I’m writing this with my feet up and an ice-pack on my groin…so please forgive the brrrrrevity.  (Get it?)

Yesterday I had my vasectomy.  Mrs. Mindcrime and I have decided to make a commitment to the child-free lifestyle…in the most tender way possible.  (No, the innuendo will not stop as you read on.)

For us it was a long path to this point and I’d like to share a few of our insights in the hopes that they may help someone else along the way.  However, if you are looking for a sappy story – you should probably find another blog.

Mrs. Mindcrime and I are pretty play-by-the-rules kind of people.  We work long hours, spend lots of time with family, exercise, have well-behaved dogs, are civically engaged citizens, spend time outdoors, and maintain a meticulous household.  So after a few years of (blissfully happy) marriage we had a conversation that went like this:

“If we are going to have kids, we should get started, shouldn’t we?”

(Insert the following reasons:  It will make parents happy, our friends are having kids, we’re getting older, we’d make good parents…etc)

“Yeah, I guess we should.  We’ve saved up a large enough nest egg and we put off having a child last year for that nice trip.”

“We can still travel with a kid, right?”

Notice the sense of obligation and the word SHOULD.

A viewing of the hilarious movie Idiocracy could also sum up part of our sense of smugly elitist obligation as well:

Frankly the stupid are breeding in crazy numbers and we needed to do something to stem the tide.

Being ‘good soldiers’ we proceeded according to the cultural script for people in our position.  However, after a year of trying for a child we sought some medical help.  A short time later it was determined that yours truly was the problem.  Let me put it this way – I’m a very strong swimmer, but apparently that would not be a trait that I would be passing on.  (There isn’t a lot of quality discussion out there on the web about male infertility/sub fertility.  Most of the sites focus on how women feel but I will tell you this – it is a pretty big blow to the male ego, trust me.)  Conception was not going to be impossible for us, it was just going to be expensive.  Like $40,000 expensive for a 40% chance of conception.

Ouch – that caused some debate, not between us but between concepts of having children and the child-free lifestyle.  We both had been somewhat ambiguous in our desire to have children in the early years of our marriage and $40,000 has a way of making you face your feelings in a very real way.  I mean, we wanted to do the “right” thing and have a kid, but did we $40,000 want to have a kid??

Very tellingly in a single conversation we ruled out the ideas of sperm donor and adoption.  They just didn’t feel right to us.  (BTW: Hats off to anyone who can raise a child not out of biological imperative, but out of love.  You guys are awesome, but I am not you.)

At this point we did the typical things that over-educated middle class people do when confronted with a big decision.  We researched the fuck out of it.  We read studies on life regrets, happiness, birth defects, you name it.  Most are inconclusive.

We went online and read blogs and discussion forums full of people who were in the same or similar boats.  There are a significant number of places to go for information on the web, but there are few places to read much about the child-free lifestyle (except for this brilliantly amusing blog).  I think that is because most people pass through the decision point and then spend their time online with their hobbies, or at travel sites.

There were books on infertility and coping with it.  Particularly insightful was the (first two chapters of) the book “Sweet Grapes”   The big takeaway was that at some point you have to make a decision and that is how you get your sense of control back.  Many people feel a loss of control when they thought they had a choice, but suddenly feel that choice is taken away when they find out that having children will be difficult for them.  In a strange way our experience was the opposite.  Having children had always been a given for us.  I’d viewed it as one of those things in life that everyone has to endure in life – like PE classes or having your wisdom teeth out.   As we proceeded through our process we were faced with having a choice -REALLY having a choice for the first time.  That was somewhat disorienting.

We went to an infertility support group meeting – once.  There we met a nice and heartbroken woman, “Mary” who was going through IVF for the third and final time and she said something very pointedly insightful.  She said that she couldn’t imagine a meaningful life without children and that IVF was such an intense process that you should not even start it unless you can’t imagine your life without kids.  We got in the car and before we drove out of the parking lot Mrs. Mindcrime said “I am not Mary.  We are not like them.”

We went to a counselor – once.  In a profound moment my wife said, “What I really want is closure on this issue.  If I try IVF then I’ll know that I did everything I could to have a kid, and be able to move on – guilt free.”  The therapist insightfully replied, “You do not do IVF for closure.  You do it for a child.”  That hit us like a ton of bricks.  What we wanted was PERMISSION TO LIVE THE LIFE WE WANTED – to let us off the hook.  We both admitted that we just wanted someone to tell us that we have no other option other than to not have kids.  The therapist went on to explain that we’d probably need to talk about it for a number of months and that eventually one decision would feel better than the other.  Not 100% certain, but a 60-40 split.

We had loooong discussions at the dinner table.  One of the big insights we derived was that having kids is a ready-made life meaning system.  Our culture is (logically for survival reasons) constructed around a belief that having kids gives your life meaning.  We realized that we would need to find our own path to meaningful ives.  We were OK with that.

We have lived with our decision to be child-free for over a year now.  We thought we’d try it on for size and if we were still content with our decision to live child-free then we’d go all-in with the vasectomy.  Over the past year we were occasionally peppered with questions about our intentions with regards to breeding and in conversation people often attempted to seed doubt about our decisions – particularly if they have made different choices.  They are usually well-meaning people and at the same time often a big chunk of their identity is at stake.  Many times people’s disagreement about lifestyle choices is seeded in the doubts they have about their own choices (people who have kids can’t admit to their own 60-40 splits).  During the year we took a 6-week camping road trip along the Trans-Canada highway – that sealed the deal, we knew what we wanted our lifestyle to look like.

