Family

We Were Done Having Children — Until His Vasectomy Failed

Photo: Ashley Kemmer
Samantha at stepson's wedding

56 plus 18 equals 74. 

I watched my husband Bob as he held the little piece of plastic in his hand. While he was staring intently at the two pink lines, unable to comprehend the results of the test I’d just taken, I was busy doing the math.

74. Bob would be 74 when this baby graduated from high school. 

All the stereotypes of Hollywood actresses having children with geriatric men flashed in my mind. Three years ago, Bob and I discussed the possibility of having a third child.

We’d weighed the pros and cons, but in the end, we both knew it wasn’t truly an option. While I was in my thirties, Bob was 53; we’d already pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for middle-class, suburban couples like us. 

So, we’d made the decision Bob would have a vasectomy.

At Bob’s follow-up appointment, the doctor confirmed the success of the procedure, and we left feeling reassured. It wasn’t until a late-night Google search seven months later, after my period never came and I was overcome with exhaustion, that I learned vasectomies can fail. The odds may be rare, around 1 in 2000 cases, but it is possible.

I’d decided to take a test that November morning because, even though my brain said there was no way I was pregnant, in my heart, I already knew.

Eight years earlier, having one child with Bob seemed like an unlikely possibility.

We were friends and colleagues, but nothing more, until the week we both attended a conference for public educators at Gettysburg College. We hadn’t seen each other since school let out, and as we reconnected, the energy between us felt different.

As we stood drinking cheap beer and making small talk at a makeshift social event after our classes ended one evening, I found myself drawn to his muscular arms and barrel chest. The attraction caught me off guard; I’d never looked at Bob that way before.

I tried to shake my feelings, but they lasted after the week-long conference, where Bob and I spent hours after class talking and laughing.

By the time the new school year began, we were dating, though neither one of us expected it to last too long. With our twenty-year age difference and his two teenage sons, we both assumed one of us would eventually put an end to our courtship. Somehow, that point never came.

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I made it clear I wanted children, and without hesitation, Bob told me he was willing. In eight months, we were engaged, and we married the following summer.

We didn’t wait long to start building a family. I let the fact that Bob didn’t look 50 override any concerns I had about having children with a man who might someday be mistaken for their grandfather. Our boys were born twenty months apart, and then, despite the fact that I’d always envisioned having a bigger family, we decided we were done.

Or so we thought.

A couple of weeks after I took the test, I sat across from two of my girlfriends for brunch at a posh restaurant in the city.

I was really nervous; both were desperately trying to conceive their second children and I wasn’t sure how to share my news. As I picked at my piece of toast, hoping to hide my morning sickness, the waiter asked if we’d like mimosas. My refusal and pea-green face gave me away. 

Confessing my first two pregnancies had been joyful experiences; this time, all I felt was embarrassment. I expected people would judge us for being so irresponsible, and I needed them to know it was God who did this, not us. 

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"Bob’s vasectomy failed. I’m pregnant," I told them as I avoided making eye contact.

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Seconds after processing my news, one of my girlfriends broke the silence.  "Wow. Who would have thought, you married the old guy, and we’re the ones who can’t conceive?" We laughed together at the absurd irony of my situation, and for the first time, I felt relief.

A 12-week appointment with my doctor confirmed what I’d feared. My due date was July 14, two weeks after Bob’s oldest son’s wedding. We’d been so excited to celebrate, but now, I would be huge and uncomfortable and completely sober. The timing couldn’t be any worse.

That winter, I found Bob sitting at the kitchen table, talking on his phone and jotting things down in a notepad. Bob avoided doctors at all costs, so I was surprised to find him scheduling appointments with specialists I’d been nagging him to see for months.

He’d also started eating vegan, working out, and drinking less. Though I was pleased he was prioritizing his health, his quiet resignation concerned me. This pregnancy was a blatant reminder of his age and eventual mortality. Maybe I had gotten the family I always wanted, but was it at Bob’s expense?

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Two weeks before my due date, I squeezed my swollen body into a dress I had purchased online since I couldn’t find a store that sold step-mother-of-the-groom-maternity dresses.

As I stared at myself in the mirror, I cringed thinking of the spectacle of which I was about to be a part. I pictured the wedding guests secretly laughing at Bob and me. I silently prayed I’d go into labor and miss the whole thing.

My prayers went unanswered, but instead of being the butt of jokes, I was met with words of encouragement and compassion from everyone. Why, then, was I feeling so anxious?

I realized as I sat at the table inhaling my second piece of cake that what I really was afraid of was that Bob wouldn’t be around to share this experience with our sons. Maybe it hadn’t been other people judging me that I was concerned about; perhaps, I was judging myself. Had I been selfish in marrying an older man who I loved completely, ignoring the impact of his age on our children?

Three days after the wedding, I went into labor.

When our third son was born, they laid him on my chest and he immediately stopped crying. He nestled in as if he knew that this was where he was meant to be. He was the perfect combination of the both of us: Bob’s nose and lips but my blue eyes and blond hair. As I wrapped my arms around his tiny body, Bob kissed me.

"He’s a beautiful miracle," he whispered.

Our life is not simple, as any parent of toddlers can attest to, and Bob’s age doesn’t help.

While his siblings are busy being grandparents, he’s chasing after three boys under the age of 9.

It may not be easy or restful, but it is a full and vibrant life filled with love. I’m not sure it makes much sense to question it all now. This world is a better place with my boys in it, and they wouldn’t be who they are if Bob wasn’t their father. When I look at our unique modern family, I can’t help but feel that, while vasectomies may fail, fate does not.

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Samantha Westerlund is a writer and public educator. Through her essays and blogs, she shares authentically the joys and struggles of being a mother in a non-traditional family living in suburban America.

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