A Dull, Gray Day

Summer                                                           New (Most Heat) Moon

It is what my Aunt Roberta would have called a dull, grey day. For my Aunt Roberta, Aunt Barbara and Aunt Marjorie most days were dull and grey. All three had a bipolar diagnosis. Aunt Barbara remained hospitalized for most of her life. Aunt Roberta was in and out of the state hospital as she got older and after her divorce from Uncle Ray. Aunt Marjorie starved herself to death after a career as a dietitian and a life long reputation as the family’s best cook by far.

(where the grocery store used to be in Aunt Roberta’s tiny community of Arlington, Indiana)

This is the set up for my vasectomy story which I’ve recounted briefly here before. It was 1973 and the feminist movement had begun to flow through academic institutions like the wave at a baseball game. When it hit United Theological Seminary, where I was a second year student, I was already committed to women’s liberation. (And, yes, I know I still carry my sexist upbringing with me and make my slips.)

This was also before I went through treatment at Hazelden’s outpatient program so drinking was still part of my life, as were the exaggerated mood changes that go with it. As a result, I wondered then about my own sanity, though after treatment it was clear the mood changes were chemically enhanced.

Being sexually active (this was still the 60’s culturally) and aware of the imbalance between women’s responsibility for contraception and men’s tendency to exploit it, I began to consider a vasectomy.

What made the decision sensible to me, even though 26, single and childless, was the history of bipolar illness in my mother’s family. I saw then and see in the same way now no need to pass those kind of genes along in the collective pool. Neither did I have then nor do I have now any need to reproduce my self, the selfish gene be damned. It was then that I committed myself to adoption if I ever wanted a family, though having a family felt unlikely at the time.

My decision was made without consulting any one else. It was my responsibility and I would see to it. A clinic on Rice Street in St. Paul found time on their schedule and I went in around 4 o’clock on a spring afternoon. The procedure is simple and was so in my case save for too little anesthetic as we began. Which a quick indrawn breath and a wince remedied.

Since that time 41 years ago, I have been functionally infertile. I’ve never regretted the decision though I did try to have it reversed in my mid-30’s. My second wife wanted a child of her own. The reversal failed and we reverted to the adoption plan which had been my preference since 1973.

(I put this in for our dogs.)

It’s not something I think about very often though it does come up. It surfaces usually when I recall the agony of my three aunts, how much I cared about them and how little the family’s love could do to quiet their inner life.


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