(Image description: white male, remarkably handsome, in a hospital bed, awake after surgery and holding a bowl of what one would hope are vegetables. Either way, they're vegetables now.)
I am not a father, that I know of ("Anyone, anyone?") and now I will never become one, biologically. That's because, in January of 2020, I had my first vasectomy. Also, my last. (That's usually how it works.) My vasectomy was a calculated response to a number of my most pressing concerns – global population, carbon footprints, a flexible lifestyle, equality between the sexes, respect for my partners, and more. It was a deeply personal and difficult choice, as well as an intentional rejection of certain aspects of our society’s ideas about men and masculinity. I am choosing to share my thoughts and experiences on this cheap, simple, and practically foolproof form of birth control in the hope that they will provide support to others who are considering the procedure, that they might shed some light on it for others who aren’t, and for those that are just curious. This was a journey of self-awareness, some knowledge gained, love lost, personal sacrifice, and more. May my story help with your own.
A vasectomy is one of the few forms of birth control that men can participate in. Condoms and abstinence are the other two. Women, on the other hand, have many options... and almost all of the burden to prevent an unwanted child. The field is unbalanced and the origin is clear. The major holdup is not that pills or injections for men are not effective, they are; it is that the potential side effects for men would be the same as they currently are from women's birth control. The heads of the medical industry (men) say this isn't acceptable. What is good enough for Jill is not good enough for Jack. Still, progress is being made and male contraceptives may be on the market in another 10 or 20... years?! (This is also what was said twenty years ago but there seems to be evidence that this time it may happen.) The lack of male birth control can also be seen as part of the pink tax put upon women. If you aren't familiar with that, do a quick search.
This is shameful. Full stop.
So we men are left with the 3 options. Abstinence should be listed as an antonym to the human condition. And even though condoms need to be used both for protection from STDs and accidental pregnancy, we all know how well this is going. So, we men are actually left with one idiotproof form of male birth control: a vasectomy. This should be given its fair consideration and at the moment we're collectively not doing that.
Common concerns amungst men that I have observed are that a man will no longer be seen as a 'man' if he couldn't impregnate a woman. That, or letting a surgeon operate on their most prized 'possession' is not permissible. Also, they will regret not having their own children/their DNA passed on. (And from what I know, this is similar to some of the stigmas cast upon gay men.) Now take all of this (plus more that I haven't mentioned) and you end up with reticent men. Men unwilling to consider, or at times even talk about a valid, safe option to preventing unwanted pregnancies. And since these notions are so prevalent, stigmas are cast upon those that think otherwise. Then a cycle begins and we start to exclude this viable solution.
Globally, when women are given equal access to education, employment, healthcare, and civil liberties, they are often inclined to have children later in life and fewer of them. Many will chose not to have children. We also know that fathers more frequently walk away from parental duties. This is becaue we have patriarchal societies permitting this So, if portions of our cultures like patriarchy, religion, and most of all, religious/political agendas, were less prevalent, these two facts tell me that people are not as inclined to have children as commonly thought or practiced.
Also, and this is a big also, vasectomies prevent abortions. If you are anti-abortion, I hope that means that you also willing to fight misogyny, classism, sexism, patriarchy, and all the unfair burdens thrust on women because of this belief.
(Guys, huddle with me a moment, there is something we need to discuss. We're playing with a loaded dick, I mean, deck and progress require us to admit this. Acknowledging your advantages and helping others to have the same chances you had is honorable and needed. Fathers paying child support, I may have raised your hackles here but please look beyond yourselves and at the braoder situation. Most of the world does not have child support laws. And even in the societies where we do, why is it that men pay child support more often than women? Patriarchy. The same system behind much of what I've mentioned thus far. And in this scenario, it is working both for and against ((some)) men.) [see: classism]
Now that we've touched on just some of the challenges faced when considering a vasectomy, I'd like to tell you about part of my personal reasoning. I believe most of us will agree that children are the best part of humanity, and there is no shame in wishing to have kids. My last partner and I split for just this reason because I respect her desire to give birth. Being pregnant, I imagine, is possibly the pinnacle of the human experience. (I wish I could create a baby. How (your adjective here) is pregnancy and birth?!?! Consider me impressed.)
Even so, as a lifelong environmentalist that worked as a professional nanny, my pursuits have afforded me some useful perspective. Even so, I had to face that large stigma of not wanting to have birth children. This was manifest through repeated questioning from friends and family. I do see a value in that because altering your body in such a manner should be questioned and challenged... to a degree. I do feel that most in my circle were doing just that. It is also worth mentioning that I am a very confident person. Someone with less confidence might have had a much more difficult time deciding. Fortunately, I did not risk being judged, excluded, or expelled from my family, community, or church (if I had one). This is what many men (and more so women) face when choosing to go childfree. In fact, I'm probably writing from one of the least repressed or criticized perspectives, but that doesn't devalue my experience.
