Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Have you heard about what some are calling the latest “parenting trend?”
No, I’m not talking about attachment parenting, or a particular method of discipline. I’m not referring to a certain type of approach to nutrition, or to sleep. No, I’m actually talking about the relatively new phenomenon of vasectomy cakes.
A bakery in Nashville is the most recent to make news for creating such a thing. The now-viral cake was apparently commissioned by a woman for her husband, with the intention of showing “appreciation” for his willingness to undergo the surgery.
Another woman, who in addition to getting a cake also threw her husband a party ahead of his vasectomy, posted about her excitement on Facebook.
“We are thrilled to say we will NOT be adding any more tiny humans to our family,” she wrote underneath a photo of the cake.
What fascinates me most about this trending story is less that people are designing vasectomy cakes — which seems more or less in line with the gender reveal cake idea — but moreso the rhetoric surrounding the phenomenon. It’s now apparently not enough to simply obtain the sterilization procedure — no, now married couples are going public about how downright thrilled they are about the prospect of diminishing their ability to have any future children.
The Nashville mother, who received some online criticism for the cake, defended herself online. “I just wanted to show my husband some support for doing something so selfless and caring for his wife,” she told reporters.
Now she is obviously well-intentioned, and it appears that her husband is, as well. But is a vasectomy really so selfless? Does a man’s decision to go under the knife reflect a truly sacrificial love for his wife?
I’d be willing to bet that most couples pursuing sterilization don’t think a whole lot about it, once they’ve spent time considering whether or not they want more children. That part of the conversation may be agonizing and difficult, certainly, particularly when spouses disagree. But once they’ve come to conclude that they no longer wish to add to their family through procreation, a vasectomy quickly becomes a viable, feasible option. The procedure may indeed appear to be a manifestation of a husband’s love for his wife, sparing her not only the future discomforts of pregnancy, childbirth, and the long years of raising more children, but also a sterilization procedure of her own.
And, objectively speaking, a man getting a vasectomy is making a sacrifice of sorts. He is electing to have his healthy and perfectly-functional body surgically altered, in the name of pursuing what he perceives to be a greater good for his marriage.
Yet the question we must ask ourselves is whether or not the willful frustration of God’s design for marriage — keeping in mind that the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, and that the sexual union of husband and wife naturally includes the possibility of procreation — could ever possibly serve the greater good.
No, I’m not saying there are never important or even heroic reasons for a couple making the decision to stop having children. Sometimes, there are. But is recourse to surgical sterilization, as compared to natural family planning methods or, alternately, a decision to remain humbly open to the possibility of more children, capable of bringing about something objectively good for a marriage?
The answer is, in spite of what our culture claims, no.
Before someone tries to argue that their sterilization netted this or that positive result (or at the very least did not bring about a negative result) — and yes, I do believe that plenty of people don’t perceive any sort of negative fallout from such procedures — consider the fact that, in general, couples remain uneasy about sterilization. Deep down, they appear to sense something is “off,” somehow.
There remains, for all our modern progressivist notions and sensibilities, a mysterious and deep-seated discomfort among both men and women when it comes to sterilization. That is what drives the desire to either, on the one hand, speak in hushed tones about what’s happening at the urologist’s office (if we speak about it at all), or throw big parties and commission sperm-themed cakes on the other. We are a people strangely uncomfortable with continuing in a marriage devoid of the possibility of children, even as we embrace birth control, sterilization and “reproductive rights” in increasingly large numbers.
For a couple considering sterilization, it’s surely at least worth asking the question why. Why the lingering uneasiness surrounding the procedure, why is this the one area where couples are encouraged to go to the extreme length of elective surgery, only to fix something that is clearly not broken, and why the feverish excitement that compels some to not only purchase vasectomy cakes, but rave about them, and the choice to restrict the procreation of any future children, on social media? And why are those cakes going viral?
And, is there a better way? Is it possible that the goal of happiness in marriage — and who doesn’t want a happy marriage? — is better served through a couple taking up the position so simply stated by Pope St. John Paul II who, when writing as Karol Wojtyła, said that sex between spouses must necessarily include the attitude of “I may become a mother,” or “I may become a father?”
We are, without a doubt, a culture that has bought into the notion that marriage, sex, and children need not go together. And though contraception, sterilization and abortion have made this worldview somewhat achievable, we remain faced with difficult questions that remain largely unanswered. What is marriage, what is God’s intention for married sexuality, and how ought love manifest itself, over time, between spouses?
It is worth considering, at the very least, whether it’s possible for one to have their vasectomy cake and eat it too.