Jamie Oliver, who considered a vasectomy, is to be a father again. Neil Lyndon reflects on his own decision 11 years ago.
I'm crossing my fingers my wife won't see the news that Jamie Oliver's wife, Jools, is expecting their fifth child in August. Apparently, he revealed last week, this happy development comes after she talked the 40-year-old chef out of having a vasectomy.
If my wife hears this, it will certainly be held against me. For the past 10 years, she has been feeling vaguely cheated by the vasectomy I had in 2005.
When, all those years ago, I told a lifelong woman friend that I had decided on the snip, she encouraged me, saying: "A vasectomy is the most loving gift a man can give to his wife."I am compelled to agree, but that's not entirely how my wife tends to see it. If challenged, she would readily admit that she agreed, at the time, that the decision was entirely rational and in our best interests as a family. But in a remote corner of her mind, she believes my operation deprived her of a full quota of babies.
I was probably a rather unusual customer for a vasectomy. I imagine most men in their late fifties - as I was then - don't have to worry about contraception; but I was married to a woman almost 20 years younger; and, after our second daughter was born in 2005, it was prudent to make sure there should not be another. From previous marriages, I already had an adult son and stepson. Between us, my wife and I had all the children we could deal with. Neither of us relished the prospect that she might be taking chemical contraceptives - with their uncertain long-term effects - for a further 10 years.
At the same time, I have always been troubled and irked that men have so little power or influence over long-term contraception. If a Pill for men existed, I should certainly have been willing to take it. But in the absence of that supremely desirable development - how much longer must we wait? - the simplest and most complete solution lay with the surgeon wielding his knife.
Other men might have had to deal with emotional trauma, perhaps feeling that they were ending their reproductive days and, thereby, unmanning themselves. After a life full of sexual adventure, family life and children, I was not troubled by those feelings.
As to the medical procedure itself, I gave it about as much thought as I would to the prospect of a dental filling. Typical man, you might say.
Nobody on this planet is less inclined to tolerate witless, sexist generalisations about men, but I have to admit to living up to the cliched stereotypes as far as my health is concerned. I don't take it seriously, and never think about it unless something goes wrong. And, when something does go wrong, I'll always ignore it until it becomes disabling in the hope that it might simply go away.
My leading concern about the vasectomy, naturally, was to wonder if it might diminish my pleasure in sex. I knew that my regular golfing partner had subjected himself to the snip after the birth of their second child. Had he noticed any difference in his desires or his sensations, I asked. "None at all," he shrugged.
That was good enough for me. That was the full extent of my research into this life-changing moment. My so-called friend somehow omitted to tell me that he had been given a general anaesthetic for his vasectomy. I didn't discover that until I was ready to start walking the course again. After the swellings and the pains had subsided to a bearable degree.I have no idea how typical my experiences have been; but men considering a vasectomy might be well-advised to make sure they get gentler, kindlier treatment.
My vasectomy was organised by my NHS GP practice. It arranged an appointment for me at a private hospital. Is it possible that I was given more cursory treatment because payment was coming from the public purse, rather than my own?
Things got off to an ominous start when the consultant who was to perform the operation entered the room where I was sitting on the operating table, naked from the waist down.I started merrily singing Gilbert and Sullivan's "Behold the Lord High Executioner".
He - a small, twitchy man with strands of black hair combed across a balding pate - smiled thinly, as if thinking "Let's see if you're still finding it all so amusing in a couple of minutes, squire." He immediately grew testy on seeing that my genitals were unshaven.
"Surely you must have been told to make yourself ready," he scowled."There was nothing in any of the information I received which included that instruction," I answered.
This exchange didn't seem to improve his mood. He took up a razor.
I had never shaved my groin but I imagine the job can be done without making you feel as if your most sensitive parts are being scraped with a grinding stone. I instinctively shrank and retreated.
"Do try to keep still," he said impatiently, telling the attendant nurse to hold my shoulders.
Then came the needle for the local anaesthetic.
"You'll feel a prick," the surgeon said - in much the same tones as a dentist will say, "you'll feel a scratch" before anaesthetising your gum.
What I felt, however, was like a sliver of white-hot fire in the very place where men feel any pain acutely. I had never before grasped the meaning of the term "climbing the walls" in agony. Now I found my back propelling itself up the wall at the head of the bed as I gave out a cry between a gasp and a scream.
"Come on," the surgeon snapped, "It's not that bad."
"Allow me to be the judge of that," I answered.
As soon as the surgeon had completed his work, I was shown to the door of the hospital. Within minutes. Nobody asked how I was going to get home. Nobody noticed that I could hardly walk to the car when my wife came to pick me up nor that she had to help me get into the passenger seat.
When I got home, I went straight to bed and stayed there for most of the next three days, getting up only to have long baths in warm waters laced with tea-tree oil.
Gradually, however, everything stopped hurting and eventually I stopped worrying. Normal life resumed in every aspect. My golfing partner had been right about that.
It never crosses my mind now to remember that I have had a vasectomy. My wife only mentions it after visitors have brought their babies to our house, when she will look at me darkly and mutter "where are the twins I should have had?"
Since she is now 50 and I shall be 70 this year, this question strikes me as being largely theoretical, but it will certainly be raised pointedly the moment she hears about Jamie and Jools Oliver.
I shall answer in the words of my old friend: "Surely, darling, a vasectomy is the most loving gift a man can give to his wife?" But I expect she will be as unconvinced as Mrs Oliver.