In addition to this confidence (and perhaps, in part, because of), my life has largely been in conflict with the dated notions of "manliness". Therefore my choice to have the old snip, snip meant I didn't have to address this. A lifetime of defining myself meant I would have to focus elsewhere.
(Women have their own stigmas and numerous concerns regarding this topic but I am not speaking much about it since I am not a woman. Similarly, I'm not qualified to write on the racial aspects of this topic, of which there are many. I encourage you to seek out those views.)
There was one more stigma I faced. As I mentioned above, a beautiful relationship of mine came to an end because we grew to feel differently about having a birth child. She had hoped we could stay together longer and see where the issue went. I'm older and have known a few women who did this. They waited for their male partner to "change" his mind. Personally, I only know of this story ending in tears and resentment. I wouldn't risk that for her. So at great pains (still present), we ended it. My biology could wait (if I were willing to be an old father, which I am not) but hers cannot. For this, I was regularly asked and criticized for not being 'willing' to provide what my love wanted. To the best of my knowledge, she was never asked to change her mind. It was implied that I should be the one to ignore how I feel to 'prove' my love, and to not do so meant either I didn't love her or I was selfish. The irony being that the best way to show my love and respect was to end the relationship so she could pursue this dream. (I wish to add, these criticisms never came from her. We respected each other completely through this difficult process. She's a remarkable woman.)
I have also been influenced by several fields of science, all leading me to conclude that each human that isn't raised with "love" and understanding has a much greater chance of becoming an adult lacking those traits. Therefore, the burden falls upon all of us to change that. For myself, this meant (in part) having a vasectomy in order to not add to that ratio of neglect. Yes, one can create children and provide care for others, but this isn't my interest. I feel more comfortable with the idea of fostering 50 children over the years than creating just one, let alone more than one. From this perspective, the surgery may make more sense, both pragmatically and on my conscience. Like many choices I try to make, the needs beyond my personal interests play a huge influence on my thinking.
Here are some other points I consider. I'll try to make them as brief as possible:
1) The planet could support our human population, and more, but only if we are capable of considering the earth’s needs and becoming the stewards of all life on the planet. We aren't doing this, yet. The more people we create without providing for their basic needs, the farther we get from becoming stewards, rather than consumers. When a person has their basic, biological needs met, they become more capable of thinking beyond themselves. (This could include you, reader. If your life is a struggle to make ends meet, you know exactly what I'm talking about.)
So far, the tool we've observed that best improves these issues, as well as some I'll mention below, is to provide equal opportunities for women. Without that, survival and repression on a very primitive level prevail. The second best tool is to not have a child. The resource costs of a new person outweigh any other individual action by several folds. The third tool is to go vegan. Since our primary role is still as a consumer, becoming a more compassionate and conscientious consumer lowers your footprint (second only to no new kids) and makes room for progressive action because it means we are leaning away from our patterns of dominance.
Without these steps, we have our current situation which is that all major ecosystems are collapsing and we have gross inequality between humans, not to mention the total disregard we have for nature and its limits. I can not be the co-author of a child's creation while others exist with less than I have. This statement includes nature as an 'other' because I currently have more rights and security than it does.
2) I'm scared to put a child up against the current odds. Despite my celebration of where we are gradually progressing with some civil rights and innovations in science, in many ways we are devolving sociall. This is made evident by the increases in hate/racism/nationalism and the rise in despotic leaders in nations that previously had the veil of egalitarian governments. This pendulum may eventually swing in the other direction, but we don't know when. Even if it happens rapidly, we still have a century's worth of problems in full swing and impossible to stop. This would be my child's youth, in a best-case scenario, and that is a nightmare I'm unwilling to bequeath to an unwitting person.
3) I would feel guilty. There are too, too many kids that need to be cared for. I "owe" them something. Since I have more power over their circumstances than they do, I have the responsibility to use that power in our mutual interests. Caring for them, and there are numerous ways to do this, should be the obligation of a society as advanced as ours. The resources are there, and it begins with our actions.
4) My life choices are profoundly idealistic. I pursue practical contributions to nonviolence and sustainability. This is why I live on donations rather than compete for an income and why I had a vasectomy, to name two examples. I've tried to take my privileges and turn them on their head. I have some unfair advantages in the competition placed before most of us, so one contribution can be stepping to the side and ushering others along until they have the same freedoms to be as philosophical. (All of this is more easily understood if you think of my actions as religious choices but I am an atheist that uses science to drive my actions.)
