(Second of three parts chronicling my 24-hour pregnancy simulator field test, launched in honor of my wife Stacy’s second trip to the maternity ward — Originally published in the Boston Herald in July 2007. Photos by Ilya Mirman)
10:45 a.m. — On The Road
I’m in the passenger seat of photographer Ilya’s SUV and I’m feeling the baby kicking. Actually, it’s a suspended weight floating inside the water bladder. The minor bumps in the road seem to inspire activity. I’m not naive enough to believe it’s identical to the real thing, but the Empathy Belly attaches so snugly that it almost feels like an extension of my body.
One glance down at the arm straps peeking through my shirt, and I remember who I really am. But the pretend gestation period continues.
11:30 a.m. — Relaxing Time
We arrive at Ilya’s house and are warmly greeted by his wife, Barrie. She thinks the Empathy Belly is hilarious. She peppers me with questions as I help myself to a bowl of cherries on the counter. For reasons that are still unclear to me, Lionel Richie music is playing in the background.
“Want me to put on some Mozart?” she asks, adding a dramatic pause. “For the baby? I’d be totally happy to do it!”
1 p.m. — Surprising Stacy
Barrie, Ilya and I arrive at the Flatbread pizza restaurant in Bedford with the intention of surprising Stacy. This would be like one of those reality TV shows when everyone gets ready for “the reveal.”
The three of us march into the dining room and see that Stacy is smiling. She’s definitely amused, but I can tell right away that she isn’t totally surprised. Maybe she noticed the return address on some of my correspondence with the Empathy Belly people. There’ll be time for a full investigation later.
While we’re glancing at our menus, Stacy looks me over and declares, “Your breasts look like they are too close together. It looks like you are wearing the wrong size bra!”
Now, there’s a quote for the baby book.
1:30 p.m. — Table Banter
I notice that the suit makes it tougher to move my arms with their usual full range of motion. It’s more difficult to reach things across the table. Barrie recognizes this phenomenon, too, comparing it to the wee little arms on a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The table conversation moves on to what The Empathy Belly can and cannot replicate. Stacy thinks the suit accurately transforms the upper body (minus the heartburn), but notes that wearers will never understand the water-retention problem. We speculate if there is a way for a pregnancy simulator to inject liquid into your legs, ankles and feet but conclude that the idea is too commercially risky.
I usually gulp down pitchers of water and iced tea at restaurants, but I’m rationing liquids today (the exact opposite of what pregnant women are supposed to do). I want to minimize my bathroom trips, because the bladder sandbag has been performing better than advertised.
Sticking to that theme, a woman standing near the reservation desk scoffed at my appearance as I headed to the rest room. “Male pregnancy?” she huffed. “Pffffff! After you’ve peed in your pants a few times, then come back and talk to me about male pregnancy!”
1:45 p.m. — Settling The Check
During the entire meal — I highly recommend the Community Flatbread with caramelized onions — our waiter, Mark, did not say one word about the pregnancy suit.
Management would be pleased with this young lad. He treats even the kooky customers with dignity and respect. But his silence was driving me nuts.
After we tipped him, I asked Mark if guys wearing Empathy Bellies and question mark maternity shirts dine at Flatbreads often. Apparently, I represent a rare demographic.
Mark tells us he would never question a customer even if there were a chimpanzee on his head. I’m paraphrasing. And the Board of Health might object to monkeys near the open kitchen or their “primitive, wood-fired earthen oven.”
But the bottom line is: Pregnant guys are totally welcome at Flatbreads.
3:30 p.m. — Showcase Cinemas, Lowell
Walking around with Stacy by my side is much more fun than scampering around with a photographer. For starters, I made a major contribution to her pregnancy. I’m a big fan. Plus, her real womb gives my fake one instant credibility. Next to her, I either come across as a goofball or a sensitive guy. Not a creep with foam boobs.
I’d much rather be seen as the sensitive goofball.
Stacy wants to see “Knocked Up,” the irreverent pregnancy-themed comedy. We both love everything Judd Apatow has made since his short-lived TV series “Freaks & Geeks.” But I push hard for the new Michael Moore health care documentary, “Sicko.”
Hey, health care matters to two pregnant people, doesn’t it?
The theater is half empty, but Stacy predicts that some straggling couple will walk past the vacant rows and make us stand up.
“Can we squeeze by?” an elderly woman asks.
“Not really,” Stacy says. “We have to get up, which might take some time because we’re both pregnant!”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t even notice,” the woman replies.
Now I’m intrigued. The lights are on. Does this woman actually not notice that one of us is a guy? Or is she just in another zone?
After the movie, I experience what has to be The Most Awkward Moment of My Life.
I’m leaning against the wall across from the Women’s Room, waiting for Stacy to come out. Five other guys are standing around with me, waiting for the women in their lives, too.
These are all guys in their 20s with baggy jeans and backwards baseball caps — the kind who don’t take their girlfriends to see documentaries. I’m standing there strapped inside the pregnant belly and wondering what these guys are thinking. Well, I have a good idea of what they’re thinking.
They definitely see me. The white question mark on my shirt is taking on the properties of neon. But no one says a word to me. I just scribble things down in my notebook and act as if I do this all the time.
I’m happy to get back to my car.
Despite roaming around my hometown turf in the Merrimack Valley, I have astoundingly yet to bump into anybody I know. Murphy’s Law dictates that this would be the time I’d reunite with my old algebra teacher or prom date.
6:30 p.m. — The Endurance Challenge
Stacy and I pop by to see our friends, Marty and Dina, who had invited us to a barbeque earlier that day. Over a plate of brownies, I declare that my pregnancy experiment will end in a few hours. I already have enough for an article. My center of gravity has been out-of-whack all day and I feel some soreness in my back. I get it. I’ve learned my lesson.
No way, Stacy says. I must sleep in it to get the “full experience.” Dina, of course, agrees.
I say that I’ll consider it — even though I know that I’m gonna do it. The alternative is having my wife think I’m a wimp. She already saw me bail out of the alligator suit. So this has become a defining moment.
Am I man enough to be pregnant for 24 hours?
(Continue on to Part 3 of the Pregnant Guy Diary)
EMPATHY BELLY AND PREGNANCY-RELATED LINKS
FOR A SHORTER VERSION of this story, check out “Labor of Love,” my original Boston Herald feature on the Belly.
EMPATHY BUZZ – Inspirational responses to my Belly exercise.