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The "Empathy" Belly

Birth of a New Appreciation

I retreated upstairs with Isabelle for a while. She played in my old bedroom, and at one point, I tried lying on my side, imagining what it might be like to sleep like that for an entire night. Night after night after night. Honestly, I'm not sure how any woman does it.

Watching Isabelle play, I had some time to reflect on a lot of things, like how lonely pregnancy can feel. I mean, sure, you're a celebrity for a while  -- Susan got a lot of attention from the family when she was pregnant, and I was getting a lot, in a different sort of way. But at the same time, if you're the only pregnant person in the room, and the only person who has to think about how to navigate across the room, well, there's a sense of solitude to the whole thing.

And helplessness. When Isabelle and I were going downstairs, she wanted me to carry her, but I was worried about tackling the stairs with my arms full of preschooler. I shouted for my father, who came to Isabelle's rescue while I retreated to the restroom for probably the fifth time since we had arrived.

But when I finished my business and reached down to zip my pants, my belly kept getting in the way. Grunting, I pulled and pulled, until I finally placed my fake stomach on the counter, bent my knees, and tried to pull. I wound up toppling into the bathtub. I stood, holding up my pants with one hand, gingerly descended the stairs, and snuck into my parents' den.

I tried putting my belly on my father's desk, which was a little higher than the bathroom counter. Still no luck. Sweat was dripping off of me now, and my forearms were aching  -- all from trying to zip my pants.

After about five minutes of struggling, I gave in and called for Susan. This was a two-person job. "I don't know how you zipped your pants all those months," I said.

"Maternity pants don't come with zippers," she replied.

"That's right," I said. "You know, maybe I do have it harder than you did." My wife shot me a look implying I was sleeping in the garage that night.

Later, Susan softened, and shortly before the three-hour limit was up, she suggested I take the belly off. I didn't protest. I waddled a mile in her moccasins, and I have to admit, I have a new respect for all pregnant women. I especially have to admire women who repeat the pregnancy experience.

Susan's actually talking about going for a third. There are times when I think she's crazy, until I'm making Lorelei laugh, or lying in the grass with Isabelle, marveling at how she can watch an ant and be simply fascinated by it. (That is, until she tries to pet it, and accidentally sends it into oblivion.) There's something about having kids that really is magical. And so, I can honestly say that if it was possible for men to be pregnant, and if I had to trade places with my wife, I would happily go the distance for nine months.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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