I can do this because I currently stand alone. As soon as I couple with another, or perhaps join a community, I will have to create a balance between our needs. My idealism would interfere with raising a child and I'm not prepared to do so or to subject them to my choices.
Let's talk for a minute about the actual process and then about my emotional process.
The most difficult steps were to end the relationship and the years of contemplation. The vasectomy was the easy part. To arrange the operation, I made an appointment, I took the few steps required like having a consultation, having an exam, giving a blood sample, and soon the date was upon me. The surgery is very simple (look it up if you want to know the steps) and recovery has been painless. I was gentle with myself but to be honest, the shaving stubble was as much of an issue as the recovering body parts. For me, no blood, no pain, no mess, no issues. After a few days, I did develop some mild swelling on one side due to some fluid buildup. The doctor said it would go away and it didn't! Now I walk like a cowboy at all times.
Just kidding. It went away quickly.
(Image description: typical male genitalia with an illustration of where the vasectomy is made.)
After the surgery, I brought a little humor to matter. First, I tricked my mom (she was my operation buddy, thanks mom!) by pretending I was heavily sedated, just long enough for her to panic a little. The nurse was in on it but didn't seem to approve. Next, we took some funny post-op photos (see above). They fed me and on the plate were small boiled potatoes. I put two in a bowl as if they had removed my nuts and given them back to me and smiled for the camera. Lastly, when I needed to speak with the urologist the next day, I began by saying I wanted my money back. The woman on the phone was speechless. She let out a big sound of relief when I told her I was kidding. On an aside, several of the female staff I interacted with at the office were appreciative of my choice and wished more men would consider it and not feel ashamed of it. Oh, and my doctor was a woman. I mention this because some men might think otherwise about a woman doing this and to them, I say stop it with that nonsense.
And we're onto the emotional process. This was/is much more complex.
I have thought about much of this since before I was sexually active (reader adds timeline joke here). The state of the world has always weighed on me. Also, I grew up in a dysfunctional home. I'm fully aware that if I had seen healthier role models, I may have made a different choice. Where I can show gratitude towards my family is that my mother was, and has always been, profoundly supportive and made very conscious efforts to let her children think for themselves. This was the case now, as it always had been. When I asked her before the operation if there was anything she wanted to say to me, her answer was no and that she trusts I've explored the issue thoroughly. That's a mama to be proud of.
As I said, my last relationship pulled the topic to the forefront. Sacrificing the best relationship I've had has been difficult. I don't think I need to elaborate about love lost.
There were almost two months between the office visit and the surgery. That was enough time to hear a lot of opinions. Most of the people close to me weren't overly supportive. I do know men and women that share my thoughts but at that time, they weren't in my immediate circle. This lack of immediate support made me doubt myself but no matter how many times I weighed my positions against theirs or my own worries, I never came to a different conclusion.
I had very little concern about the risks of the surgery. They are few and uncommon.
When the operation day came near, the decision became more real. Every day during those two months, I had a conversation with myself, or several of them, to be sure I was being honest with myself. Because... because I do want to have a family. I'm a family man and I accept that. But no part of me said it needed to be my progeny. The part of me not based in reality wishes we lived 400 years, young and spry, that we had time to do all we wanted to do and the resources to do so, and that the world wasn't imploding but that, sadly, isn't the case.
The evening after my surgery and the next day, I felt relieved. It was done and I could move on from the worries of accidental impregnation or the fear that this topic will come between me and love again. My future partner and I can both be birth control-free and worry-free.
This isn't to say that I'm tap dancing (my boys intact) and happy. I'm not. Soon after I began grieving. I'm grieving for the loss of a relationship. I'm sad because for 25+ years the world has not impressed me enough to prevent this decision. And I'm grieving for the planet. I will not have my own biological young but neither will each species that is going extinct on a daily basis.
But I am also optimistic (not about the extinction but for myself). I know I'll settle down at some point and likely foster and then maybe, mayyybe one day I might adopt. I trust that my former partner will get what she wants and find the purpose in being the mother that she desires to be. And I am optimistic that some of my grief will pass.
(Believe it or not, this was me trying to be brief. I could go on and on about each of my motivations and concerns. Contact me if you would like to hear more about something mentioned.)
Do what you will with this. I hope that I've made you laugh a little while giving some facts and telling my story. Most importantly, I hope I've given you something to think about. Just be true to yourself while helping the world around you. Be true to the one you love. Even if it costs you something now, it will help you both in the long run. Be childfree, have children, foster (please foster), adopt (please, please adopt); just don't neglect. Oh, and put pressure on governments to get male birth control approved.