CONTRIBUTORS

If men could get pregnant, abortion and baby formula would be free

Mary McNamara
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Grocery store shelves where baby formula is typically stocked are locked and nearly empty in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

As the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, America is suffering a baby formula shortage.

Connect those dots and it isn't too hard to imagine a world where women are forced not only to have babies they do not want but to breastfeed them too. On top of treating women as broodmares, this makes adoption, the antiabortion supporters' go-to panacea, a bit more difficult.

But then imagine all the jobs created by the overwhelming need for wet nurses! A profession historically notable for its high salary and generous benefits!

For the less conspiracy theory-minded, this particular collision of headlines is just one more tragic example of how little support this country provides for people raising children. Baby formula, particularly those brands made for children with allergies and sensitive stomachs, has been in short supply since a potential bacterial contamination at the Abbott plant in Michigan forced the recall of batches of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare.

More:Harrisburg reproductive rights rally: 'I can't believe where we are'

More:Baby formula shortage worsens, leading to purchase limits

Which happened in February. So parents of infants have been racing around to secure dwindling supplies for three months before empty shelves in some areas forced general public awareness and potential government action.

Three months in which the passage of draconian antiabortion legislation in some states has kept conservative politicians so busy trumpeting the rights of the unborn that they couldn't be bothered with, you know, babies.

But then the unborn really are the perfect constituents for political and religious leaders who can't be bothered with actual people; it's easy to demand rights for those who require literally nothing of society. As soon as they hit the open air, however … well, if there is no baby formula, let them eat cake.

Babies like cake, right? Or cow's milk or goat's milk or whatever else is currently being suggested to frantic mothers by people who have clearly never had to care for an infant and have no understanding of the physical and economic limitations of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is hard work, difficult for many women, impossible for some, in ways beyond the comprehension of those who haven't ever done or tried to do it. It is not something that can be turned off and on like a faucet.

But then so many parts of women's bodies, including their wombs, are legally controlled by people who do not have them.

As certain members of the Supreme Court whine because a leaked argument indicating an intention to overturn Roe v. Wade has sent peaceful protesters to their doorsteps, the sentiments behind Gloria Steinem's famous assertion that "if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament" are once again at the forefront of the cultural discussion.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as "sacrament," but seeing a bunch of cis men make all manner of proclamations about pregnancy does lend horrifying validity to that meme in which a group of dogs gather in a conference room to discuss "feline health care."

Obviously there are women who also want to end the availability of safe and legal abortions and though I do not agree with or understand them, I assume they are aware of the fundamentals, including how much aggregate female time and energy is consumed by fear of unwanted pregnancy. Maybe they are willing, as are the men who remain the majority of antiabortion voices, to chalk it up to "a woman's lot."

Like, you know, the inability to vote or own property once was.

As a straight, sexually active woman, I have spent years of my life worrying about and attempting to prevent unwanted pregnancies — years fending off intercourse when no form of birth control was handy, or demanding the use of a condom.

It was exhausting in a way even the most sexually responsible man could never understand.

I was fortunate enough to be able to afford birth control pills, though, not being covered by insurance, they took a hefty bite out of my early-career salary; many of my friends were not. Even the pill brought its own fears — of weight gain and other side effects; of forgetting to take it, which, being in my 20s, I often did.

It's difficult to imagine there are many people with uteruses who haven't spent innumerable days worrying about late or missed periods after un- or imperfectly-protected intercourse — which is all intercourse since no form of birth control is 100% effective.

And that was with abortion being a safe and legal alternative.

As for those people, men and women, who discuss pregnancy as if it were simply a mild 10-month inconvenience, I would like to point out that no one gets pregnant for the fun of it. Women endure pregnancy in order to have biological offspring. Period.

For some women it is a relatively painless and even pleasurable experience; for others it is sheer hell. For most, it is something in between. The really cool part is you don't know which category you will fall into until you do it. Each and every time!

Will you vomit daily? For three months or the entire 10? Will you experience heartburn that forces you to gag at work and sleep in a seated position? Or will you glow with revitalized hair and nails? Will your feet grow an entire size? Will you feel better than you've ever felt (until that final month when pretty much everyone is in discomfort) or will you spot early and be forced into months of bed rest? Will giving birth be a beautiful if intense experience or will you hemorrhage, dislocate your pelvis or require an emergency C-section?

In almost any case, you will develop a deep weeks-long attachment to bags of frozen peas.

After the birth, will you leap from your bed and make pancakes for everyone or fall victim to infection or postpartum depression? Will your vagina spring back to its normal self or will your entire uterus attempt to follow the baby out of the birth canal, requiring surgery to replace it? Will you produce enough milk to easily feed your child (if that is what you choose) or develop mastitis that makes every latch agony? Will you be shamed for breastfeeding in public or for choosing not to breastfeed at all?

Will your breasts droop and your stomach pooch permanently or will everything eventually go back to its proper place?

Who knows? It's a total crapshoot. For me, blessed with three wanted and relatively uncomplicated full-term pregnancies that resulted in children, it was worth all the pain, discomfort and subsequent health and body issues. But I speak only for myself. And I simply cannot imagine coming out the other side of even one of those pregnancies had it not been my choice.

More important, I think we can all agree that if the specter of unwanted pregnancy haunted men's lives as it does women's — and if men's bodies, particularly their sex organs, were in danger of being radically and permanently transformed by childbirth — birth control would be free and abortion federally funded.

Can you imagine? The government telling men: "You had sex so you must have this baby you do not want, and if you survive the process, your boobs may sag, your stomach muscles permanently relax and oh, yeah, your penis could very well wind up 3 inches shorter."

Maybe abortion would be a sacrament after all. And free baby formula would fill stores like beer on Super Bowl Sunday.