Since January 2015, WINGS is proud to offer voluntary surgical contraception (tubal ligations for women and vasectomies for men) as one of our valued reproductive health services. We have seen an overwhelming need for these services throughout Guatemala with many women and men having wanted a permanent procedure for some time, but unable to find affordable care. We are both surprised and encouraged by the number of men, 37 so far, who have chosen a vasectomy, as we anticipated performing 10 vasectomies throughout all of 2015. Our incredibly subsidized prices have allowed numerous men and women to access their contraceptive method of choice.
In spite of these initial successes, we know many barriers remain to acceptance and use of permanent contraception in Guatemala, especially for men. Besides cost, men confront misconceptions and stigmas about vasectomies such as they cause impotence and they are emasculating. It is a commonly held belief in Guatemala that the size of one's family reflects a man's worth, therefore, limiting the number of children a man could have undermines his worth. Secondly, male involvement in family planning is not only limited in Guatemala, but also a taboo. Family planning is believed to be a woman's issue and therefore, it is her responsibility to use a method.
Despite these barriers, 22 men came to our vasectomy clinic in Antigua this past month and underwent the quick procedure. Daniel was one of the first men to arrive, accompanied by his partner, Gaby. Daniel and Gaby live in Guatemala City, an hour away from our office, and had been interested in a vasectomy for a long time but unfortunately nearby services were always too expensive, over $150 in a country where 43.5% of the population survives on less than $450 per year. They planned to wait until they saved enough money for the procedure but luckily, Gaby heard about our clinic in Antigua, where we asked men for only a $ 6.50 donation for their procedure.
Gaby quickly let Daniel know so that he could take time off work and the couple arrived at our clinic grateful for the opportunity they were given. Daniel told us that he never had any children, but he and Gaby are parents to her 10-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
Daniel and Gaby feel very happy with the family they now have and together made a decision not to have any more children. Daniel confessed that, although he considers himself an open-minded and progressive person who is not afraid to speak his mind, he decided not to share his plans about having a vasectomy with anyone until after the procedure.
“My family and friends think a man should have children. If they knew I was planning to do this, they would have tried to convince me to change my mind. But I feel that my parents and grandparents didn’t raise me to blindly follow society’s norms. I believe a man or a woman has a right to make their own decision about if and when they want to have children.”
Kevin, who arrived shortly after Daniel and Gaby, made the decision to have a vasectomy to make sure his wife Vivian can lead a long, healthy life.
Vivian had serious complications during her first pregnancy. For months her feet and face were severely swollen, she was extremely weak and was advised to rest. During labor Vivian lost consciousness twice and had to be revived by the attendings - she nearly died during delivery.
Luckily, Vivian made it through labor and she and the baby are now doing well. However, the attending doctor told the couple that if Vivian becomes pregnant again, she may face life-threatening complications during the pregnancy. Considering what his wife suffered while delivering their child, the couple wanted a real solution to preventing future pregnancies. Tubal ligation was out of the question due to the high risk of complications for Vivian. Kevin didn’t want his wife to have to take hormones for years, and since they were both sure they didn’t want to have anymore children, he offered to have a vasectomy. The couple struggled to find affordable services in their area, but, having heard of WINGS’ clinic, they decided to call one of our team members to reserve an appointment for the procedure.
Post surgery, Kevin and Vivian shared how happy they are now that they don't have to worry about future pregnancies putting Vivian´s life at risk.
Later in the day, 50 year old Roger came to the clinic. A veterinarian by trade, he works for a large dairy company and spends much of his time organizing clinics to care for animals. Roger and his wife who have 3 children between 10 and 14 years of age decided their family size was just right and started looking into their contraceptive options.
The day of the vasectomy clinic, Roger shared his thoughts about family planning with WINGS, “In Guatemala, the idea of men being involved in family planning is a huge taboo. The idea that ‘a man is no longer a man” after having a vasectomy is very common.” He believes that a lack of information is to blame for these misguided ideas.
Roger opposes the machismo culture in Guatemala which means women would undergo the operation, not the men. “Women are expected to do everything, men nothing...just lie on the sofa” he says.
Pleased with his decision to have a vasectomy, Roger believes he and his wife can provide for their children and offer them everything they need to have a head start in life.
We congratulate Daniel, Kevin, Roger, and all the men who have chosen to take an active role in the health and future of their families, setting an example for other men, and breaking down barriers to reproductive health in Guatemala.
Thank you for your support and for making reproductive rights a reality for all in Guatemala.
Daniel and Gaby