Saturday, April 05, 2008

On the issue of male pregnancy

Probably since human existence, women, in the midst of labor pains and all the other relative inconveniences of pregnancy, have often wished that their husbands could help carry the load. Many women, especially during labor, have wondered about the unfairness of being the sole bearer of the pain. Why can’t he be the pregnant one? This thought has seeped into the minds and out of the mouths of many women. However, for better or for worse, wishing and reality can be very different things.

My view on male pregnancy is a complex one, but in some sense made simpler by the knowledge that all cases of male pregnancy that I am aware of have had science as an ally and instigator. In order to do justice to my perspective on this topic, I’ll discuss the different roles that I carry and the thoughts that each role provokes about male pregnancy.

1) I am an advocate of women’s rights and advancement, which to many people means that I am a feminist. I don’t object to being called a feminist; after all, I think that every self-respecting person who ever had a mother, sister, aunt, female friend, and so on, should be a feminist. From this feminist perspective, male pregnancy might seem to be a good thing. After all, some of the disadvantages that women experience in the work force, in terms of the rate at which they advance in their fields or even the diversity of the fields they can be represented in, has to do with their unique ability to conceive and give birth to a child. The relatively delicate pregnant woman, her need for maternity leave, her mothering role, and so on do not impress some bosses, who tend to consider the ability to get up and go, without much restriction or hesitation, a virtue. One could argue that one of the reasons women might be more likely to want family time with their kids is that they bore the children or took a significant part in ensuring the well-being of the children early on in life, and as such would like the reward or satisfaction of maintaining a close personal relationship with them. So, with male pregnancy, men might be expected to want more family time. If more men start becoming pregnant, maybe, just maybe, the unfairness in the relative lack of acceptance of women into the top career fields might start to decrease. It is a man’s world (men make most of the laws and decisions that affect everyone else and, hence, necessarily protect their interests). Consequently, reproductive ability (in terms of the ability to become pregnant) may cease to be a disadvantage, since men would be affected as well. However, all this is assuming that a significant number of the male population would be interested in being the pregnant parent.

2) I am a medical student. I am aware of medicine’s fascination with trying to make human beings better. People that are born with congenital diseases, physical deformities, or other diseases, come to the doctor’s office. Medicine’s Achilles' heel is its awareness of its own limitations, which it tries to overcome by finding more ways to advance in its knowledge and capabilities. However, it is one thing to seek advancement for the sake of reducing the rate or onset of death and the degree of suffering; it is quite another to seek advancement purely to satisfy man’s desire to make himself or to see himself recreated for himself or in another. Quite frankly, a pregnant male is an at-risk male with an at-risk embryo or fetus. It is important to be cognizant of the fact that changes during pregnancy are not just restricted to the swelling of the abdomen. Rather, various organs and tissues undergo changes to accommodate the new life. What is the long-term consequence of putting a male body through an experience that it has not been designed for? It is well known that a man’s bone structure is not suited for carrying such a load as pregnancy. Such men may be at risk for post-delivery chronic back pain as the most benign side effect. For someone like Mr. Lee Mingwei, the man reported to be the first pregnant male, instead of a child in the bubble of the uterus, his child had to grow in the abdominal cavity. The lining of the abdominal cavity—the peritoneum—can become inflamed (e.g. from inflammation or infection in nearby organs such as the appendix or from injury to the cavity), a condition called peritonitis, which is a surgical emergency. Moreover, an embryo usually implants into the endometrial wall of the uterus. For males, since there is no uterus to attach to, attachment must be to other organs or structures, which leaves the pregnant male at risk for dangerous complications or organ loss.

