My wife and I have been together a long time. In our nearly two decades together we’ve had two kids, the youngest of whom was born earlier this year.
Having two young kids is tough. It’s an experience that leaves you sleep deprived and riddled with gray hairs. Children are well worth that exhaustion, but my wife and I love our family just the way it is.
That’s a nice way of saying we don’t want any more kids.
I’d always planned to have a vasectomy after we became a family of four. Tubal ligation — the permanent contraception available to my wife — is a risky procedure, though Guttmacher reports it’s also three times more common than the far simpler and cheaper vasectomy.
My wife has managed the burden of family planning for our entire 17-year relationship — so I figured I should have the cojones to do this one little thing.
Maintaining our sanity by capping our family at four wasn’t the only reason we decided I should get snipped. There are 7.8 billion people on Earth — 227,000 more every day. The impact we have on the planet is enormous. Every new person born in the United States adds 9,441 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere over their lifetime and produces 4.4 pounds of trash daily.
Meanwhile, at our hand, wildlife is going extinct at 1,000 times the natural rate due to habitat destruction, pollution, the spread of invasive species and over-harvesting.
Still, after our youngest was born I wasn’t exactly racing to the urologist. Then one unusual day when our youngest was three months old, the stars just happened to align perfectly: our kids’ naps unexpectedly lined up, my wife and I were both in the mood at the same time, and we found ourselves in the bedroom – but not sleeping.
It was such an unexpected twist in our sleepless, busy lives that it only dawned on us after the fact that we’d forgotten to use a condom.
If you’ve ever wondered how it happens that 45 percent of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, I can tell you. Even to a 38-year-old who’s practiced safe sex his entire life and had two planned children, it can happen just like that.
But this isn’t a story about how my wife and I accidentally outnumbered ourselves — this story has a happy ending. It was the wake-up call I needed to get that vasectomy on my schedule.
Having a vasectomy is extremely low risk. There’s no surgeon standing above you, scalpel poised, as you lie splayed on the table. It’s an outpatient procedure. The doctor administers some local anesthetic and uses a ring to isolate and sever the vas deferens. The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes, and then you’re sent home to lounge on the couch with a package of frozen peas on your unmentionables.
Because it’s 2020, my vasectomy story has a plot twist. Vasectomies are technically elective, but no one knows when the pandemic will end, and my fear of accidentally siring a third child was greater than the threat of contracting COVID in a health clinic. While the pandemic couldn’t stop me from getting a vasectomy, though, the worst wildfires in a century nearly did.
As I holed up at home with my family in Olympia, Washington, running five air purifiers around the clock to prevent the smoke detector from going off in our house, I didn’t need any further proof of how we’re pushing the planet past its breaking point (I get enough of that in my day job).
Thankfully the smoky skies eventually cleared, and I was able to get it over with. It’s been about a month since my vasectomy and the recoup was even easier than I imagined. A few days spent on the couch and taking it easy for a week was more like a vacation than recovery with two kids under the age of three running around the house. And my sexual functioning is exactly as it was pre-vasectomy.
Family planning is a crucial component of reducing our footprint on the planet, and I’m glad my snip can help.
Nathan Donley, Ph.D is a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, where his work focuses on protecting people and wildlife from threats to our environment.