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Today's rhaps is on ... Fathers

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Dorothy Weinstein, Solitude, c 1940

Unless you believe in a whole lot of immaculata conceptionis, fathers are behind every single pregnancy.

So where are they?

Why are mothers alone held responsible?

Why is pregnancy a woman's issue—as if the issue in question came from her body?

I know, by the time we know about the pregnancy, it's all happening in her body, but... seems to me that the Our Bodies, Ourselves idea—whether feminist or conservative—equally perpetuates the myth that fathers have little to do with pregnancy.

In the Beginning-of-Life unit of my medical ethics classes, I taught that pro-life and pro-choice are two entirely different arguments. Like many disputes drawn to impasse, they are incommensurable. They do, however, have one odd thing in common: they are both about choice. The very human choice to elevate one life above another. (God doesn't do this. King Solomon wouldn't even do this.)

The feminists elevate the mother's life above the unborn child. The conservatives do the opposite.

There are three lives involved, though, at the very least. The father, the mother, and the unborn child.

So here's my thought: nothing will change until fathers are held accountable for producing...uh, reproducing, the creation of offspring.

Nothing will change until the fathers are brought back into the legal picture. And the social, economic, political and religious pictures. Somehow the fathers escape the frame each time.

Nothing will change until the fathers assert themselves as impregnators, because the rights of mothers alone will never be a concern to anyone beyond the liberal ones who actually want a true and multidivergent democracy. These people do not run the world. Fathers do. That is why fathers must own up to their role in reproduction instead of walking away and declaring it the "woman's problem."

These new US laws make it even easier for the fathers to escape accountability, whether loving or vile, rapists or incestuous—no matter how consensual or coerced, the ones initiating the pregnancy get to hide in the background while these heartrending courts and states and churches try to turn women back into the old Jezebels and Delilahs, the mythic temptresses 'without whom no man would misbehave.' Regardless of the bleeding miscarriages, the agonizing stillbirths, the ectopic shocks, the babies empty of brain and organs, the sepsis stealing away a mother's life—all are cruelly generalized into this pernicious fable of a nymphomaniac siren.

Where are the fathers?

Please, speak up!

The father, the mother, the unborn child—all three have heartbeats, too, so we can assume each are accounted for in the Great Beyond.

But alas, none of us is privileged to have this God's Eye View and, as the Scriptures say, we "see through a glass darkly."

That's all we've got, folks.

The universally consistent but limited certainty of deductive logic and simple math, and the maddening but unlimited uncertainty of inductive probabilities. That's all we got.

This is the human condition. We can do our best to keep learning and stay humble, or find some false idol to worship, some Golden Calf in the desert that makes us feel better while Moses is busy.

We can have faith that the distant Sun will rise tomorrow and rejoice in the temporary existence of Ourselves on the planet, or like Icarus, we can bloat our hubris and fly up too close to that burning Sun.

Neither endeavour will last...but can't we act to reduce the harm?

I want to calculate those probalities, the ones that tell me which babies will live and die, which mothers will sustain the birthing, which fathers will care for their kin. The medical probabilities will never be enough, yes—there will always be unknowns—but we can midwife the pain and uncertainty as best we can. We can take care to find the best minds to provide the best protection given the social and economic realities of this child and this mother.

Under the new laws, I'd be dead by now. In 1974 Boston they were still sterilizing both white and black girls who showed up in emergency rooms hemorrhaging from rapes and molar pregnancies. Against all odds, most of me was left in place, but under current laws criminalizing motherhood, I might have bled out. As a teenager. In 1987 Bozeman I might have hemorrhaged internally to death under current bans on ectopic pregnancy care. My microscopic 'unborn child' was two weeks along, lodged in the mangled tube. The remnants of the infected ovary were also considered biohazard.

Mommy I'm not going to make it but I'm not taking you with me.

Let not our hubris declare which heartbeat is the most worthy of life. Let us use our given faculties humbly to calculate the most humane and probabilistic outcome, the one that will do the least harm.

That is the Hippocratic oath.

That is the loving parent's oath.


12 JULY 2022

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