford’s ‘It’s 2016 and Women in Australia Still Aren’t Allowed Control of Their Bodies’ (24 July 2016). The details on ‘Ada’ are sourced from the chapter ‘Ada’s Story’ from the doctoral thesis ‘Maternal Insanity in Victoria, Australia: 1920–1973’ by Dr Alison Watts (2015). The opening epigraph is taken from a manuscript copy of Jack Lindsay’s memoir The Roaring Twenties (published in Life Rarely Tells, 1982), held by the State Library of Queensland. Rebecca Cheers Rebecca Cheers is a writer, poet and Masters candidate at QUT. Her work has been featured in Voiceworks, Queensland Poetry Festival, Yarn Storytelling and Anywhere Theatre Festival, and was recently anthologised in The Conspirator. More by Rebecca Cheers › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 10 November 202311 November 2023 · Subscriberthon 2023 On the final day of Subscriberthon, Overland’s most important members get to have their say Editorial Team BORIS A quick guide to another year of Overland, from your trusty feline, Boris. 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