My Husband's Family Hated That He Got a Vasectomy—and Said It Was All My Fault
"Do you mind if I post this?" I asked my spouse, Paweł. "It's too good not to."
He flashed me a lopsided smile and nodded at the photo of him grinning, swathed in a hospital gown, reclining in a wheelchair, and giving me two thumbs up. Since Paweł had no social media presence and this was his vasectomy, I wanted his permission. I also wanted to post a we-did-it photo on Facebook. So many people had helped us when I reached out for information on vasectomies—everything from locating and selecting a doctor to understanding the procedure, its aftermath, and any complications that could arise. We trusted them and felt giddy with excitement to share our news.
I uploaded it with a lighthearted caption as the doctor strode into the room.
"Everything went perfectly," his urologist said to us. "Remember, ice and rest."
The choice to stop having children was not a decision we made lightly. We'd both just turned 31 with plans to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. I had birthed our third and last child about seven months earlier. Paweł had broached the possibility of a vasectomy after our first child, who was born two months premature after a difficult pregnancy, but despite that, I wanted to have more children. After our second child, he half-jokingly mentioned it to one of his doctors, who stood back in shock and counseled against it because he was so young. However, after our third baby was born, we were both ready and Paweł had my full blessing.
"I don't want you going through anything else," he said to me, referring to tubal ligation, more commonly referred to as "getting your tubes tied." I had no intention of even offering a tubal ligation. Nor was I going to take a pill every day, stick an IUD in my uterus, pop a contraceptive ring in and out of my vagina every three weeks, or opt for any of the many ways I, as a woman, was expected to take complete responsibility of birth control, despite there being two people in this relationship.
"You're right," I said. "It's your turn."
By the time I drove him home after his vasectomy and helped him settle down with some pain medication and ice, I'd forgotten about the post and was busy taking care of our children.
Then my mother called. She wanted to know if we'd heard from Paweł's mom. I checked my phone and noticed a slew of missed calls from his side of the family—his mother, father, and brother.
My mother-in-law, unlike her son, was active on Facebook and had seen my post. She'd immediately called us both a few times before deciding the next step was to contact my mother and open the conversation by hysterically screaming, "I didn't know your daughter was like this! How could she make my son do this? She should have done it, not my son!"
It took my mother, who was at work at the time, all of her patience to try and figure out why her son-in-law's mother was spewing hatred and blame on me, her daughter.
Paweł and I are immigrants—he's from Poland and I'm from Trinidad—and that's one of the many bonds we developed. Even though we were from different parts of the world, we shared the same core values. We knew our families were more involved in our everyday lives than what we'd witnessed with our American-born friends. Meddlesome, over-the-top behavior isn't foreign to us. It's what we've both been steeped in our entire lives. But this was different.
Historically, while women's bodies have been claimed as fodder for political conversations, men have rarely been asked to take responsibility for procreation. Why not? Why don't men routinely have these discussions with their doctors? Why did my spouse's urologist recoil when Paweł mentioned the subject of a vasectomy without first gathering a full history of our experiences relating to fertility? The message this omission sends to half of the world's population is clear: The responsibility of birth control always falls on women. If vasectomies don't become part of our mainstream dialogue, how can men overcome any preconceived notions that are riddled with societal stigmas based in myth? Vasectomies are safe and one of the most effective forms of birth control. In fact, it's more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy.
The Conversation About Vasectomies Needs to Change
Paweł's mother was utterly distraught about what her family members in Poland might say about her son's decision. Her reactions and behavior were inextricably linked to religion. According to her faith, birth control is forbidden. But beyond this, she was reacting this way because there is so much misinformation surrounding vasectomies. She believed the common myth that vasectomy is castration. It is not: Vasectomy is a simple and quick outpatient procedure where the small tubes in the scrotum (called the vas deferens) are cut or blocked off so sperm can't leave the body. Here's another fact: almost all vasectomies are reversible. So, in addition to defying Catholicism, my mother-in-law thought her son, at her daughter-in-law's behest, had lopped off his testicles.
My father-in-law later called to bellow at my husband: "Don't you know your mother has a heart condition? She shouldn't be worked up like this. If she dies, it's all your fault."
Well, that statement would make any decent child pause. But that's how this approach works—the family unit launches a relentless onslaught of opinions presented as facts, tightly woven with religion and myth to conjure guilt and shame. That kind of pressure is often successful.
Paweł then asked me to do something he's never asked me to do before: Take down the post. I did delete the post out of love and respect for him, but the damage was done. Both sides of our family were in turmoil. His family blamed me for this act of heresy and would always blame me for a decision their son made about his own body.
I wish it ended there.
My father told my mother and sister that he thought I should've been the one to "handle it," not Paweł.
Both of our families knew I'd given birth to our first child via C-section. She was two months premature and spent her first year fighting for her life. My second pregnancy was full-term, and our child was healthy, but in the shadow of my first foray in motherhood, I endured nine months of crippling fear. And following four devastating losses after our second daughter was born, we had our third and last child. This final birth nearly cost me my life when I experienced postpartum hemorrhaging, losing over a half-gallon of blood in the space of 15 minutes. I was rushed into emergency surgery and then took a year to recuperate.
My father's words cut deep. Both our families had watched me almost die and yet it still didn't matter. Conversations were happening about my body—without me. My father's mindset was clear: Men are to remain intact. End of discussion.
Those who support a patriarchal society tell women what to do with their bodies. Enough, I say. The effects of these procedures can wear on us mentally, physically, and emotionally. But such details are often minimized and glossed over. Let's talk about the facts again: Vasectomies are less invasive and less expensive than tubal ligation. A woman's life shouldn't have to be threatened for vasectomies to be a legitimate option. Information on vasectomies should be universally available. If we don't speak the truth, then our silence only perpetuates further dismissal of the topic of vasectomy and solidifies the expectation that women must continue to take on this burden.
In the end, my in-law's anger and resentment were directed toward me. Since we don't have enough conversations about vasectomies as a society, they didn't even understand what their son had opted to do. Yet their opinions are strong and forceful. My in-laws and my father are maintaining a cycle of blaming women and forcing them to take sole responsibility for these issues.
The Bottom Line
Paweł loves his vasectomy—his words, not mine. He celebrates it and is open to sharing his experience with anyone who wants to know more. That's the approach we, as a culture and a society, need to encourage: a space for honest conversations where people can learn how we can take equal responsibilities in our relationships.
Krystal A. Sital is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad which was a finalist for the PEN America Emerging Writers Award. Her essays have been anthologized in A Map Is Only One Story: Twenty Writers on Immigration, Family, and the Meaning of Home and Fury: Women's Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. Follow her on Instagram and on Twitter.