I wasn’t planning on it, but yes, I watched my husband’s vasectomy. It happened quickly; they called him back to the room where he would have his procedure, and I asked if I could come along. Why did I ask to do that instead of remaining in the waiting room? Was I the super supportive wife who just wanted to be near as my husband went through the thing he’d been dreading since our last child’s birth over two years prior? Nope. I just didn’t want to sit in a room where I was the youngest by at least twenty years and most of the magazines were geared towards the 55+ crowd. The demographic of the urology waiting room was the first of many surprises.
How do conversations around vasectomies normally go? They typically involve us women acting as though this is really no big deal, and our husbands are being childish for acting as though it is. Some examples:
“I had the babies, so he can have a vasectomy!”
“It’s just a little snip snip, so you’d better believe he’s going to do it!”
“It’s not even a big deal! He can watch sports for a weekend and be fine.”
“How bad can it be if it’s an outpatient procedure?”
At a prenatal appointment before having my last child, my obstetrician asked what my husband and I would be doing for birth control. She warned me that most women are highly fertile after giving birth, and breaking the six-week rule can very well mean a surprise baby. (She’d delivered several.) After assuring her I would heed her warning, I practically screamed that we would be having a vasectomy. My doctor chuckled and said, “That’s a great option if you know you’re done, but I’ll just tell you women end up scheduling for their husbands 90% of the time.” I couldn’t believe that because what’s the big deal? It’s just a small, outpatient procedure that ensures your wife won’t get pregnant again. Who wouldn’t make that call as soon as possible? Sexual freedom when you’re sure your family is complete? What a win! Over two years later, I realized where that 90% came from.
I was full of jokes before seeing what I saw. The morning of the procedure, I was all, “Oh, look! This is the last time you’ll leave the house before your balls are cut! This is the last time you’ll see our mailbox before the big snip!” My husband took my jokes in stride until he needed me to stop, calling me the worst vasectomy wing-woman ever.
When they called my husband back, I was surprised I was allowed to go. I mean, aren’t operations closed? Aren’t they in these huge sterile rooms where no one but staff is authorized? Um, no. I expected a situation like the outpatient procedures I’ve had, procedures where you go into pre-op for a bit, then get a tube down your throat because you’ll be completely out. What I walked into was just an examination room. It was like being at the gynecologist without the stirrups. There was a table, a heat lamp, and a tray of tools. Huh?
The next part made me really sad. I think this is where my empathy kicked in, and I quit being the cocky wife who felt like my husband owed me this. You know how when you go to the gynecologist, you’re given a paper gown and as much dignity as you can be afforded before the examination? Well, that’s not quite what happens with a vasectomy. My husband was given one valium and asked to get naked from the waist down. He had to lie on a flat bed that way, and the area where he’d be cut was covered in iodine. Then a heat lamp was turned on him down there, and he was told to just relax while the meds did their thing. I sat there watching him fully exposed while staff came in and out for this and that, and I was embarrassed for him.
The urologist came in to operate, and he was as kind as he could be. He asked my husband what music he would like during the procedure and made a few jokes about the awkward situation. “You’ll always think of me holding your balls when you hear this song.” This is the point where it fully hit me that my husband would be less out of it while someone cut his testicles than I was when having my wisdom teeth removed.
My husband was given a local anesthetic so he wouldn’t feel the pain of the vasectomy, and then the cutting began. I was sitting three feet from the bed, just on the other side of the surgical tools, listening to 80s music, when I saw something pink and squishy. It was a testicle. I don’t know if the testicle was fully removed from the scrotum for the doctor to cut the vas deferens, but all I could think was, Oh, no wonder he’s been apprehensive. Then I smelled the burning. After cutting and removing a section of the vas deferens, the urologist cauterized the open ends, and I again thought about how much this was going to hurt my husband later. The testicle was put back inside the scrotum, the scrotum was sewn up, and the process was repeated on the other side. I want to sugar coat this, but I’ll be honest instead; the whole thing looked brutal. I realize surgery is never pretty, but knowing this was the most sensitive part of my husband’s body made me feel really sorry for him. (A doctor who has performed vasectomies confirmed to me that yes, there is a lot of “pulling” involved.)
From my husband:
“During the procedure, I felt super uncomfortable, and I couldn’t wait for it to stop. There was a lot of pressure, even though the pain was managed. The burning flesh was disturbing, and I still don’t like thinking about it. The real pain came during recovery.”
