Since I was a teen I was not interested in having children. I’m not a kid hater or parent hater, but that lifestyle was never something that appealed to me. I like kids, I also like to hand them back to their parents at the end of the day. The decision to be child-free is not something I grew out of as I aged, if anything I became more steadfast in my decision to not have children. As a result, I had decided around age 20 to pursue sterilization. I wanted a vasectomy.
That vasectomy took me 15 years.
Not for lack of trying.
Understand that I have always taken my sexual health very seriously and was not after a vasectomy as an easy way to get away from condom use. A vasectomy won’t prevent certain STDs the way a condom will. My decision to have one was purely for birth control. While I understand that sterilization has a permanence to it that other forms of birth control don’t, in my 15 year quest to have a vasectomy it seemed strange to me that I didn’t have the right to control my own reproductive health. As a man, the only form of birth control outside of a vasectomy that I had at my disposal were condoms, and condoms are all well and good, but they aren’t as effective as a vasectomy.
Before I approached my doctor at age 20 to talk about a vasectomy, I did my research. I had asked him about it previously in passing and I’d also made a purely informational appointment with a urologist to better understand the procedure. I understood the effectiveness, side effects, consequences and permanence of my decision.
So, at 20 when I sat down with my doctor to talk about actually going through with the procedure, I made sure I was clear. I explained myself, my wish never to have children, my research and my understanding of the permanence of my request.
A comparison of the efficacy of birth control methods, c/o CDC.gov
My doctor countered immediately with the argument that I was too young, and “What if you meet someone who wants to start a family,” and something about how this is usually done when you are married and wish to have no more children.
Bottom line: “No. Come back later when you are older”. No defined time frame, just “older”.
At age 20, although I was headstrong, I never thought to argue or advocate for myself. I mean, you just don’t argue with your doctor right?
Life moves along. I was age 25 and had moved to another city. When I was settled in I found a GP and had a physical done, and again asked about a vasectomy.
Same response. “You’re not old enough, you’re not married with kids, come back when you are 30”. I also got a lecture on the use of condoms. I think my new GP thought I was trying to find a way to forgo condom use, which again, I was not.
When I was around 31 I had a new GP and was in a long term relationship. My then girlfriend also didn’t want to have kids so I thought that for sure I would have success this time around!
Denied. At least he was the nicest out of my doctors. He said that this was a permanent procedure and that most men requesting it were married and already had kids. I did argue a little bit, explaining my firm decision to remain child-free and that I’d asked for the procedure several times since age 20. He asked me to wait a year, he’d put a note in my file and we’d talk. That seemed fair. Mostly, I just wanted to satisfy whatever arbitrary conditions there were.
Life got in the way. I married my long-term girlfriend and we moved clear across the country.
Again, I had a new GP and I expected the same kind of brush-off from her that I’d received from my previous GPs. My current GP is a no-nonsense, very clinical sort of doctor. Logical and to the point. I like her. When I told her “I am interested in getting a vasectomy” and said I’d already done my homework she simply gave me a referral.
Since she gave me the referral, I’ve occasion to chat with her and asked about the vasectomy referral. I was specifically curious if she would have referred 20 year old me to the urologist. Her answer was simple. “Yes, you are a well informed patient, and have obviously done your due diligence, so if you were that way at age 20, why not?”
The visit with the urologist was great. He was also very matter of fact, straight up. He asked 2 questions. One: Do you have kids? Two: Is your partner is aware of the procedure?
His response to my child-free status was “That’s OK, I’ve met plenty of men not interested in having children”. I also asked him a few questions. He would have performed the procedure on 20 year old me, if I was as confident and well informed as 35 year old me. This was bizarre. After being told for 15 years that I was too young, that I needed to wait, I was suddenly being told by two health care providers that they would have performed the procedure on me when I was 20.
After 15 years I finally was able to have the procedure and am confident that my wife and I will be child-free.
But I’m left with some nagging doubts about the path it took me to get here. Is relative youth reason enough to deny someone the right to control their reproductive health? Only about 5% of men who have had a vasectomy will ever have it reversed. I can see my previous providers’ concerns about my age, as a study found that the younger a patient is when they decide on sterilization the more likely they are to try to have it reversed, but that’s still a very small percentage. I also can’t help but wonder how skewed the numbers are right now, as 90% of those who have had vasectomies are married or are in long-term relationships. I know that my vasectomy now falls into that category, even though I’d been trying to obtain it since I was 20. While I know I’m not in the majority, I have to wonder how many men like me are skewing the data, thus making it harder for men like me to obtain a vasectomy before marriage and reaching an arbitrary age.
So I’m left wondering, what was it that lead doctor after doctor to deny me a vasectomy over 15 years? Was it age, gender or were they placing their own morality above my medical wishes? I’m not sure, but looking back, it sure seems like it was all three.
In retrospect I would have told 20 year old me to go and find another GP and to agitate and advocate more. Lesson learned, I am now my own fiercest health advocate, as I should be. – Edited by Leslie Waghorn