|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2018-02-04 08:13:00
Meg's Fanfiction Likes and Dislikes - Male Pregnancy, aka Mpreg
This is another one I'm not fond of. Mostly because of the sheer level of biological ignorance the writers generally demonstrate.
I should give some background here. My mother was trained as a midwife, and by the time I was twelve, I was reading her old midwifery textbooks (for want of anything more interesting in the house). I also had a strong interest in human anatomy and physiology and how people worked from early childhood. So, I know a bit more about the ways that pregnancies can go right and wrong than the average punter. It leaves me with more than a few prejudices in the matter, and it means for me, mpreg requires a far greater degree of suspension of disbelief than usual.
Mpreg often strikes me as stories about pregnancy framed around characters who shouldn't, theoretically, be able to get pregnant, largely written by people who have never been pregnant, and whose concepts of what pregnancy involves largely come from popular culture - particularly the parts of it involved in the advertising industry. There's a strong degree of stereotypical behaviour, and a lot of rose-coloured glasses being involved in the writing. Pregnancy is largely described as this effortless process, full of romance, pretty flowers, soft focus and happy fluffy bunnies, that the pregnant person glides through serenely (aside from the obligatory morning sickness early on in the piece, which goes away as soon as the person knows they're pregnant) and where any side effects are included purely for comic effect - things like backache, mood swings, cravings and so on. Labour is quick and painless, and the baby comes out looking like the standard infant in an advertisement for facial tissues, all pink and white and happy smiles.
It's a romanticised view of pregnancy which ignores a very real truth about this particular medical situation: pregnancy can and does kill women, people whose bodies are biologically adapted for the process. In a body which is not specifically adapted toward child bearing, a pregnancy is more likely to be risky and hazardous than serene and pain-free. The lowest maternal mortality rate in the world is something like 0.003%, rising to about 1.36% in countries without reliable health infrastructure. So that's between 3 and 1360 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births - pregnancy is not risk free, even in women and even in countries with the best medical infrastructure and health care.
The problems with mpreg start with the conception. This inevitably happens as a result of anal intercourse, which is damaging to my suspension of disbelief right there, because the human digestive tract is a single tube which is a contiguous surface with a person's skin. There aren't supposed to be holes in it - if there are holes in a person's large intestine near the anal area where a blastocyst could exit to implant in the abdominal wall, this person has what's called a perforated bowel, which is a serious, and potentially lethal, medical condition. No mention of where the egg comes from in these cases (it's magic or something, or the whole thing is a gift from $DEITY) and no mention of where the blastocyst is supposed to implant. One of the most obvious non-adaptations is of course the lack of a womb in your typical male person. Very few (if any) mpreg stories actually deal with the case of one of their male characters being a trans man, a functional hermaphrodite, a biological chimera, or other intersex configuration, who comes equipped with a womb as default equipment (even in stories with A/B/O dynamics). Nope, they're all manly men with only the standard number of external orifices and such, right up to the point where they fall pregnant.
Something else I haven't seen in mpreg: male pregnancies which take the marsupial solution to the problem, where the embryo is "born" at a very early stage, whereupon it is transferred to a pouch, attaches itself to a nipple, and remains there until it has grown to the point where it can survive as an independent organism. (This despite the fact that male nipples in humans are actually capable of lactation, with the right hormonal stimulus!). Nope, men who get pregnant are placental mammals all the way, despite having nowhere safe for the placenta to actually attach. (While there have been experiments in trying to attach an embryo to the abdominal wall in baboons, this results in severe bleeding when the foetus reaches the point of birth, due to the abdominal wall not being designed to shed a placenta. In addition, the extraction would have to be done by caesarean).
Now, we know what happens when a fertilised egg implants somewhere which isn't the womb in a female person. It's called an ectopic pregnancy, and it's one of the various things which can go very wrong with a pregnancy and cause the pregnant person (and the embryo inside them) to die (it's the leading cause of maternal mortality in the first trimester of pregnancy). But somehow, male characters in mpreg fic somehow manage to have a blastocyst implant somewhere in their lower abdomen, and not cause massive blood loss, intestinal perforation, damage to vital internal organs or anything else.
