I am reposting this article I wrote in September 2018 because I keep seeing memes promoting (in jest) forcing men to get vasectomies because they are “totally reversible”. Unfortunately, Bill and I know from personal experience that that’s not always true. Besides, I don’t agree with pressuring anyone– male or female– to have elective surgery. That should be a personal decision made by the person having the surgery and forced to live with the aftermath of it.
Yesterday, someone in the Duggar group posted this article, based on tweets by a Mormon mom of six who lays out why she thinks men are responsible for every “unwanted” pregnancy. The mom, name of Gabrielle Blair, reminds everyone that women can only get pregnant for a couple of days every month, while men could theoretically get different women pregnant thousands of times per month. Because men are so easily able to impregnate women, she believes they should be more responsible about birth control. In fact, she thinks the onus should be on men to prevent “unwanted” pregnancies. They should be more willing to make birth control accessible, affordable, and available to all women. And they should also be much more willing to wear condoms.
Gabrielle Blair refers to “unwanted” pregnancies, but that’s not a term I’m comfortable with. I once used it when I was getting my MSW and was corrected by my field instructor, who told me the right term is “unintended pregnancy”. Although I do think a lot of unintended pregnancies are also unwanted, I decided that I liked the word “unintended” better. Sometimes women find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and later decide they’re glad about it. So, in this post, I will refer to unintended pregnancies instead of “unwanted” pregnancies.
I agree with many of the concepts Blair discusses in her tweets. Although birth control has never been an issue I’ve personally had a lot of concerns about, I did used to work in maternal and child health, back before I was an overeducated housewife. I have seen the aftereffects of what happens when a woman has a child she isn’t ready to nurture. I do think we need to make birth control readily available so that there is less of a need for abortion. I would much rather see a woman prevent an unintended pregnancy than have an abortion.
The one thing that I don’t agree with, however, is the idea that vasectomies are totally reversible. Blair tweets this concept, after just having suggested castration as a penalty for men who cause unintended pregnancies. Of course she realizes that castration as punishment for a man who accidentally impregnates a woman would never happen. So then she “jokingly” suggests required vasectomies for boys at the onset of puberty.
Before I get too cranked up with my comments about this, let me say that I know that, just like the castration law Blair suggested, forced vasectomies for pubescent boys would also never happen. Maybe if we only had female lawmakers who were also extreme feminists with a cruelty streak, something like that could possibly be considered, but even then, I really doubt it. The United States would have to turn into a completely matriarchal society with a hefty dose of The Handmaid’s Tale thrown in for good measure. Blair’s suggestions are very sci-fi and interesting to ponder, but completely implausible and highly unlikely to happen in my lifetime.
That being established, I will agree that microsurgeries have come a long way and a lot of men are able to successfully have their vasectomies reversed even years after the vasectomy was done. However, I can also speak from personal experience that not every reversal will result in a man regaining his fertility. I know this because my husband had a vasectomy reversal that was technically successful. He had 90 million “swimmers” after he underwent a 4 hour operation to reconnect his junk. And yet, here we sit, still childless. I know we aren’t the only ones who had this outcome after a reversal, either.
Now… it’s entirely possible that the reason we didn’t have children could be because of something other than Bill’s vasectomy reversal not working. For all I know, I didn’t get pregnant because something is wrong with me. However, even if that were the case, the fact remains that not every vasectomy reversal will result in pregnancy. The Mayo Clinic reports that reversal surgery can be anywhere from 30% to 90% effective. A lot depends on the conditions the surgeon has to work with. The reversal surgery has the best chance of working if it’s done within a few years of the vasectomy, the patient is young and healthy, the vasectomy was done with a minimum of scarring, and the surgeon has mad skills.
In Bill’s case, it had been about eleven years since he’d gotten snipped. At first, his surgeon told him that he might have to do a more complicated procedure, since it had been so long since his vasectomy (done in 1993). In the end, they did a less complicated procedure. A couple of weeks later, a different doctor– not the one who did Bill’s surgery, because that guy got deployed to Iraq– told Bill that he needed to be careful where he pointed his “thing”, since he was firing “live ammunition”. They’d found 90 million sperm in his sample. Sadly, not a single one was able to penetrate any of my eggs, despite multiple attempts at the right time of the month.
