Thursday, 6 August 2015

What To Expect When Your Partner Has A Vasectomy

Thomas and I have known since we became a couple that we didn't want children. I'm not maternal in the least, finding children at best bewildering and at worst dull. And in a world which still significantly penalises women for taking time out to have a baby, it was a no-brainer for me to prioritise having my own life and career. For his part, Thomas has a great affinity for cats but less so for small humans and has been adamant his entire adult life that fatherhood isn't for him. We love our life together and wanted desperately to stay child-free, but being on the Pill wasn't working for me any longer - too many side effects - and we needed a more permanent and less hormone-based method of contraception.

Sterilisation was the obvious choice. However, we weren't totally confident that Thomas would be approved for the male sterilisation operation known as vasectomy. At just 28, and with no children, he wasn't an ideal candidate for the procedure. Meanwhile, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence to show that women - even women like me, at the (fertility-wise) advanced age of 37, with two abortions behind me - are very rarely trusted to make a decision on sterilisation if they are childless. This knowledge, plus the fact that vasectomy is a much less invasive procedure than female sterilisation, made it our first option.

At first, our chances didn't look good. When Thomas first raised the question of a vasectomy with his GP the doctor was very dismissive, telling him he was too young to be considered for the procedure. Nevertheless, she sent him away with a wealth of information about it, with an instruction to think about it carefully.

Six weeks later he was back at the GP's surgery seeing a second doctor. Our ace in the hole was the fact that not only do we emphatically not want children but that, as we both have severe and potentially inheritable mental health conditions in our families, we have no intention of mixing our disastrous genes. Deciding to conceive a child that was genetically ours would be like playing a game of roulette, with extremely poor odds. This argument seemed to do the trick, and the GP agreed to refer Thomas onto the next stage, a 'Vas Chat' (??!!?) at a local clinic.

This was mostly a practical discussion about the operation and what it involved. The doctor asked in more detail for reasons why we were choosing a vasectomy and Thomas was again discouraged because of his age and childlessness. Ultimately, though, the doctor agreed to go ahead (look at that! It's almost like men are given control over their own fertility and trusted to make medical decisions that affect only them!) and a date was set for four weeks time.

Thomas had what is known as a 'no-scalpel' vasectomy (look away now if you're squeamish), which involves the skin of the scrotum being pierced with a sharp instrument, through which a tiny pair of forceps are inserted so that the doctor can access the vas deferens (the tubes which carry sperm from the testicles to the penis). The vas deferens are then cut, cauterised shut, and pushed back into the scrotum. Because this method was used no stitches were required, so Thomas was left with only a tiny mark at the base of each testicle and minimal pain.

I've found the whole process fascinating, not least because part of me expected to have some 'road to Damascus' conversion to baby-hunger once I knew the option was being removed. I spent a great deal of mental energy probing and prodding at our decision, testing for weak spots, as a tongue may probe at a sore tooth. So I was relieved to find that there weren't any weak spots; that our choice to permanently commit to a child-free life was entirely the right one.

At the time of writing we're awaiting the results of Thomas's three month sample. A vasectomy isn't an instant guarantee of contraception and it can take up to three months for the ejaculate to be completely free of pesky baby-making sperm. But, with any luck, I'll soon be off the Pill and we'll be able to plan for our future, confident in the knowledge that it will remain completely child-free.