Wednesday, April 02, 2008

it's a snip

I was recently sent a link to this

which reminded me of an article I wrote a while back. A friend was putting together a zine about population issues and asked me to write summat about having a vasectomy.

It’s A Snip

Anyone who has heterosexual sex is prone to pregnancy scares. And sometimes the fears are founded.

When it comes to deciding about going ahead with the pregnancy, the man is put in a strange and unwinnable position. If he says what he thinks then he’s pressurising the woman; whose body is it anyway?

Yet if he assures the woman that he respects her autonomy and will support her whatever she decides, he’s abdicating his share of the responsibility and making the decision and any blame all hers.

When my lover was pregnant, we were fortunate that we were both 100% certain that we did not want to be parents. We were doubly fortunate that we knew early on and lived somewhere with good abortion provision. The experience was enough to make me actually do something about the idle thoughts I’d had about having a vasectomy.

I don’t want any woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy, and especially not a woman I like enough to ejaculate into. Scarier, what if she wanted to have a kid and I had to support her decision and lose this life I love to parenthood?

I’ve never really wanted children, and as I’ve got older the experience of seeing my contemporaries become parents had only convinced me all the more. I love many of the children I find myself around and relish the part I play in their upbringing and supporting parents. But that’s different to wanting to do it full time. I love curry but if you gave it to me every day for every meal I’d hate it within a month. I love my flat, but lock me in here with no chance of release for two decades and I’ll be insane within a week.

From a personal perspective, I treasure the freedom of my time, I treasure the ability to stay up late with friends or working, and having lie-ins. Parenthood takes those away, and for me it’s not worth it.

But far more importantly, on a political level, the world already has too many western consumers. We all know there needs to be less. You don’t get less by making more.

My grandparents were born into a world of one billion people. I will die in a world of ten billion.

I look at a picture of my grandparents and imagine nine people stood behind my gran, another nine behind my grandad.

Then do the same for all their friends, family, neighbours, taking that multiplication right out across the entire globe. It’s no wonder we’re hastening into ecological crisis. No matter how much we reduce the consumption of individuals, we’re not going to make it all sustainable if there are too many of them.

If we accept the health care, sanitation and guaranteed food supply of modern life then we have to lay off the procreation. We understand this principle with pets whose puppies and kittens all get to live, and we neuter them. We somehow blind ourselves from making the same connections with humans.

I went to my doctor and slightly exaggerated (very long term stable quasi-marital relationship, never wanted children, blahblahblah) and he referred me to the clinic. I was slightly taken aback by the ease of a 31 year old unmarried non-parent getting the appointment. I asked him that if he wasn’t going to talk me out of it then did he think the clinic would. ‘Maybe ten or twenty years ago, but not these days,’ he replied.

The clinic sent a letter giving me the date of my consultation and saying ‘as you will be having the operation the same day, please ensure…’.

Wow, nobody was going to try to talk me out of it. I was lucky in that respect. A friend with similar circumstances had his doctor refuse to refer him until there was sperm indefinitely and expensively deposited in a sperm bank, in case he changed his mind.

Asking around before the operation whether I could be sure I was doing the right thing, that was the only serious question that came up, ‘what if you change your mind?’.

Of course, I could never be totally certain I wouldn’t change my mind. But I’d never had that deep emotional urge for procreation, and experience and political understanding had only hardened my opinion.

And what if someone did have children and then changed their mind? You can’t stuff them back up yourself.

At least if I were sterilised and changed my mind, it would only affect my life and not mine and an innocent unwanted child’s.

Plus, there are thousands of babies and children going for adoption and fostering who are destined for miserable, unloved and shitty lives if people keep having their own children instead. If I got turned down for adoption and fostering, I know several excellent men who’d donate sperm. An unforeseen change of heart wouldn’t be that big a deal.

So there I was, in a waiting room with four or five other men all looking slightly nervous. The professor called me in and gave me a whistlestop explanation of the procedure. It’s a local anaesthetic, they make an incision about 3mm long on each side of the scrotum, they cut out a section of tube and stitch up. After a few months, you bring in a semen sample, then a month later another one. Once you’ve had two blank ones in a row, you’re safely considered infertile.

After another loiter in the waiting room I was taken through. I am one squeamish bugger, but frankly if I had to go through this every month to be infertile it’d be worth it. It was, at its worst, a little uncomfortable feeling something shift in my abdomen. There was nothing I’d call pain, and it was all over within five minutes.

The surgeon was chatty. ‘So, how many children have you got then?’ he asked as he was working on the second tube. When I told him none, a serious and downward pitched ‘oh’ was the response. I hurriedly assured him that really, it was fine.

One of the great advantages of being a bloke is having your tackle on the outside. It might not seem an advantage when someone kicks you in the knackers, but when surgery’s required it makes it simple and swift. Sterilisation on women involves much more delving, and many women having hysterectomies had their clitoral nerve severed by doctors who didn’t realise how far back it goes. Lose your fertility and your sexual pleasure? What’s the point in that?

It was so easy. An excuse for a night in with some fuss, but really it was nothing. I was riding my bike the next day, no problem.

Once I was declared clear, I felt the weight lifted from me. It felt like I’d been purified. It was like I had been carrying this virus to which I was immune but which could infect women I cared about. But now my blood is clean and I am no longer contagious.

I’ve taken responsibility for the overpopulation of the planet, the overconsumption of our society, the life I love and the welfare of my lovers. No matter how drunk, deluded or unlucky I get in future, no more pregnancies from me.


Anonymous said...

May I recommend you go to see the excellent US comedian Doug Stanhope when he's over in Britain this summer? He will buy you a beer after hearing your story.

merrick said...

Antipholus, can you give me a bit more info? Who is Doug Stanhope, and why would he like what I've said?

Anonymous said...

I envy your experience. When I asked my doctor about getting sterilized she told me flatly there was no way a woman under 30 without kids would be allowed to have the procedure. She then gave me a massive lecture / guilt trip about the fact that I refuse to take birth control pills (hormones) because they fuck up my mood really badly..

merrick said...

Anonyperson - firstly, your doctor is a liar. Women can get it done (though it can often take a lot of giving them stories about abusive upbringings and a fear of parenthood).

But even if this route isn't open you can - as your doctor should have told you, if she believed you were an adult of sound mind - always pay to have it done privately. Pricey for a woman I'd imagine, but not as expensive as a child.

Just like the one who refused to refer my friend for a vasectomy, yours seems to have forgotten that they are supposed to be your advocate, more akin to your lawyer than your judge.

And good for you for not taking a medication that fucks your body up! (And that's before we mention the environmental effects such as oestrogen levels in the sea causing fish to go sterile or change sex), or the animal welfare issues (the hormones are harvested from the urine of pregnant horses, usually kept in abominable conditions and, of course, impregnated then have their baby taken away).

So until that private sterilisation, get your men to get the snip!

Anonymous said...

A different point of view