After we had our second child, my wife and I found ourselves in the doctor’s office where he laid it out for us in the plainest possible terms.
“You can’t have any more kids.”
Subtle he was not. But, as our last pregnancy was marked by a slew of scares, including high blood pressure, bed rest, and placenta previa (a condition in which the placenta actually tears away from the uterus), subtlety had left the building sometime in the second trimester. The facts were all there in black and white. Pregnancy had taken a major toll on my wife and to saddle up for a third time could exacerbate all the symptoms and potentially lead to a grave outcome.
So there it was: We couldn’t have any more kids. My wife and I had wanted to have a bigger family — or at least get to three — but it seemed that we were going to be a “two and through” couple. However bummed we were, we couldn’t complain. Our boys were happy and healthy. My wife had made it through both pregnancies. On the whole, we had a lot be grateful for. We just couldn’t have any more kids.
The idea of “not having kids” almost seemed to be a nebulous one. Okay, so we won’t have any kids, I thought to myself. No problem. We were married for two years with no kids, what’s another 20 or 30? But it was more severe than that. There could be no margin for error, no room for mistakes, no chance that, in an unguarded moment, one of my little swimmers might go the distance and set us back on the path to pregnancy. If we were done, then the sperm shop had to be closed up for good.
What this meant, of course, was that my wife and I had to find a 100-percent effective method of birth control. Condoms wouldn’t cut it. The pill wasn’t going to get it done. IUDs? No chance. There was only one way to ensure that my sperm would stay locked up where they wouldn’t cause any mischief. The big snip, as the doctor put it, no doubt loving the terrified expression that crossed my face. The only way to guarantee that my wife couldn’t get pregnant was to have a vasectomy.
I’d like to tell you that I took this news in stride, that I manned up, put one leg up on the table and proudly said, “Do what you gotta do, doc.”
But I didn’t.
To me, the idea of a vasectomy, the surgical cutting of the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm from the testicles and out into the world, is inherently terrifying. Apart from the obvious (“You’re going to cut what, now?”), there’s also a sense of finality to it. “I’m never going to be able to father children again.”
I didn’t ever imagine myself fathering an entire football team or anything. It’s just that when someone tells you “never,” you can’t help but feel the weight of the word. It was heavy, burdensome. But when I took stock of everything that was at stake, there really wasn’t any choice at all. So I picked up the phone, took a deep breath, and called my urologist.
Vasectomy had its origins in turn of the century America, where it was at one time performed as a “surgical treatment of habitual criminals,” according to an 1897 paper by Chicago surgeon A. J. Ochsner. For a time after that, it was popular among wealthy men, not only as a means of contraception, but also as a way of (supposedly) increasing virility. By the end of World War II, it slowly became commonplace, with more and more men opting to have the procedure done. Today it is the most common form of contraception around the world, with more than 42 million men having undergone the procedure.
Talking with the urologist helped to put my mind at ease. He rattled off some of the same stats I just gave you, as well as explained the seemingly endless upsides. It’s inexpensive! It’s outpatient surgery! I wouldn’t have to worry about birth control! Sex can be spontaneous again! And, in order to ensure all the sperm has left my body, I’d have to ejaculate 25 times (sorry, honey, doctor’s orders)! Hey, I thought, this might turn out to be okay.
“Of course,” my urologist then said. “We should talk about the complications.”
Ah yes. As with any medical procedure, vasectomies come with their fair share of complications. These can include, but are by no means limited to, infection, bleeding from the scrotum, pain that doesn’t subside, trouble urinating. That was enough for me, but the doctor went on. Sperm, he added, can build up as it tries to force its way out of your body like a horde of teens trying to get into a Shawn Mendes concert. When that happens, you could get a lump called a granuloma. Usually, these sperm-lumps go away on their own. Occasionally, you have to get an injection of steroids to dissolve it. Incisions, injections, and bleeding from the scrotum. What sort of Spanish Inquisition-style torture was this?
When the big day arrived, I was told to show up at the doctor’s office early and wear a pair of snug, tight-fitting underwear. As an avowed boxer acolyte who considers tighty-whities to be one step above diapers on the underclothes dignity scale, this raised a bit of grumbling. But the alternative was a jockstrap, which was just too bizarre to consider. So I whitied my tighties. And believe me, afterward, my wounded testes were grateful for the protective cocoon afforded them by Jockey’s white cotton embrace.
For the procedure itself, I was given some medication to take the edge off (this was considered optional, leaving me wondering who would ever choose to decline) and told to lie down on the table. After numbing the area, the doctor made a couple of incisions, which, blissfully, I did not feel. He then warned me that I might feel some “tugging,” as he removed the vas deferens to actually make the cut. I wish he hadn’t told me that, because then all I could feel was tugging.
There was, however, no pain at all. There was simply an unpleasant sensation of … movement. It didn’t last long. Or if it did, I’ve since blocked it out like a childhood trauma. The doctor was also kind enough to let my wife stay during the procedure. If you can swing this, definitely do it. The moral and emotional support that came from having her there made all the difference.
The type of vasectomy my doctor opted for was one that involved the removal of a piece of the vas deferens and cauterizing the two open ends. Some doctors just opt for cutting the tube like an action movie hero snips the red wire on a ticking bomb. The problem with that is that, over time, the remaining segments of the tube are still close enough together that they can slowly reconnect without your knowing. Usually, the only way you find out that happened involves your wife making a midnight CVS run for a pregnancy test. By removing that segment, it ensures that there’s no chance of an accidental reversal.
When it was all over, I remember thinking, “Oh, that wasn’t that bad.” And it wasn’t. Until I got home and the medication wore off. After that, there was swelling. And there was aching. And there was walking around with the gait of an 80-year-old at the supermarket. Pants became my enemy, pajama bottoms betrayed me as well. Even the slightest touch of cloth sent an angry signal of pain through my body like a botched move in Operation.
Thankfully, I had a number of things that helped me through: plenty of prescription painkillers, access to TV, and a supportive and understanding wife. This last part is key. You two need to be a team on this. If you’re in it together, supporting each other and being there for each other, you’ll get through it and be glad you did. During those early days, I wasn’t always the best patient, but my wife was always an excellent nurse. I couldn’t have done it without her.
I also couldn’t have done it without the frozen peas. They sounds like a sitcom cliché, but, the icy legumes are essential. They act like a miniature frozen bean bag, and the smallness of the peas allows the bag to conform very easily to the area that needs attending. An ice pack just sits there; a bag of peas works its way into every sore and aching spot, filling it with blissful coolness and relief. Now, whenever I pass the frozen vegetables at the market, I give the Jolly Green Giant a little salute.
Within a day or so, the worst of the discomfort subsided, but it was still a good week or two before even the thought of sex stirred in my mind. And, when I finally felt ready to get back in the proverbial saddle? More aching, more swelling, and just general unease. But, like many things, it got better and easier with time. Everything went back to normal and, after a couple of months, it was almost as if I’d never had anything done at all. Any post procedure trepidations I felt melted like so many of the tiny peas sat on my lap.
It’s been 13 years since I had my vasectomy and I am very glad I went through with it. The procedure was the right call for our family, for my wife’s health, and for us as a couple. The procedure was by no means the Spanish Inquisition-level torture test I’d feared. And all the benefits the doctor listed? He was right. So if you’re considering it and sure you and your spouse are done having kids, go for it. A few days of discomfort is well worth the lifetime of enjoyment the two of you will ultimately have. Just don’t neglect the tighty whities or frozen peas.