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The "Empathy" Belly

No "Big" Deal

I decided to give my new breast-and-belly suit a whirl on a weekend. On Saturdays, I try to give my wife a break by taking our two girls  -- Isabelle, 2, and Lorelei, 3 months  -- to visit my parents. This day wasn't any different, save for the empathy belly in the trunk of the car (you're not allowed to drive while wearing it). I thought it would be helpful to spend some time outside my own home wearing the belly to truly understand how a pregnant woman feels. But I also knew deep down that I'd probably conveniently forget to mention to my parents that I had brought it along. Fortunately, my wife had sent over an e-mail reminding everyone. In another lucky break, my parents had a friend visiting, Debbie, who, along with my mom, was all too happy to help me put on the empathy belly. As soon as they strapped on the rib belt (giggling all the while), I felt frighteningly short of breath. And when I sat down on the sofa, I immediately felt an acutely uncomfortable sensation  -- the bladder pouch. As somebody who has had some close calls with the restroom, usually when I'm on the highway, and once when I was stuck in an elevator, I didn't like the feel of this. But overall the snugness wasn't so bad  -- it was maybe like being a mummy, except with your limbs and face free. Really, what was the big deal?

"It's not so bad," I said, glancing at my mother and Debbie, who both seemed to be euphoric about my plight. But after the novelty wore off a little, the two launched into a conversation related to work. Meanwhile, Isabelle was concentrating on a cartoon show. My dad was in another room, holding Lorelei.

I remained on the sofa, taking note that yes, I had some slight pressure on my bladder, and sure, I couldn't take deep, deep breaths, but this wasn't so tough. It's not like I feel that different than before, I thought, absently fondling my fake breasts. In front of my mom.

I yanked my hands away and tried to pry myself off of the sofa. Immediately, Isabelle asked me to pick her up. "Oh, jeez," I muttered, squatting down. The empathy belly instructions are adamant that you shouldn't bend down without squatting; I didn't want to test my luck.

As I lifted her, other than a brief puzzled glance, Isabelle didn't even seem to notice my misshapen body, which was a big relief. (After I accepted this assignment, I worried that when Isabelle grew up, she would have a foggy memory of her father with a pregnant belly, keeping a therapist employed for years.) My 2-year-old was just happy I was holding her  -- which meant one of us was happy. After all, she's 31 freaking pounds.

"You seem kind of cranky," my mother said.

"It must be my hormones," I sighed. I looked at my watch. I had only been wearing the empathy belly for 15 minutes, and I knew I should go at least another hour or two. I didn't want to admit it to anybody, but, by this point, I wasn't enjoying my pregnancy at all.

Fortunately, everybody else was. My mother and Debbie kept making jokes at my expense. My brother, Kevin, and his girlfriend, Rachel, dropped by and each had a good laugh. And my dad took photos.

I probably logged in about 90 more minutes, and three bathroom trips, until I'd had enough. When I arrived home with the girls, my wife was beaming. "Your father sent me the photos," she said. Cursed e-mail. "And I sent them to my mom."

"Of course you did," I said. That was inevitable.

"And Shannon loved them." Shannon is one of her dearest friends, so that was no surprise. "But I'm still waiting to hear from Pam and Colleen," said Susan, "and Mary Lou, Kim and Mike, Nancy, Sue, and..."

Great.

I wasn't mad at my dad for sending the photos. But I was mad at him for telling Susan that I had said, "Wearing this empathy belly is much more difficult than actually being pregnant." My wife quickly replied, "Tell Geoff that if he likes, he can try being pregnant for five minutes, and he will see how comfortable the empathy belly is." And then she reeled off a list of things that the empathy belly would never do, like "give you insomnia, give you hemorrhoids, and make you push a baby out of an opening the size of a lemon." She also took issue with the fact that I could take the empathy belly off at any time and leave it in a box.

Boy, she's touchy.

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