When you’re married to a woman in the medical profession, you see some unusual mail. As a man, it is hard to ignore certain article titles on the covers of women’s health journals—“The Quest for the ‘Perfect’ Vagina” and “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder,” for example. Years ago, one title thrust me into a post-vasectomy soul-search: “Sterilization Regret and Long-Acting Methods of Reversible Contraception.”
I first reacted to the clinical nature of the term: sterilization regret. It seemed such a cold way to talk about the fateful choice to have no more children. My second reaction was to the concept itself. At that time, I had recently undergone a vasectomy and was feeling great. My wife and I had two daughters, ages 4 and 1, and we agreed we were content with two children. It hadn’t even occurred to me that anyone would have remorse about choosing sterilization.
I probably felt especially comfortable with my decision because I had been a full-time stay-at-home dad since my oldest daughter was born. Our firstborn had colic, which further “enhanced” my understanding of the difficulties of nonstop baby care. Before having children, I had thought about three kids, but after being home with two, my mantra became, “If I were any more fulfilled, I would die.” As a result, I provided more than the required follow-up semen samples “just to make absolutely sure” the vasectomy worked. My wife claims this frequency started to get embarrassing, but I don’t remember it that way.
Ironically, however, after reading that clinical phrase, I started to engage in that amazing trick of parents’ minds by which we enlarge the most rewarding moments of parenthood and shrink all the duress. The montage began with my oldest sitting at the kitchen table one afternoon peeling a clementine and getting frustrated because the juice kept squirting into her eyes. Enter the ingenious idea to wear large sunglasses as protective goggles. The result is an orange-peeling moment with a hipster soundtrack that will never leave my mind’s eye.
The montage has since continued with images like the day my youngest interrupted my morning shave with a special delivery: a sheet of paper requesting that I order the new Kidz Bop CD, complete with the 1-800 number in wobbly, multicolored letters. Most amusing was the wordless exchange as she handed me the missive from her commander who was obviously too busy watching television to deliver such a message herself (or she knew the tiny youngest had a better chance of success). As I tried not to get shaving cream on the important document, images from my own childhood errands for five older siblings flooded my mind.
I was starting to understand sterilization regret.
But it has now been over 10 years since my vasectomy, and I remain happy with the decision—as does my wife. Some people worry that it might compromise sexual sensation (or one’s masculinity), but it does not. The peace of mind can actually lead to a healthier sex life. Also, a vasectomy is less invasive and risky than a woman’s tubal ligation. On the other hand, vasectomy may not be right for all men depending on age, marital status and religious beliefs. And while reversals are possible, they are not always successful (or covered by insurance), so the decision should be made carefully.
From a wider perspective, it is always helpful to remember that “sterilization regret” is a luxury in the first place. I am grateful to have children at all. One of those sublime moments of gratitude actually came on the day of my vasectomy. I was recovering at my house, and my wife and sister-in-law were about to take the kids to a park so I could relax. On the way out, my 4-year-old daughter giggled at the bag of frozen peas on my “privates.” I grinned, waved her on and said “Have fun at the park!”
And without missing a beat, and with a big smile, and with a gleam in her eye that suggested the impossible idea that she knew all the implications of what she was about to say, she replied: “Have fun with your privates!”