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The "Empathy" Belly

My wife had recently given birth to our second child when my editor at BabyTalk called me with an assignment: See what it's like to be pregnant by wearing an "empathy belly"  -- a sort of pregnancy suit for men (expectant dads try them on briefly during childbirth class)  -- for one day. Having just gone through nine months of backaches, nausea, and sore feet herself, my wife, Susan, was all too thrilled for me to have a taste of her discomfort, if only for a day.

Full of bravado, I insisted that I would also wear the belly at night, so that I'd have it on a full 24 hours. That was before we learned that the makers of the empathy belly suggest wearing it no longer than three hours at a time. (Something to do with not wanting the husband to freak out by the instant changes, collapse, and suffocate, I believe.) It was also before I knew that wearing the pretend pregnant belly for even a few minutes would try my physical strength. The empathy belly isn't for sissies, and neither, I've come to truly understand, is pregnancy.

But it took fake breasts and a bladder pouch to get me to realize that. I borrowed my 33-pound empathy belly from the College of Nursing at the University of Cincinnati. It's not just a belly though: The contraption consists of two foam breasts; a rib belt designed to constrict the lungs and make it harder to breathe; two seven-pound lead balls inside the belly; a two-pound suspended weight that simulates a baby's kicking; and a weighted pouch that represents the baby's head on the woman's  -- or in my case, man's  -- bladder.

If you go to the [XREF {http://www.empathybelly.org/} {official website}], you'll learn that anybody wearing the belly for ten minutes or longer can expect a range of maladies, including a "low backache ¿awkwardness in all body movements ¿pressure on the bladder, with increased sense of urgency of urination," and my favorite, "changes in sexual self-image and abilities." Yikes.

Geoff Williams is a freelance writer and father of two in Loveland, Ohio.

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