The cutting of my husband’s vas deferens opened my eyes to the vast differences between us in our contributions to baby-making.
My husband and I decided he’d have a vasectomy this past spring. We are in our early 40s, have two healthy kids, and are happy with the size of our family. A few of my husband’s friends recently got vasectomies so he felt compelled to jump on the bandwagon. They really talked up the thrill of lounging for 2-3 days with icy nether regions while playing video games on the couch. My husband was sold.
My kids were home from school the day of my husband’s “surgery” as he likes to call it. It seems like more of a procedure but that’s just the registered nurse in me talking. The kids and I dropped off my husband, went to the playground, then picked him up in front of the physician’s office 45 minutes later. He walked to the car and gingerly lowered himself into the passenger seat. And then he said, “You’re welcome.”
“Huh?” I said, not understanding what he was referring to. “Thank you” would’ve made more sense in response to us picking him up.
“You’re welcome,” he repeated.
“Ummm, for what?” I replied.
“The vasectomy,” he said, with an impish grin spreading across his face.
I imagine my facial expression went from relaxed to stunned. “I can’t believe you just said that!” I blurted out. I startled my kids who were zoning out in the backseat but were now listening with their full attention.
“I’m just kidding,” he said, in an attempt to backpedal. He could tell his joke had landed very, very wrong.
My husband was surprised that I took the comment so personally since I’m usually the crass one who loves an off-color joke. The kids were surprised that mama was fuming at daddy so soon after his Big Surgery. Most of all, I was surprised by my own intense reaction to what should have been a harmless wisecrack from my usually considerate, sweet, supportive mate.
Apparently, my husband’s “You’re Welcome” triggered some deep-seated emotions that I didn’t know I had in me. At that moment, my reproductive history flashed before my eyes: monthly periods, yearly gynecology exams and pap smears, tampons, birth control pills, morning sickness, pushing out a baby the size of a watermelon through an opening the size of a lemon TWICE, stitches down there, sore nipples, postpartum depression; the list goes on and on. I had been through some stuff. All women have.
I couldn’t believe he had the audacity to say “you’re welcome” after an easy ten-minute procedure when I had spent so much time and effort over the years ensuring we’d have kids. I’d been putting in the work since I got my first period at 12 years old!
His joke landed on a raw nerve.
Yes, I am grateful that he had the vasectomy. It was an important and generous thing for him to do for our relationship. Yes, I love my children and am beyond blessed that I got to experience pregnancy and childbirth. Yes, I am thankful for my normal female reproductive system and that I have access to the necessary personal hygiene products and medical professionals that are needed for its upkeep.
I love being a woman. I love that our bodies are capable of growing human beings inside of them. I love that our breasts have the ability to nourish these tiny humans once they’re on the outside. Our womanly bodies are simply amazing when you really think about all they can do.
They are also A LOT.
That’s what I was reacting to when my husband said The Thing. Although he did not mean to, his statement trivialized the literal blood, sweat, and tears I had put into making us parents. I felt undermined and undervalued at that moment. I started tallying his reproductive contributions to our family versus my own. I won, hands down.
I wondered if I should have been saying “you’re welcome” every time I had a contraction or breastfed the baby or gave of myself in some way that he couldn’t. Had I been missing opportunities for forced appreciation? Should I have been highlighting all of the procreation-related work I’d done to elicit a contrived “thanks” from him? Nah. Luckily he had shown me gratitude through immense love and support over the years, as did I to him. So why the sarcastic “you’re welcome” at this juncture?
My husband and I ended up talking at length about “you’re welcome”; he promised it was meant to be a joke he thought I’d find amusing. I thanked him for having the vasectomy and he thanked me for what I’d done as the birthing parent.
We talked about the very different roles women and men play in reproduction and how the physical and emotional responsibilities weigh a lot heavier on women, obviously. It felt good to get that recognition from him. It also felt good to get the recognition from my friends when I called them up to say, “Giiiiiiirl, you will not believe what my husband said to me right after his vasectomy!”.