By Katie Rose Alexander
My husband had a vasectomy.
“Congratulations!” my friends said.
“Good man! Halleluiah!”
They did not understand that although I was grateful, for me the severance of his vans deference was tinged with sadness and regret. It is not that I want more children. My logical brain knows that three is enough, more than enough sometimes. But some place inside me wants to be pregnant again, watch my body swell with life, feel those secret flutters inside. Part of me wants to meet another baby for the first time, have another chance to breastfeed, feel the baby’s weight melt against me. Then I think about the lack of sleep, how another baby would take me away from my existing children, how my body has yet to recover from carrying twins. And I know. Time to call it good. I am almost 43. We are at capacity for what we can handle. So, yes, my husband’s vasectomy was a gift, but probably not a necessary one.
Before our first son was born, we tried for five years to make a baby. Those years were filled with special diets, acupuncture, meticulous monitoring of my cycles, fertility treatments, miscarriages, confusion, loss, doubt, regret, self-loathing. And then, a baby! Four years after that, I gave birth to twins conceived through IVF with chromosomal screening. Not too likely that we would have an “oops” baby in our forties.
And here’s the thing, as much as I wanted all of my babies, that early postpartum time was not so good for me. I never had enough milk, despite pumping and herbs, massage and heat, special foods, drugs to increase lactation. Instead of focusing on my miracles, I was focused on their weight gain, how many ounces I could pump, soliciting donor milk, and using as little formula as possible. Both times, I suffered crushing sadness. The truth is, part of why I want to have another baby is to try again to get it “right.”
My twins were supposed to be my second chance, but as soon as I saw those two heartbeats flickering on the ultrasound monitor, I knew my dream of successful breastfeeding was not to be actualized. I hoped that I could handle it all with grace and not be so sad the second time around. I completely underestimated the lunacy of newborn twins with an older sibling. I knew I would be overwhelmed, but I do not think there is a way to understand what it feels like to be devoured until it happens. From the outside everyone was impressed with me. Inside I was lost. I had no idea who I was. Maybe if it had been just one baby, it would have been ok. Maybe if I had another baby, it would be different.
Once my period returned, my husband asked me, “If you did get pregnant, would you be willing to terminate?”
I replied, “No. Absolutely not.”
“Ok. I am going to get a vasectomy.”
I said, “Really? It seems an extreme measure for something that is such a remote possibility.”
He said, “I don’t think you understand. Another baby would kill me.”
“I am serious,” he said. “I am done with babies.”
I continued to laugh.
“If you got pregnant, I would be urging you to have an abortion while driving you to the hospital to give birth!”
I laughed harder.
“I can’t believe you are laughing. I am telling you how I feel, and you are laughing at me.”
I guess I wasn’t the only one who felt devoured.
Our babies were hard on my husband. He didn’t do well with no sleep and little time to himself. It took some convincing to get him to try for another child, and even more to agree to IVF, but once he was in, he was all in. He was the one who decided we should go ahead and put in two embryos, and he wouldn’t trade in any of our children if he had the chance, I know. But, two babies at once was, perhaps, a bit much for him. To ask for another child would be unfair. Unreasonable. A little bit crazy.
I spent almost an entire decade trying to make babies. My mind became acutely attuned to my internal workings. I always knew when I ovulated. My period was always a disappointment. To my surprise, that did not change once I had three children. I found a box of pregnancy tests in the bathroom cupboard recently and thought, I should give these away, but instead, I put them back where they were. Just in case.
Pregnancy tests or not, that door is closed. It has been months since my husband’s vasectomy, and with each period that comes, the sense of failure lifts just a little, and gradually a sense of liberation replaces it. The gift my husband has given me is not freedom from more children or freedom from birth control, it is freedom from trying to make more babies. He has, by going under the knife, cut me free from the rollercoaster of hope and disappointment that is the quintessential experience of infertility. He has freed me from the internal ticking off of symptoms and days. He has freed our sex life from the pressure of the fertile window, and he has made an honest woman of me. If he had not had that vasectomy, I would probably still have secretly tried for another child for another ten years, and what would have happened if I had succeeded? Could our family even survive a fourth child?
As my twins grow from babies into toddlers, and my older son becomes a strong lanky boy, I am beginning to view my postpartum self with more compassion and respect. I am trying to forgive her all of her imperfections. I am trying to cultivate gratitude towards my body and all it endured to bring these children into the world. The reproductive period of my life is over. It is time to close the door on those dark hours spent rocking tiny babies and turn, open armed, into the fullness of the life I have created.
This was first published in Mutha Magazine Dec. 19, 2017 at: http://muthamagazine.com/2017/12/the-end-of-reproduction/