Hence, the ice pack on my nuts.  Here’s a tip…get bags of frozen peas they conform very nicely!

So far as the procedure goes it was done in about 10 minutes – and it was more uncomfortable and weird than painful.  (You don’t have to just take my word for it,) If they offer you the valium – take it.  If they don’t – make an appointment with someone else.  Had the doctor been working on my teeth, elbow, or ANYPLACE else the discomfort would not have been worth mentioning – but he wasn’t just working anyplace else, was he?

The biggest thing I want to share about getting a vasectomy and committing to the child-free lifestyle in such a permanent way is the sense of relief that comes with making a real decision like this.  I’ve always believed this about decisions:  They are best made when you eliminate any other possibility other than the one you’ve selected. Indeed where does the word decide come from?  It’s Latin root words literally mean “to cut off”.

Kinda' fits in this context...don't you think?
Kinda’ fits in this context…don’t you think?

This is the life I have chosen, we have chosen for ourselves.  I like it – I’m happy and I’m grateful that we didn’t have an easy time making our decision through default.  Too many people decide to have children because what they want is to feel normal.  Since making our decision we have seen others struggle for various reasons with the same issue, and in some cases we are baffled by the lengths to which they will go when they are ambiguous about having kids in the first place- but those are their decisions to make, not ours.  And when they get what they want and a child arrives they too will have no possibility of changing their minds.

My wife and I are a child-free couple and we’re happily and confidently content with our decision.  We like our friends kids, enjoy our nieces and nephews, I work in education, and in addition to her job as an ecologist she does volunteer work at a local nature center that often includes teaching children.  While we enjoy the financial benefits and free time that comes with a child-free lifestyle, we do not dislike children nor are we secretly pining for children of our own.  We are secure in our decisions knowing who we are and what is best for us.

What is fascinating to me is that we can’t seem to find examples of secure, content, and kind child-free people in entertainment media.  If we were to judge our lifestyles against what is available on the television we would certainly think ourselves an aberration.

What about all of the confirmed bachelors that populate action films and science fiction?  James Bond never had kids, neither does Captain Picard.  True, but they live lifestyles that simply prohibit families.  I’m talking here about characters that pursue or have meaningful relationships and do not fit into one of two stereotypes:

  1. Children Haters:  These characters feed the narrative that “people without children don’t like kids”.  I would also clump characters who are incredibly selfish into this category.
  2. Childless and Regretting It:  In other words “anyone without kids must be infertile and therefore goes home to cry about how empty their lives are.”

Here are a few examples I have noticed recently (contains a few very minor spoilers):

Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz on “The Big Bang Theory“: In the episode “The Shiny Trinket Maneuver” discusses her feelings about wanting to be child-free but then seems to give in to Wolowitz at the end of the episode, provided that he stays home with the kids.  This seems to turn a child-free character into a mere gender role reversal.  However, she too is hostile to children thus her hesitation to procreate is based upon the dislike of children.

Robin Scherbatsky on “How I Met Your Mother” was proudly child-free, but not inherently hostile to children.  She seemed like a good example of someone who was merely comfortable in the fact that they don’t want children.  Unfortunately, the writers ruined this by having it revealed that she is unable to have children, which feeds the annoying stereo type that the only people without children are those who can’t have them.

House of Cards” main character Frank Underwood openly dislikes children, he’s not exactly a stereotype busting character.  However, his wife Claire, while showing some pangs of regret over her decision not to have children with Frank, is kind to the children of Peter Russo.   She shows kindness while maintaining that she does not want children because it wasn’t for her.  Claire was the closest thing I have seen to a sensible child free character.  However, in the final episode of Season 1 she is seen in a fertility clinic to inquiring about her chances for having a child.  This change of character feeds the belief that even those who appear to be content with the child-free decision are secretly regretting it.  What compounds the stereotype is that Claire has her moment of regret after being confronted by a woman who derives her self-righteousness from being pregnant.  Suddenly awash with self-doubt Claire asks Frank if what they were doing with their lives was “for” anything.  (Implying that the only thing that makes a person’s life work worth something is if they procreate.)  Unfortunately, neither Claire nor Frank Underwood are exactly role models of a moral lifestyle, but I had hoped that she could at least exemplify a person being well adjusted when it comes to the child-free option.

I do not dislike these shows in fact they are all my guilty pleasures (man cannot live on Frontline and Nova alone!).  But it would be nice to see a few child-free by choice characters begin to emerge somewhere that are not excessively shallow and selfish and who like children.  I’m sure that someone who is a more devoted fan of the aforementioned shows could probably find nuances of plot or dialogue  that would diminish the value of my examples, but I feel they generally serve to support my case.

I do not know why the stereotypes of child-free people persist, maybe it’s just a tool for lazy writers to create drama and character conflict.  But when my wife and I sit down to watch TV we do not tend to watch shows about ‘busy families’ and we are finding that shows about single people in their 20s “looking for relationships” is starting to wear thin.  Those shows invariably have one of the main characters get pregnant and then gush about how life was so meaningless beforehand.

I would argue that advertisers and entertainment producers would be rewarded for embracing this key demographic.  A 2011 study by the Center for Work-Life Policy discovered that 43% of Generation X Women are childless (or child free) and that Generation X men and women are displaying a substantially increased preference for the child-free lifestyle.  Often these people have more disposable income and advanced levels of education, which may be prized by advertisers.

I have little faith in modern entertainment media’s willingness to take chances with challenging stereotypes just to do the right thing.  There is, however, cause for substantial faith in the fact that the desire to appeal to an audience with money to spend might just encourage the portrayal of more well-adjusted child-free characters.