There are few things less appealing to me than the prospect of carrying a developing fetus inside myself for nine miserable months. Being covered with hornets, perhaps, or contracting cholera—both physically unpleasant things that carry a non-zero chance of fatality and don’t have the upside bonus of resulting in adorable babies. For the sake of the species, I’m glad that many female humans, including my own wife, volunteer to become pregnant. When it comes to incubating a fetus inside of me, though, I will always and forever say, “No, thank you.” Still, I’ve always thought it would be a great thing to give a home to a child who needed one, through fostering or adoption, or to have a partner who wished to bear a child.
My wife, Cassie, does not share my squeamishness. She’s always wanted to have at least one child—as a scientist, she’s curious about the biological processes involved, and as a member of a large family, she wanted to join in the war stories about pregnancy and birth that her many female relatives share. Since our views on having children dovetailed perfectly, we began to plan for Cassie to become pregnant through artificial insemination. Then we found out that Cassie may not be able to have children. All of a sudden, and for the first time in my life, people wanted to know why I wasn’t willing to try to become pregnant.
From a certain perspective, I understand it would seem logical that our next step should be trying our luck with the second of our two collective uteri. So I can’t blame the friends and relatives who want to know, “Why won’t Vanessa try to get pregnant?” We’re incredibly lucky to have the sort of loving, supportive people in our lives who are so thrilled by the idea of our bringing a child into the world that they don’t want to give up on it. But I don’t see pregnancy as an obligation triggered by female biology—and nor does my wife.
Getting pregnant is a choice, and a big one, with lots of downsides. It’s not a duty. Pregnancy can be incredibly uncomfortable—common side effects include nausea, vomiting, bloat, back pain, heartburn, and permanent scarring. Childbirth is so bad it’s portrayed in the Bible as a punishment for Eve’s sin, and it carries with it a risk of actual death, even with proper medical attention. (It’s rarely discussed, but C-sections are also very unpleasant to recover from, or so I’ve heard from friends and relatives who’ve had them.)
It should be obvious that no one ought to be subjected to pregnancy if they prefer not to experience it. But it’s necessary for someone to do it if the human race is going to continue, and many people do—often more than once. Many even enjoy the process. I think this may be why people forget what a big ask it is for someone like me, who isn’t interested in being pregnant, to take one for the team and do it anyway. (Of course, there’s always an element of sexism influencing the way we see women’s bodies and who decides what happens to them. I can’t think of any other grueling, time-consuming test of mental and physical endurance that we treat the same way we treat pregnancy—babies are nice, but so are MDs, and no one ever asks why some people don’t want to go to med school while others do so willingly.)
There are many butch women and trans men who don’t see any conflict between their masculine identities and becoming pregnant, but I’m not one of them. (Of course, plenty of cisgender, feminine women share my discomfort.) I’m perfectly aware that my anatomy is female, and presumably it’s functional, but spending three-quarters of a year focusing on the workings of my female reproductive system is about 8.75 months longer than I’d like to.
My wife supports me in this completely: We’re planning to give a home to a child who needs one if she can’t become pregnant (and, at some point, even if she can). But I’d like to gently encourage anyone who’d question the decision to move on to adoption without first trying to artificially inseminate my uterus to think about exactly what it is they’re asking. Pregnancy is no joke, and no one should feel obliged to experience it.