Last year, after two pregnancy scares, I decided we needed a fail-safe form of birth control. I’ve never taken the Pill, relying on condoms and (cringe! shame!) the pull-out method. It worked for two decades… My gynecologist recommended the copper IUD, which I’m still contemplating, but then an expat friend suggested a vasectomy for my husband. In fact, several expats in a mom’s group said their husbands happily got snipped in the name of no more babies.
I broached it with husband. While he wasn’t tossing confetti at the idea, he wasn’t that opposed because there is no situation where he wants another kid, ever. He and I visited my (male) gynecologist to ask for a reference for the vasectomy. The older doctor looked at my husband and asked, “Are you sure?” Husband shifted uncomfortably, “Well, it does make me feel like I’m losing part of my manhood.” Doctor nodded and turned his gaze to me, “Why don’t you consider an IUD or sterilization for yourself?”
Gee, doc, let us count the ways:
- Because I’m the one who bears the entire brunt of reproduction (menses, pregnancy, abortion, birth, babies), I’d like to feel at least a semblance of equality in our reproductive responsibility.
- Sterilization for a woman is more invasive (general anaesthesia, stitches) than for a man (local anaesthesia, rarely a stitch). Female sterilization carries 20 times the risk of major complications compared to vasectomies, costs three times as much and has a death rate 12 times as high.
- While I’m not against the copper IUD, the possible side effects of a heavier menstrual flow, a punctured uterus and expulsion of the IUD—not to mention the discomfort of its insertion—make me hesitant. Also, I have to walk around with a foreign object inside me for the rest of my reproductive days?
- What about me feeling like I’m losing part of my womanhood?
- We didn’t come here for your personal opinion about our reproductive choices. You are not part of our couple.
Unsurprisingly, this doctor isn’t an outlier in France. In fact, a previous female gyno had said the same thing to us: Better I get the IUD or my tubes tied than husband get sterilized. (Traitor!) Other expats shared similar stories with the husband’s doctor asking—in front of the wife, “What if you want to leave her and have kids with someone else?” Or husband’s French friends flip out and convince him not to do it.
Until 1999, vasectomies were considered “mutilation” in France and were banned under the “Code Napoleon.” French men still seem to believe a vasectomy=castration. (My husband certainly falls into that camp.) Fewer than 1% of French men have had a vasectomy versus 16% in Britain, 11% in the Netherlands and 13% in the U.S. and Canada.* Some expat women even recommend going to the US or UK for a vasectomy as it’s safer, more modern and your choice is not questioned, dissected or harangued by the doctor.
Is it really that bad? Haranguing? Or am I playing this up for the Sexist or Just French angle? Read this and you decide…
“After two pregnancies and grueling births, I didn’t think it was fair that I had to undergo surgery [tubal ligation] as well. My husband, Jean-Luc, agreed it was his turn to take one for the team.
** Names changed
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