Male pregnancy is the future
When my son was three years old, he told me that women have certain advantages: "They get to have babies and wear hats indoors." Judging by my male Princeton students, some of whom wear caps to class, men have already crossed the second barrier. But the first — having a baby — still remains a fantasy.
And fantasize men do. In "Junior," Arnold Schwarzenegger carries a pregnancy. In his novel "The Fourth Procedure," attorney Stanley Pottinger creates a female transplant surgeon who surreptitiously implants a fetus into the belly of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice in an attempt to change his view on abortion. At www.malepregnancy.com, male artist Lee Mingwei simulates pregnancy. You can watch a video of a pregnant Lee trying to convince someone to give up a seat on the bus for him — and see daily ultrasounds of how his fetus is developing.
Within the scientific community, rumors abound about primate experiments. A Chinese doctor supposedly facilitated a pregnancy in a male chimp (but, during general Cultural Revolution riots, his lab was destroyed). Cecil Jacobson, a Virginia doctor who attained notoriety by using his own sperm rather than donor sperm to impregnate his female infertility patients, claims that earlier in his career he implanted a baboon embryo into a male baboon.
But what about humans? Would a pregnant male be possible? Would the procedure be safe? Aren't men missing a really important component — the uterus?
While getting a man pregnant is not quite as easy as impregnating a woman, it is technically feasible. First, the man would have to be injected with female hormones to prepare him for the pregnancy. (This is what happens when infertility doctors facilitate pregnancies in older, postmenopausal women using donated eggs). Then the embryo would be implanted through a laparoscopy in the man's abdomen near the omentum, a fatty, blood-rich tissue that hangs in front of the intestines. The baby would be delivered at term via Casearan section.
Women have been subjected to all sorts of experimental procedures with known and unknown physical risks via new reproductive technologies. A Virginia in vitro clinic advertised a procedure by which a woman could freeze her ovaries for later use, claiming it had been successfully employed in sheep. In truth, it had only been used once in sheep. Even in vitro fertilization was tried in human women before it was tried in chimps. This led embryologist Don Wolf to suggest in an article that, in the realm of IVF, "women served as the model for non-human primates."
Male biologists and physicians, who are poised to try virtually any procedure on women to make a baby, turn pale when male pregnancy is suggested. Too dangerous, they warn. Yet, unlike many of the experimental fertility procedures that have been prematurely applied to women, there is human data that suggests that pregnancy could be safely accomplished in men. There is a vast body of data about pregnancies in women that have implanted someplace other than the uterus.
In fact, about one in 10,000 pregnancies implant elsewhere in the abdomen. If the embryo ends up in an improper place — such as the small confines of a Fallopian tube — the pregnancy can be dangerous (even fatal) to the mother and the baby. But, if the implantation occurs in a larger space in the abdomen, near a major blood supply, the baby can be brought to term. A number of women who had undergone hysterectomies were amazed to later find themselves pregnant through sex in just this manner. Healthy babies were delivered, as they would have to be in men, through Casarean sections.
I know couples who share childrearing. A writer friend took a paternity leave while his wife worked after their first child was born. After the birth of their second child, they switched and she took a maternity leave. In the future, the scenario might be slightly different. He'd carry the first baby, and she the second.
And pro-life men could be asked to put their money — I mean their abdomen — where their mouth is and carry a few fetuses to term. Some men — often gay men who want a chance to have their own biological child — have already begun seeking this procedure. "Why shouldn't a man bear the same burden that women have always carried?" asks the artist Mingwei. "On the other hand, why shouldn't a man be able to experience the same joy and excitement that a woman feels nurturing within her own body? Now I think men, as well as women, have more choices, more possibilities, more roles they can assume in their lives."
If men alternate pregnancy experiences with women, this will give women more time and opportunity to enter traditionally male fields. Like transplant surgery. Or rocket science. Or crime. Lori Andrews is a visiting professor of public and international affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School. She can be reached at email@example.com.