After a couple of years, we quit trying, deciding that we’d rather not go through other methods of trying to conceive. Our decision about that mostly had to do with finances, and my realization that I didn’t want to be a parent badly enough to go through all of what becoming a parent in a non-traditional way entails.
I don’t know why I never got pregnant. We did try. There were a few things beyond our control that got in the way of conception, not the least of which was Bill’s own adventure in Iraq. However, even if I had gotten pregnant, I still would never agree that reversals are 100% successful. That wouldn’t be true. Although many men can regain their fertility after having a vasectomy reversal, at least for a time, the fact is, sometimes men aren’t able to get it back. Their bodies start seeing sperm as something foreign that needs to be destroyed or there’s too much scar tissue.
Aside from that, reversal surgery is expensive, delicate and involved, and requires time off work. In our case, Bill was able to have it done for free, courtesy of an Army urologist who needed to maintain his skills. He also got plenty of time to recover, thanks to his understanding Army bosses at the time. But most men won’t have the opportunity Bill had to get that surgery for free. Reversals are also a hell of a lot more involved than vasectomies are. They take much longer, cost a lot more, and are riskier. Those who do get reversal surgery will also need to be able to take the time to recuperate.
I totally agree with Blair’s main points that birth control is important and should be easier to get. She’s right that men should be more willing to do their part to prevent unintended pregnancies. However, I think it’s wrong to promote sterilization surgery as an easy fix for anyone, especially with the irresponsible comment that vasectomies are “totally reversible”. They’re not.
Vasectomies are intended to be permanent sterilization. Any man who gets one should do it with the knowledge that it will possibly permanently end his ability to father children the easy way. If they’re alright with that, fine. But no man should ever have a vasectomy believing that someday, he can simply have it reversed and father children without medical intervention. It doesn’t always work out that way, and it’s irresponsible of Blair to promote the idea that it does, even if her comments were really intended jokingly as sort of a “modest proposal”.
I made a comment about how vasectomy reversals aren’t always successful in the Duggar Family News group and immediately got a ration of shit from a couple of the members who wanted to argue with me about it. One woman said that in her hospital, 95% of reversals are successful with “swimmers”. I called bullshit on that. I don’t know that woman from Adam, and have no idea what her background is, but it’s a well established fact that reversals don’t always work, even if the surgeon is a superstar. I would be very skeptical if any medical professional claimed that success rate, because not every candidate is going to get those results, regardless of the quality of the facility and the skill of the staff performing the operation.
Another woman commented with some tripe about how I should be more sensitive to the women who have to deal with preventing pregnancy. I AM sensitive to the women. I DO agree that birth control for both partners is a good thing and both people are responsible. I simply don’t agree with the idea that forcing boys to have vasectomies is a good idea, even if the idea is presented in jest.
I would be horrified if anyone suggested tying the tubes of pre-pubescent girls, rationalizing that they can later have the operation reversed. I am just as horrified by the suggestion that we should be giving vasectomies to boys to prevent them from knocking up girls. That’s an extreme and unethical solution, and even as a joke, it’s really not funny in my opinion. But what really prompted me to write this morning is the idea that a decision to be permanently sterilized is easily undone. It’s not, and reputable medical institutions confirm that it’s not. We should be more respectful about every person’s right to make personal decisions about their own bodies without pressure or interference from other people.
That being said… although I always wanted children, I now think it’s a blessing that I don’t have them, and am mostly at peace with not being someone’s mother. I do sometimes wonder what a child between Bill and me would have been like, though. Then, after I fantasize about it, I realize I wouldn’t wish today’s fucked up world on any child of mine. Also… I wonder how in the world Gabrielle Blair can be a Mormon and be as much of a feminist as she is. She’s either simply a cultural Mormon or she has some serious cognitive dissonance going on.