Loren McGinnis’s Big Snip

“It’s not a big deal. It’s nothing.”

That was the chorus of paper-thin support I got from all of my male friends who have had a vasectomy.

In the weeks leading up to my 40th birthday, I got a pair of Crocs and I got a vasectomy – sure signs of entering the next chapter. And surer signs still of leaving the chapter before where my virility was important to me and I wore shoes that were supposed to make a similar point.

The Crocs I got from the dump. So my commitment to them feels manageably low. They’re mine because they were in the right place (YKEA) at the right time (Saturday morning). They’re less a signpost on the highway into middle-age.  

But the vasectomy I got from a doctor. It’s permanent, sort of. And rather than head to the dump for my vasectomy, I followed the directions I was given to the clinic: “Beside the Brick, right by Pizza Hut. It’s not a big deal. It’s nothing.”

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Do you know how they give a vasectomy? They make a small incision in your scrotum, pull out your vas deferens (picture an ichiban noodle), slice it, burn both the severed ends (when the smoke gets in your eyes!), and then crimp each burned end with a small titanium clamp. Not a big deal? Nothing?

The doctor tried to put me at ease. She pointed to the modest tools required: needles for freezing, a scalpel, some alcohol wipes, an elastic band to hold the frank away from the beans, a couple titanium clamps, and a bic lighter. Kidding. It was a small torch.

She plugged her phone in and spun her vasectomy playlist: all Dallas Green. Flaccid rock, melancholy, Canadian Content. Not my thing, but a fitting soundtrack to the scene in the movie when I retire my ability to reproduce.

Or was this the end of baby making? There are incredible stories and stats that a responsible physician must share with you. Sometimes the vasectomy doesn’t take. And even when it does work at first, there’s the Hail Mary: something like one in 10,000 people whose vas deferens is sliced, charred, then clamped can somehow, someway, still manage to produce a baby.

I picture that super-sperm. It swims to a dead end. Doesn’t give up! Starts to push and shift the obstacles. Squeeeeezes through the clamp. Then, like an underground miner looking for daylight and fresh air after a collapse, it somehow climbs through the burned end and swims out into a wild soupy world without a map. It then finds the other end of another blocked tunnel. The next unthinkable push ensues. Through the charred end, wriggling past the clamp, into the next tunnel and out into the final stretch of the miraculous journey to inseminate an egg. Nine months later, Usain Bolt is born. At least, that’s my hunch, coupled with what I recall from 9th Grade biology.

My surgery was not not a big deal. And was not nothing. There was one howler of a moment at the beginning when the doctor identified that I needed more freezing. And more significantly I had a pretty good ball-ache for a week or two.

Walking gingerly through a pharmacy to re-up on the pain-killers, I bumped into a guy I used to play hockey with. Not a close friend, but showering together gave us a comfort I can’t easily explain. He asked how I was doing and I told him I’d just had a vasectomy. “Aaaah, it’s not a big deal. It’s nothing,” he said in a thick French accent. “But just to warn you,” he added “there may be a bit less semen, like maybe half.”

If you can believe it, I’ve written this not as a caution, but as a celebration of the vasectomy.

This step is the first significant one I’ve taken, compared to my partner’s years of taking almost all the responsibility for birth control. And as more people heard I’d had a vasectomy, a number of women wrote and said some version of, “this is a good thing to do.” I feel that. And their acknowledgment certainly felt like the closest thing to saying, though it may not be a huge deal, it’s something!

Finally, this is the last time I’ll talk about the incision, the burning, the crimping, the ache.

From now on, when one of my male friends says they’re pondering it, I’ll repeat the blank-shooter’s mantra: It’s no big deal. It’s nothing.

Loren McGinnis is a father of two. That’s likely it. He also hosts the Trailbreaker on CBC North Radio One.

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