I was 28 years old when I had my tubes tied. My son, my fourth boy, was 6 weeks old when I had the surgery. And it was a surgery. It was more painful than I expected but I could never be sure if it was the tubal or giving birth or breastfeeding or what. My body was not my own at all anymore. I felt like I couldn’t stand up straight without feeling like something inside me would tear. My pelvis was a question mark, my spine a constant curve from my fourth epidural, my breasts sore and leaking and full, always so full.
My son’s older brother was just 15 months old, another brother was 5, his oldest brother was 6. None of them slept on their own, all fitful little people who needed three songs before bed, needed to hold my hand, needed to wrap a little fist through my hair, watching my face with unblinking eyes, hoping I would fall asleep with them.
I was 28 and I knew I had enough children. Four boys in seven years and a miscarriage in the middle. I could not seem to not get pregnant. Birth control pills, condoms, IUDs — nothing worked other than not having sex and that wasn’t really an option. My husband was so proud of how much sex we had, all the time. At a dinner party once, when I was a red-faced 26-year-old with the tired body of a 56-year-old, I was cooking a lasagna for neighbors and heard my husband say to a friend in the dining room, “Your wife wouldn’t give it to you for six months after the baby? Jen couldn’t even wait six weeks for it.”
I could have waited six weeks. If I was given the chance I could have slept for a few hours after getting the kids to sleep instead of having sex. Maybe I could have had a bath or read a book or watched an entire movie sitting untouched on the sofa. This was not an option, not for us. Not for him.
A vasectomy was not an option either, I can tell you that for sure. I thought it was after giving birth four times. I thought a vasectomy, a simple outpatient surgery with few complications that can be carried out in 15 minutes, seemed fair. More than fair. Not four vasectomies for four births. Just that one quick vasectomy.
“No way,” he said.
“I can’t,” he explained.
“You don’t understand how it is for a man,” he noted. “It’s so sensitive down there, you really can’t be messing around with things. I just can’t do it. It’s harder for a man than it is for a woman. You’ve already had so much stuff done to you down there so what’s one more thing?”
And so I booked my “one more thing” with my doctor. I drove myself to the hospital in my mother’s borrowed car while she watched the kids. He drove to New Orleans for a work conference for the weekend and left his cell phone at home. The surgery went fine. I felt nothing even though the doctor and the nurses asked me if I was sure. “You’re so young,” one nurse said. “You might want another baby.”
No more babies for me, I told everyone who would listen.
And in the back of my mind a little kernel of an idea was growing. No more babies for me, with or without him.
By the time he came back from New Orleans the deed was done. I was in bed, tired and sore and certain I could hear some of my insides tearing if I stood up too quickly. I was told I was so dramatic, milking it, making such a big deal about basically nothing. I was too tired for sex. Too sore for sex.
I was too tired of him and us and anything that was outside my boys then. He was full of stories about his fun weekend away from us, and so happy not to have to wear a condom anymore. So happy the deed was done as long as it was not by him.
There is not always some last straw, some glass-cracking moment, a perfectly straight line where you can see your marriage before and your separate lives after. But getting my tubes tied was about as close as you get, because I saw my husband then. A shadowy member of my family but not my partner. A man who slept through Christmas dinner, who hid my debit card while he was at work. A man who forced our kids to sit at the table and eat every last bite. Who let them cry themselves to sleep when I worked late nights at a bar. Who called me at work to tell me to come home to breastfeed our baby because he was just 6 weeks old and hungry for me. For years, I could not see past my own hunger for us to be a whole family all together or past my own childhood in a broken home or my own fear of loneliness because no one would want me.
Until he refused to get a vasectomy. And then I could see all the way around him.
I didn’t leave him for nearly two years, but all the time I was thinking I could leave him. Every spare $20 bill would be tucked away, every hint of kindness ignored. I left him on a Friday. I would leave him every Friday if I could. I would leave him over and over again no matter what.
The lives the boys and I built with each other became so full of love. Not easy, not perfect, but what we made in our little home was the sort of bland happiness you forget to think about most days. An easy joy. Our family would not have been right for everyone, and I suppose it was just not right for my husband. I suppose we were not right for him, in the end.
But we were right for us.
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