So, okay, despite the difficulties involved in implanting an embryo into a male body these embryos somehow implant, and they manage to avoid killing their parent in the process. Now we get on to the fun symptoms of pregnancy.
Now, the thing a lot of the people who write mpreg are missing is that hormonally speaking, men are not set up to carry a pregnancy to term. Neither, by the way, are non-pregnant women - at least some of the symptoms of pregnancy are the result of massive changes to the mother's hormonal balance, changes which occur in order to allow the pregnancy to continue. Things like the morning sickness, for example, are suspected to be caused by the body's reaction to human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) - a hormone which is normally released by the placenta during pregnancy, although it can also be released by various cancers associated with the reproductive system. Or in other words, women who are pregnant are basically suffering the side-effects of having a whole new hormone added to their systems, and having a whole heap of other hormones changing their levels, most particularly oestrogen and progesterone. Given men naturally have very low levels of these hormones in their systems (the hormones are present, but not at the levels they are in adult women - much the same as women have testosterone in their systems, but not at the same levels as adult men), their reactions to the sudden influx of these hormones should be somewhat akin to someone suddenly being overdosed on them. Or in other words, your pregnant man is effectively undergoing female puberty simultaneous with pregnancy, so the last thing they're going to be in the situation is calm or rational.
Even women who want children, and who were looking forward to parenthood, can find the experience of their first pregnancy, and the hormonal changes which come with it, to be psychologically confronting. It is highly unlikely that someone who was previously unused to the effects of oestrogen and progesterone in their system at the levels required to become pregnant in the first place is going to be able to cope with the massively increased levels involved in a pregnancy.
Another item on my list of things I haven't seen in Mpreg fics anywhere along the line: mention of the sort of hormonal regime a male person would need to be put onto in order to sustain the pregnancy (because they don't have the gonads which are producing the oestrogen and progesterone in the first place).
Oh yes, and male pregnancies rarely miscarry. Which is how you know the blasted things are fictional.
So, on we go through the pregnancy. The pregnant male person never winds up with preeclampsia (high blood pressure and protein in the urine - this is another of the ones which can kill pregnant women) or gestational diabetes (high blood sugar and insulin resistance) even though it's suspected both of these are caused by hormones secreted by the placenta. Or in other words, despite being physically unadapted for pregnancy due to the absence of a womb, the male pregnant person will somehow miraculously be better suited to being pregnant than a lot of women. The pregnancy for them will be slightly uncomfortable, and they'll have cravings and mood swings (but both of these will be both milder and more comical than the feminine version, despite their suspected origins in hormonal factors... hormones these men are largely unfamiliar with). Any psychological consequences of pregnancy tend to be minimal, and mostly for the dramatic potential of a weepy pregnant man accusing their partner of not loving them "because they're fat", and having a dramatic reconciliation afterward. Very few pregnant men in mpreg fics wind up questioning their masculinity, or suffering from dysphoria.
When we eventually move on to labour, the reality side of things goes right out the window. The labour is short, painless, and produces a perfect child who looks all pink-and-white, just like the babies in the ads.
Labour is hard work. It's hard work for women, who generally have wider pelvises than men, and whose pelvises are generally more open inside specifically so they can give birth to human babies with their large heads. The reason it's hard work is because of those large heads of ours - at least part of the process of labour is effectively expanding the exit to the womb such that it will allow the child's head through (how large is that head? Make two fists and put them together side-by-side. That's how large.) and also compressing the child's head such that they're able to fit through the birthing canal. It takes about twelve hours from go to whoa, from first cramps to "congratulations, you have a baby".
