Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reproductive Choice Goes Both Ways

One of the ways I waste time on the internet is posting on a few parenting-themed message boards. A topic that pops up every few weeks is "my parter/spouse and I can't agree on how many children to have - what do I do?", and lately I've seen a trend that bothers me, where it's assumed that women should be the sole person to decide how many children to have.

Recently, there was a discussion where a man decided that he didn't want to father more children, so he scheduled a vasectomy. At the last minute, his wife started panicking and having second thoughts about not being able to have more children, and asked for advice. Some of the responses surprised me - telling the woman to call the hospital and beg him not to do it, to drive down there to get him to try to change his mind, reminders that he likely still has a few months of good sperm left so she can get him to try to change his mind and get pregnant again soon (or have some swimmers frozen for possible later use) , and several posters flat out said that they didn't think that this was a decision that he should be able to make without her permission.

First of all, why would you want to create another child with someone who absolutely doesn't want one? Why the assumption that he'll automatically have a change of heart and step up to the plate and be Super Dad (or even Adequate Dad) if she gets pregnant again? Shouldn't he commended for taking charge of the situation?

Surgery usually isn't something that is done lightly and it can't be done on a whim - you have a pre-surgery consult, and then usually a few weeks before they can get you into the OR, and pre-op testing to go through. At any time through that process, you can stop. So I think it's safe to assume that someone who goes through the whole shebang is pretty serious about wanting it done.

Reading through all this, I thought of the outcry if the situation was reversed. If the woman had decided she was done for whatever reason - health, finances, already having a child that needed a large amount of care and attention, or just realizing that her childhood dream of having 6 kids would make her crazy - and decided to get a tubal, or even an IUD, people would be up-in-arms at the suggestion that her partner should be able to veto it, or change his mind at the last minute and demand that the surgery be canceled or postponed. (And remember, in the not-so-distant-past, husbands had to sign consent forms for a tubal ligation!)

Yes, marriage is a partnership, and ideally two people should be able to agree on reproductive choices, but sometimes it doesn't happen and we should not fault anyone - regardless of their gender - for taking concrete steps to end their own fertility if it's what they truly want.


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