Thu | Feb 25, 2021

Michael Abrahams | An open letter to men about abortion

Published:Tuesday | February 23, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Michael Abrahams
Michael Abrahams
Pregnancy has the potential to affect not just a woman’s physical, mental, and social well-being, but her emotional and financial well-being as well. A woman’s mind and body experience a plethora of changes during pregnancy.
Pregnancy has the potential to affect not just a woman’s physical, mental, and social well-being, but her emotional and financial well-being as well. A woman’s mind and body experience a plethora of changes during pregnancy.
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If you are a man, you are entitled to your opinions on abortion and to express them. I am a man, and I am pro-choice, but I am not writing this to convince you to be on my side. What I would like to do is share some information with you.

First, please understand that being a man, at least a cis (not transgender) man, you do not have a uterus and will never be able to conceive. When a woman conceives and carries a pregnancy to term, she will encounter many changes you may not realise.

Health is physical, mental, and social well-being, and pregnancy has the potential to affect not just a woman’s physical, mental, and social well-being, but her emotional and financial well-being as well.

A woman’s mind and body experience a plethora of changes during pregnancy. Many women go through the process relatively unscathed, but some have very turbulent journeys. Nausea, vomiting, excessive salivation and spitting, back pain, abdominal and pelvic discomfort, memory loss, mood swings, swelling of the feet, numbness and tingling in the hands, palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and sleeping difficulties are very common in pregnancy. In some cases, the vomiting can be so severe that hospitalisation may become necessary. Weight gain is a natural part of pregnancy, but some women have a difficult time losing the excess weight after delivery, placing them at an increased risk of developing hypertension and diabetes later in life.

And speaking of hypertension and diabetes, some women develop these in pregnancy too. In most cases, they are transient and resolve after delivery, but in some instances, they do not go away. And those are not the only disorders that can occur during pregnancy. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), constipation, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, diastasis recti (the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis, or ‘six-pack’ muscles), pubic diastasis (separation of the joint uniting the pubic bones), and deep vein thrombosis, or DVT (clots forming in the deep veins of the body, such as in the lower limbs and pelvis), can also occur. In the case of DVT, the clots can dislodge and travel to the lungs during a process known as embolism, which can be fatal. As a matter of fact, a pregnant woman is five times more likely than a non-pregnant woman to develop a blood clot in one of her veins.

ORDEAL FOR MANY

We all know that although labour is a painful and unpredictable process, most women come through it okay. But it is also an ordeal for many. Obstructed labour, poor progress, suspected foetal distress, haemorrhage and other complications sometimes necessitate surgical intervention by Caesarean section. There are occasions as well where the baby may need to be pulled out by the head with a vacuum of a pair of forceps.

After delivery, postpartum depression is well documented and can become severe enough to lead to psychosis and suicidal behaviour, or even attempts to harm or kill the newborn child. Most women heal well from the trauma of childbirth, but some do not, and experience permanent changes such as chronic back pain and urinary incontinence. Some complicated deliveries may result in fistulae, communication between the rectum or bladder and the vagina, resulting in leakage of urine or faeces.

There are valid concerns about complications from abortions, but the fact is that if a woman carries a pregnancy to term, her risk of death is much greater than if she were to have a first trimester abortion (termination of a pregnancy before 12 weeks’ gestation). In fact, about 300,000 women die from pregnancy-related complications every year.

And after pregnancy, there is the issue of raising a child. Jamaica is a country filled with single-parent households, and in most instances, these are headed by women. In many cases, the bulk of the burden of raising children rests on the shoulders of mothers. Many struggle to raise their children comfortably, and they do it on their own with little or no financial or social support from fathers.

GREATER IMPACT

When a woman conceives, she is not only thinking of what can happen to her body, but other aspects of her well-being are also considered. When we become fathers, the impact on us is not as great as it is on women when they become mothers. For example, if a woman is in certain jobs, especially if newly employed, and becomes pregnant, she may risk being dismissed. In some cases, simply being unmarried and pregnant can place her employment at risk and survival in jeopardy. Similarly, if an unmarried woman carries a pregnancy in some churches, she risks being shamed, punished, or dismissed. Pregnancy can also interrupt a woman’s education, and has done so in many instances.

It is also a fact that carrying a pregnancy entails the possibility of a woman being tethered to the father of that child, and if the man is abusive, toxic, or dysfunctional, her well-being and that of the child may be adversely affected. Realise also that the body changes a woman can experience as a result of pregnancy, such as increased belly fat, stretch marks, sagging breasts and vaginal laxity, are sometimes used against them by the very men who impregnate them, and may lead to shaming or the man leaving the relationship, or initiating and maintaining other relationships.

By sharing this information with you, I am not demanding or requesting that you become pro-choice if you are anti-abortion. What I am requesting is empathy for women who seek it. I am asking you to do your best to refrain from making harsh and judgemental comments about women who choose to terminate their pregnancies. It is very easy to cast stones from the outside when we have no idea what is taking place in the minds of those who make such decisions.

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator, and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.