There are so many ways that labour can go wrong for women and for their children - there's the chance the baby can get stuck in the birthing canal (which used to lead to a forceps delivery, but now leads to a Caesarean section); there's the chance the baby can get the umbilical cord wound around its neck, and choke itself coming out; there's the chance the placenta is attached in the wrong place (across the cervix for example - what's called a "transverse lie" for the baby); there's breech births. There's the risk of haemorrhage (intensive bleeding) if the placenta has been too deeply embedded in the uterine wall, there's the risk of sepsis from retained scraps of placental tissue if the placenta doesn't detach entirely. Again, this is in women, the ones who are biologically adapted to deal with these things. The ones who have the specialist organs to handle the job, and the anatomical configuration to do so as well.
As I said above, the best option for placental location in a male carrier is the inside of the abdominal wall, but here's where things should quickly become lethal for the pregnant male. The uterus has developed to shed its lining - the endometrium, a mass of blood-rich tissue evolved to have a placenta embedded in it - without excessive blood loss. It's why women have periods. The inside of the abdominal wall generally doesn't have such a capacity. Which means when the placenta detaches, a pregnant man is going to be subject to massive blood loss - think of the kind of blood loss which would come from effectively scraping the top three layers of skin off an area the size of a dinner plate. The inside of the abdominal wall also isn't likely to undergo the sort of contraction the uterus does at the end of a pregnancy (where it contracts down from a size large enough to hold a baby to the size of a pear again - this is another adaptation to stem blood loss).
Oddly enough, the male nipple is evolved with milk ducts, and men can actually lactate when given the correct hormones, so I'm not going to get into a long argument about lactation and breast feeding. Instead I'll just pause to note babies resulting from masculine pregnancy are inevitably bottle-fed.
One of the less palatable aspects of mpreg for me is definitely the strong undertone of internalised misogyny involved in these stories. As I said at the beginning of this, the majority of mpreg stories tend, in my opinion, to be written by people who haven't been pregnant themselves, and who are therefore operating from a rather romanticised view of pregnancy, as per the images which make it into popular culture. Unfortunately, this romanticism comes into our culture from a misogynistic and patronising attitude that women don't know what they're complaining about with regards to pregnancy; that women's concerns over being pregnant, over experiencing pregnancy and over the aftermath of pregnancy are all due to women being inherently weak and flawed, and that if men became pregnant, they'd handle the whole business a lot better simply because they're men. (I think I agree with Princess Diana here - if men became pregnant they'd only ever have one baby each). This is an attitude mpreg stories tend to reproduce reasonably faithfully, and it gets annoying, particularly when the pregnancy being presented is one which is abnormal in its sheer photogenic compliance to the romance. Yes, there are women who go through pregnancy without a blip, and who are barely slowed down at all by it. In fact, the majority of women tend to get through pregnancy reasonably straightforwardly. However, as I've been pointing out all the way along: this is because women are adapted to do pregnancy - because they have the specialist organs, the specialised biology, the specialised hormonal environment, the mechanical and physiological systems set up to handle the addition of another five to seven kilos of infant human being (and support system) growing inside them. Men aren't - and it therefore would NOT be a straightforward, easy matter for a man to conceive a child, carry it to term, and give birth, even in purely mechanical terms.
The best mpreg fics I've seen are the ones which basically take the position it's a stupid premise to begin with, and run with the sheer crackfic comedy of the whole notion of conception in the first place. In Final Fantasy VII, there's tirsynni's Always Use Protection, which basically takes things a cracky step further and winds up with a cross-species pregnancy induced by tentacle sex (by which point it's clear the whole thing is not intended to make any sense whatsoever, and the author is just writing for the giggles); there's also mystiri1's The Family Way, which addresses the whole question of where the egg comes from, and how it gets into the male person in the first place (and is equally cracky by the end).
In conclusion, I should point out this is why I don't like mpreg, and generally won't read it unless it also comes with the "crackfic" tag attached. I'm not saying other people shouldn't write it, read it, or like it, but again, if you're sharing a fandom with me (Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Marvel Cinematic Universe), please, please tag and warn on this one - or failing that, do your research, do comprehensive research, and start your research by ignoring the romance of pregnancy as delivered via the advertising industry.
This entry was originally posted at https://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/112208.h