Medical Microfiction: Cyesis

Bearing Gifts

When Martin stopped to help a stranded stranger, he expected nothing in return. The stranger, a Hopi musician, had blown a tire en route to a wedding at the local reservation.

“Look, I don’t normally do this,” said the musician, “but please accept this wedding gift as a thank-you. I can get the happy couple another one later.” The stranger’s eyes glittered as he passed Martin a little gift box.

At home, Martin unwrapped the gift: a positive pregnancy test. An attached note read, “From Kokopelli, Trickster, God of Childbirth.”

Real funny, thought Martin. But then the morning sickness started.


Kokopelli quilt, made by my grandmother.
Kokopelli quilt, made by my grandmother.

Poor Martin. He’s experiencing what no man should go through: cyesis, a fancy word for pregnancy. If you’re like me, you might be wondering whether men could ever get pregnant or gestate, if we had the right technology.

While rare, there are some examples of male pregnancy in nature. Most notable is the male seahorse, which gestates its young in a brood pouch after the female lays its eggs.

Ever wonder why men have nipples? I love this question, because it gives me an excuse to share one of my favorite science videos:

Genetically, women are XX and men are XY. That means we all have at least one copy of the X chromosome. For you gamers, think of the X chromosome like the original version of a video game. Everyone installs the basic version and plays it first. The Y chromosome is like an expansion pack or mod on that original game. It gets added on later and changes some of the features of the original game. But since we all start off as female, men retain features of the female body plan. Thus, nipples.

Junior (film)
Cyesis, Gubernator-style! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But men don’t get a uterus. This is where hypothetical male pregnancy gets interesting. You see, for years I’ve assumed that having a uterus is what allows women to be pregnant. I was wrong. Having a uterus just lets women do so safely.

The phenomenon of ectopic pregnancy is well-documented in women, which is anytime an embryo attaches to an area outside the uterus (Look Ma, no uterus!). Usually it’s in a Fallopian tube, but in very rare cases, an embryo can even attach itself somewhere in the abdominal cavity! Interestingly enough, there’s no physiological reason the same couldn’t happen in the male abdominal cavity. The problem is that it would be unbelievably dangerous to man and fetus alike. Without a uterus to act as a holding cell, that fetus has free access to the rest of your internal organs.

That’s bad. That’s very bad.

So next time you accept gifts from Kokopelli, make sure he throws in a complimentary uterus in the bargain.

Male pregnancy reminds me that Father’s Day is coming up! Tell me about your plans in the comments section. Remember to treat Dad right, especially since he brought you into this world at great cost to his internal organs!


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