3) I am the author of The Looming Fog, a novel that explores the life and social rights of various individuals, including an intersexed individual or a person with “ambiguous genitalia.” In writing a book about an intersexed individual, some assume that I support the lifestyle of most transsexuals, transvestites, and homosexuals. These people who make these assumptions are mostly people who have not actually read my book and, hence, don’t really know what it is about. In exploring the social troubles of an intersexual character, along with those of other characters, my purpose was to show our intolerance for a state or condition that God, for whatever reason, has allowed. My book specifically addresses the inhumanity in debasing a human soul on the basis of his or her poverty, physical appearance, or sex, especially when these factors are not the individual’s doing. My novel tries to show the sickness of a society that condones such a behavior. While the intersexed character in my novel did put on clothes normally worn by the other sex, s/he was wearing both male and female clothes to reflect his/her uncertainty about being either sex or to reflect his/her likeness to each sex; a dressing style that was initially imposed by his/her father. While there was a dream scene about a seahorse giving birth (only the male species do), this is not an indication of my support of male pregnancy. Instead, this particular scene is actually a clue to an important question in the book. A seahorse and a human are different in many ways, one of them being that the male species of one was designed to give birth, while the male species of the other was not designed with that inherent capability. While my spiritual beliefs do not allow me to support the lifestyle of certain people (whether heterosexual or not), I am still expected to respect all people, like I would myself. My differing opinion about people’s way of life does not negate their rights to respectful treatment or to maltreatment-free and abuse-free lives.

4) I am a Christian, as such, I am anxious about humans attempting to repeat man’s first sin: wanting to be like God. I am also not apt to call his creations mistakes. Granted, I can’t explain, for example, why someone was born with a congenital absence of the lower limbs. I might venture to say that maybe it was due to some toxin introduced during prenatal life and so on. No matter what the etiology of the person’s condition may be, such a person is not inferior to me nor am I superior to him or her. I might have a less difficult life, but the degree of pain and suffering that such a person experiences on account of his or her condition relates to what we define or welcome as a respectable human being. The problem is not the creation, but rather the value we ascribe to that creation. So, it is not often a God issue, but rather a problem in human beings' cultivated perception.

5) I am a female. I take great pride in the full mind and body design of the female. I admire her complexity, functionality, and beauty. For whatever reason, the female body was the one designed to grow, nurture, and carry life, and it was not designed to be a disadvantage to women—if it seems so, it is only because our society has allowed it to be so. My body’s ability to nurture life is not one that I’d personally like to see duplicated in my male partner. For a person like Mr. Thomas Beatie, a transgendered male, now a few months pregnant because of his intact female organs, I find him to be a contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, he doesn’t accept his female body, which is incongruent with his male gender or identification, and he has gone through what must have been emotionally, socially, and medically challenging situations just to be able to show others and himself the self that he perceives himself to be. Yet, when the condition so arose, he is not opposed to taking advantage of the female organs he had been born with. Of course, one could argue that it was a very challenging decision to make, but one he made because he found some purpose for his female reproductive organs, as well as a way to bring happiness to the family he has cultivated. I can understand his need to make this decision, and I wish him and his family well. Nevertheless, I take a slight offense to his actions. As a female, I can’t help feeling the cheapening of the female body as something that is valuable mainly because it can carry a life. I think that if we are going to say that whoever made us did not match our body with our gender, we should prove the maker to be completely wrong; otherwise, we become like someone who decides to return a female toy to its maker because it had a male voice or attire, but then later decides to keep the toy’s ovaries. Nonetheless, Mr. Beatie (like anyone else) is entitled to do anything he pleases with his body (within the limits of science or the law).

The risk of male pregnancy to the parent is high (well, maybe not as much for the Mr. Beatie-type of male pregnancy, since "he" is doing what his body had been originally designed to do). Even if the risk of male pregnancy weren't so high, it is not something that I would encourage. Human male pregnancy, in instances where the pregnancy is indeed carried by a biological male, is a scientific reversal of what nature has endorsed. Despite whatever advantages male pregnancy may bring into our modern way of life, I am unwaveringly in favor of the judgments of nature on human reproductive roles.

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