The Walk of Shame
My husband’s doctor helped him into a jock strap, and then I helped with his pants. A nurse went over what to expect from the incisions, how long healing would take, and the importance of having a sperm sample tested at 90 days before engaging in unprotected sex. Free to go, my husband and I walked down the hall together, me supporting him while he shot finger guns at everyone in sight. The staff along the hallway did their best not to make eye contact as I’m sure they knew exactly why we were there, but I saw some snickers. I mean, these weren’t normal finger guns; they were, “I’m high on valium, I’ve got freshly cut balls, and I have no idea what’s happening right now,” finger guns. Then we walked through the very full waiting room and went to the car, which was fortunately very close to the door.
We had already planned several days for my husband to recover, but I was really glad once I saw how intense the vasectomy was. His procedure was on a Thursday morning, and there was an understanding that I wouldn’t expect anything from him until Monday. His job was to rest in bed, watch movies, and take naps. My job was to take care of him and appreciate the fact that he’d done the thing he really didn’t want to do.
Within three or four days, he was feeling pretty good and didn’t need pain meds. It was a couple of weeks before things really felt normal, but then he was good to go. The recovery didn’t take long, but it wasn’t exactly the, “Oh, it’s just a quick snip, and they’re good after a couple of days!” we women are quick to assume.
The Right Decision for Us
I’d begun considering a tubal ligation after reading another mom’s account, but my husband and I opted for him to have the vasectomy instead. Now that I know what I know, I wish I’d looked into having my tubes tied a little more. It was in the back of my mind in case my husband continued putting the vasectomy off or if insurance complicated things, but it wasn’t as serious an option as I wish I’d made it.
Things went really well overall, and we got the all-clear at the 90-day mark. We felt a huge weight lift off our shoulders once the procedure was completed, and having the confirmation that, well, one of us was sterilized allowed new freedom.
For anyone considering a vasectomy for your husband, my message is that it’s an amazing option my family has found worthwhile. I’d also say be patient with your man, understand it’s not as simple as we are all led to believe, and prepare to be a true support when you’re needed most.
The Tips You Need as You Prepare for the Vasectomy
Find the right doctor.
My obstetrician suggested we use a urologist, not a general surgeon. Urologists understand a lot more about the area they’ll be cutting, and issues afterward are less common. (Yes, we do know people who had slight issues requiring follow-up visits. One friend even required another surgical procedure. Use a urologist, and do your research on him or her.)
Get the right supplies ahead of time.
- Jockstraps. Get at least three. These are needed to support the testicles after surgery. Be sure you take one along the day of the procedure! My husband’s formula was a three-layer approach: jockstrap, two circular ice packs, tight underwear. Jocks need to be washed just like underwear, so have backups to keep from being left without one.
- Small ice packs or frozen vegetables. My husband had a thing about sticking frozen foods on his balls, so he opted for these. He said they were perfect, so there you go.
- Gauze pads. These are cheap, so grab two boxes.
- Tight underwear. If you don’t have tighty whities in the house, you’ll want to grab some.
- Elastic pants. Your husband will need to wear elastic pants the day of the procedure, and he’ll probably want to avoid denim for a few days.
- Books, movies, snacks, and whatever the heck else your husband wants to entertain himself while being left alone. Give him the rest he has earned; it will help his recovery time tremendously.
Stay on top of the pain meds.
My husband was only given one Valium for the procedure, and the instructions were to take Advil and/or Tylenol from there. I set a timer and made sure he had fresh ice packs and his pain meds the first couple of days, but then he took over. When I asked him what advice he had for anyone scheduling a vasectomy, he said stay on top of the meds. From him: “I fell asleep once and missed a round of painkillers. It felt like my balls had been hit really hard, and they just wouldn’t stop aching. You women won’t understand this description, but your husbands will.” Stay on top of the pain.
There are times in life when it’s okay to poke fun at your spouse, and there are times it’s not. I’d say the days following a vasectomy are times it’s not. If your husband is down for that, cool, but if he’s not, be respectful. My husband definitely didn’t want to hear any jokes while he was recovering, so I bit my tongue. No comments about what I’d been through birthing our kids, nothing along the lines of how it can’t be that bad, and definitely no jokes about being snipped. Was I tired from taking care of my kids and being a nurse of sorts? Absolutely. Did I still realize nothing good could come from sarcasm? Fortunately, yes. My kindness during my husband’s recovery went a long way, and he told me later how much he appreciated it.