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Rant #220
(published March 31, 2005)
Fertility's End
by Alan Benard
I understand the operation is irreversible.

That's why I'm having it.


I was the perfect candidate for a vasectomy — 39 years old, two kids ages 6 and 11 months. I received no questions about my decision from my doctor, the nurse practitioner, the surgeon, my wife. The time was set.

What's it like? Well, you show up early and sit around for hours. If you forget to bring a good book because you're so jangled by the thought of getting stabbed with giant, rusty, square needles on either side of your scrotum, you end up reading Readers' Digest and Esquire. You also have time to reflect on the fact that nothing in this "men's magazine" interests you very much, and that you don't identify with any of the fashion models, actors or captains of industry depicted within.

The TV in the corner plays the noon news — your appointment is for 12:30 p.m., you finally get seen at 1:45 p.m. Good thing you told the wife — watching both kids, because she has to drive you there and back — to spend a couple of hours at Target, instead of waiting around. (The surgical center is in the parking lot of a strip mall — a strip- mall surgeon added to your team of professionals, the strip-mall tax accountant and the strip-mall lawyer.) The TV is a relentless bummer, squawking about the war American men started in Iraq, the woman held hostage by the man who killed four people in Atlanta, including a judge and a court reporter on the courthouse steps. Eventually, it switches to images of men in soap operas — virile, dangerous, passionate, potent — interspersed with images of men in commercials — vacant, goofy, impotent, or just incredibly old and hawking life insurance, incontinence equipment.

People are called, go in to see the surgeon ... and don't come out. You figure out that it does we in the waiting room no good at all to see people (women are getting body modifications today, too) shuffling out bow-legged and groaning. Of course, this only gives your unoccupied mind more fear fodder — you have been told what's going to happen to you and your vas deferens... but you don't KNOW.


My mother became pregnant with me at age 16, delivered me at age 17. My creation cost her dearly — it was 1965 — and finishing high school and college were no longer options. Instead of becoming a librarian, she became a strip-mall waitress and dedicated herself to having children. She wanted 12 — six boys, six girls. She got three boys in quick succession and, seven years after me, a girl. She also got her tubes tied after my sister arrived. However, both sides of my family seem to be extraordinarily fecund — she delivered a five-month stillborn boy long after she thought her fertility had ended. Go figure.

I'm glad she did what she did. I like being here. She and I also kept my father out of the Vietnam War — the marriage deferment was ended four months after my birth. And the joke (now that she's been dead for five years, I can tell the Big Secret) is this: Lacking a complete, formal education of any kind, she served with distinction both on the local elementary school board and as director of a private school. So much for the ruined life of the pregnant teen.

My dad's sister is twelve years older than he. Dad and I have this in common — being unexpected, but welcome. Where fertility was concerned, though, I followed my own path. I didn't want to continue the apparent family tradition, going back at least two or three generations, of "early" and "late" babies. (On my wife's side, it's even worse — she's 19 years older than her little brother, the same age as her aunt.)

My first long-term, teenaged girlfriend agreed. She was also the product of adolescent back seat fumbling, and semen was our enemy. Not that this slowed us down much, mind you — our lust blossomed during the Age of Prince. Darling Nikki masturbating with a magazine; the composer's fervent advice about not needing to have sex to have an orgasm. And then there was AIDS. Bodily fluids are the enemy.

I'm bragging. I made it to 33 without breeding, and I placed my shots exactly where I intended. But as mom used to say, there's no forced ranking. I was supposed to not make babies I couldn't properly support, financially or emotionally. Doing so rarely ends well, especially in these days when Chinese men — limited by law to one child — raise their families on the manufacturing jobs that US teenaged fathers once used to buy their kids food and shelter.


They call your name, and a slightly embarrassed older nurse's aide brings you to a room. Take off your pants, put on these gowns. Leave on your socks and shirt. When you're done, open the door back up. Here, the reading materials are hobby periodicals for private pilots and hot rod enthusiasts, and a six-month-old copy of Sports Illustrated. Too bad you're so bored — you get to think some more about the needles. Think instead about how you're about to win the life-long struggle with semen. Marvel at the idea of the end of your fertility.

Remember that you once told your boss that you planned to have two kids — so you'd have a replacement in case one of them died. Forty and childless, he just looked at you like you were nuts. Is it really healthy to think of your fertility like this — in terms of opportunity, replacement parts, commodification, cost-benefit ratios? Do you have a choice? Will the law force you, upon pain of imprisonment, to spend 18 years paying for the children your semen creates?

Remember your beautiful, healthy children you chose to create. You and your wife did that, and it is a miracle.

The surgeon comes. It's the first time you've met him. He's doing 14 vasectomies today. He asks you if you know that a vasectomy is intended to be irreversible. He asks if you understand that local anesthesia is used. You ask if general is available. He forces a laugh and has you sign the release.

They call you. Walk the last mile with your unscarred scrotum. Get on the bed. Calm down. Listen to the oldies radio station playing in the background. Oh, shit — "Spirit in the Sky"?!

When I die and they lay me to rest
I'm gonna go to the place that's the best

Not appropriate for even minor surgery.

A cold, patch thing on your side, an oxygen monitor on your finger, a hand on your penis, another shaving you. You have never been less aroused in your life. Cold antiseptic on the crotch. The nurse who makes sure you don't stop breathing is at your head, on your side of the curtain-sheet they've clamped up between you and the action.

The surgeon and his assistant arrive. They yank on your genitals for a while, make sure you don't have testicular cancer. They mumble. They tell you it's time for the gigantic, jagged needle. It goes in, and you have never acted like less of a Man. You jerk, you squeal, you push your pelvis away from the pain in your crotch. The surgeons react with barely masked disgust. Why do patients insist on making things difficult? And then they do it again. And one more in the sack itself, for good measure.

When they squeeze your nuts and you can't feel it, the cutting starts. You suddenly realize that Deus-ex-radio really intends to mess with you:

Seasons don't fear the Reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
Come on baby
Don't fear the Reaper

The pulse-ox and heartrate/pressure monitors remind you of your mother's several jolts in various intensive care units, following her meningitis. Apart from your circumcision, this is your first surgery. Your first meeting with the beeping machines, and there will be more. You tell the poor nurse about Mom. She's nice to you, but would certainly rather talk about American Idol.

You feel a tug — the first vas is gone. You smell smoke. They've cauterized it. Repeat. They cauterize the hole in your sack. The surgeons leave. Sit up slowly, are you dizzy? They unstrap your legs from the Velcro restraints — wow, didn't notice that.

They shuffle you, bow-legged and groaning, to a waiting area. Actually, you feel pretty good. You are led to the toilet to put your pants back on. Here are some gauze pads — the site will weep and bleed slightly. If you run out, use one of your wife's maxi pads.

Your emasculation is complete.

And now, your parting gifts:

You rush out of the room because your poor wife has been with the kids for three freaking hours without a break, and will have to run interference to keep them from jumping on your swollen junk for another three days. There they are . . . your family. Your finite and complete family.


Men, this is your task: May all children be made from love, and loved.

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