I had two new year’s resolutions in 2018; to get a vasectomy and to pass my driving test. When December rolled around, I held my driving licence in my hand with satisfaction. True, I hadn’t achieved both my resolutions, but partial completion isn’t to be sniffed at, right?
In 2019, I also had two resolutions – to get a vasectomy and to rejoin a gym. Again, December came and, again, I only managed one of them. I’m in infinitesimally better physical condition than I was a year ago, so that’s the same as getting a vasectomy. Isn’t it?
Do you see a pattern emerging? I’ve stumbled across an amazing, no-fail loophole to stop me feeling bad about never getting a vasectomy. Every year I make a plan to get it done, and every year I sidestep it by creating and executing a different resolution that I can use as a safety net for my own disappointment. Clever, isn’t it? What a genius I am, tricking myself like that. Well done me for outsmarting myself so deftly at every turn.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I have two resolutions for 2020 as well. One is to take flying lessons, and the other – you guessed it – is to book an appointment for a vasectomy. Really this time. Really and truly. I’m going to do it. Honestly.
Except I won’t, will I? This time next year I guarantee that I’ll have ploughed all my money into climate-destroying frivolity, and all because I don’t like the thought of a doctor chopping my balls open.
And this is the crux of it. Every time I edge closer towards an appointment, I see flashes of scalpels. I remember word for word how Jamie Oliver described what happened to a friend of his after a vasectomy: “He cried for three weeks! It went all black!” I hear a mid-slice sneeze. I picture a steamroller bursting open a watermelon. I imagine the pain of that time my two-year-old accidentally trod on my ballsack, and I amplify it by a million.
But I should get a vasectomy. I know I should. My testicles have served their purpose. They’ve brought two boys into the world – two happy, incredible little boys who make my heart sing whenever I so much as catch a glimpse of them. But at the same time I know that I would rather drive over my head in my own car than have any more. The thought of starting from scratch again, and all that it entails, fills me with dread. The sleepless nights. The constant alert. The inability to wear white clothes. The expense. The renewed exposure to Bing. I cannot. Make no mistake, my children are the joy of my life, but give me any more and swear to God I’ll drown myself in a toilet.
Plus, I have a feeling that a vasectomy would be good for my marriage. Because it turns out that having tangible evidence that sex leads to children is just about the greatest contraceptive ever created. Before you have kids, you can be forgiven for being a little devil may care about birth control. “If it happens it happens,” you might say to each other. “We’re in love! An accidental baby would be an expression of our love!” But once children stop being hypothetical – once your living room has become a minefield of plastic tat and the arms of your sofa have snail-trails of snot running along them and you’re constantly so tired you can feel your eyeballs vibrating inside your head – it’s a different matter. Sex takes on an air of Russian roulette. My balls were benign for a long time. Now they’re a pair of hand grenades.
So we have two options: either I get a vasectomy or we wait it out for the menopause. Which would be ideal for me, frankly, but a little selfish. After all, men tend to get a free ride in this field. For as long as I’ve known her, my wife has been the one hurling herself into different hormonal tornadoes in the name of contraception. One pill made her gain weight. Another gave her crashing bursts of depression. An IUD resulted in bacterial vaginosis. And all the while I just stood by, secretly pleased that none of it was happening to me. Surely it’s time for me to take one for the team.
I have friends who’ve had vasectomies. “Best thing I ever did,” said one. Another promised it meant “minimal John Wayne walking”. One of my wife’s friends said a vasectomy was “the best gift a man can give a woman”.
“It’s completely normal,” one of my closest friends told me. Like me, he’d just had his second child when he decided to have a vasectomy but, unlike me, his procrastination was minimal. He told me that it made him feel “like a married man again, and not just a baby factory”, that it had removed so much uncertainty from his life. “And it isn’t that painful. You’re in, you’re out and that’s that,” he added. So it’s painless, I asked. “I didn’t say painless,” he replied. “They’re still your balls. They do feel quite tender for a while. But you’ll have felt much worse.” Looking at him, happy in the certainty that he’d never have any more kids, was a revelation. He almost made it sound like a day at a theme park.
But still. The last time I seriously broached the idea, I was promoting a book. During one panel I wondered aloud whether anyone in the audience had gone through with a vasectomy. “YEAH!” a voice called back from the darkness. What was it like, I asked in hope more than anything else. “IT REALLY HURT!” the voice yelled back. And that’s the voice I hear every time I think about making an appointment with my GP.
Just for the record, the pain is a part of my reticence, but I’m not a coward. I had my eyes lasered, for example. A sucker attached itself to my eyeball, and a laser beam fired itself into my eye until I went blind. Physically, that has to be the equal of a vasectomy, right? After all, they do say that the eyes are the balls of the face.
Instead, it’s the permanence. I never want to have any more kids ever again, but then again what if I do? I change my mind about everything all the time. There was a time when I didn’t want kids, and then all of a sudden out of nowhere I really did. What if, when both my kids are at school, I find myself longing for the early days again? For all the firsts; the teeth, the steps, the words? They say you shouldn’t have a vasectomy if you’re under any stress. But stress has been my default for a while now. What if it’s stress that’s colouring my decision? Maybe, once everything straightens out, I’ll welcome more children with open arms.
Tentatively, I arrange a call with Dr Camille Tchuinkam, the lead surgeon at Marie Stopes. He goes to great pains to denounce the myth of the painful vasectomy. “The procedure we use is the non-scalpel technique,” he explains. “It reduces complications and there’s very little bleeding. We make two small nicks in the scrotum, maybe 2 or 3mm long, and that’s it. You’d only need two days off work.”
I wanted to know if many people have last minute on-the-table changes of heart, but Dr Tchuinkam explained that it’s quite rare. “We have a team of counsellors that patients can talk to if they have any reservations,” he said. “And we do not perform the procedure for at least 10 days, to give the patient time to change their minds.”
All this was doing a lot to ease my mind, but then he said something I will never be able to forget. “If you have young children, it’s important to let them know that you need rest,” he began, before telling me the story of a man who came home from a vasectomy to be greeted by his two young children who excitedly ran towards him at crotch height. “He had to go straight back to hospital,” Dr Tchuinkam said, “to the emergency department.”
“MY GOD,” I shouted in response, doubled over in agony on the other end of the phone at the thought of it. “But that’s a rare occurrence,’’ he reassured me. “It’s just two small nicks, and when they heal it looks like a cigarette burn.” A cigarette burn. A cigarette burn.
At that point, I’m not afraid to say, I was out. Of all the mental images I wanted in my head, a cigarette being stubbed out on my scrotum was way down the list. If you’re a man reading this, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re now devoting your brain power to trying to avoid thinking about someone stubbing out a cigarette on your testicles. I wish I could promise that the mental image goes away, but it does not.
I still have two New Year’s resolutions this year. And this means I’d better book some flying lessons, because I’ve gone right off the idea of getting a vasectomy. There’s always 2021.