In a typical childbirth class, a handful of men gear up and clumsily attempt to pick up socks, tie shoes or lie on their backs.
It Only Hurts When I Laugh To simulate pregnancy, the water-weighted vest comes with two 7-pound lead balls that represent fetal limbs and a 6-pound weight to put pressure on the bladder. At full weight, I had difficulty breathing, walking around and relieving myself. The belly also guaranteed a flood of jokes.
“Time for your 10 p.m. snack,” Iris said, recalling her own predilections. “You want peanut butter on toast? Shall I get you your copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting?” Unfortunately, it was also difficult to laugh.
At bedtime, I lay down on my left side, at Iris’ suggestion. But after 90 minutes of discomfort, I was still awake. Then it dawned on me. “I could wear this all night and hardly sleep, just to prove I can do it,” I thought. “But that would be the macho thing to do. Why should I be acting macho when I’m nine months pregnant and wearing C cups?” I unstrapped the belly.
Call it morning sickness, but when the sun rose, I decided to put the vest back on and venture outside. “Don’t use the belly frivolously,” the warning tag admonished. But no, I had a social experiment — beyond empathy — in mind.
Bellying up to the Beach
I’ve always thought that if Jesus Christ were to walk down the Venice boardwalk, no one would look twice. So what would be the reaction, I wondered, to a pregnant man?
Seeking to avoid injury, I decided to go half-pregnant, or, more accurately, about five months pregnant. I removed the lead balls and bladder, decreasing the weight to 16 pounds. I also removed the breast foam so I was down to, say, an A or B cup.
Arriving in Venice with my family about 10 a.m., I buttoned a shirt over my watermelon-size stomach and slowly walked through the crowds, past outdoor massage tables and purveyors of belly chains. No one looked twice.
We walked for what seemed like forever to a restaurant a few blocks away. When we arrived, my mouth was watering. “I’ll order a full breakfast,” I decided. “What’s a few more ounces when I already weigh so much?”
Then the kids began acting up. This time, only one of us could do anything about it, and in my bloated condition, it wasn’t me. As Iris chased our 19-month-old, our 4-year-old knocked down the baby carriage.
Empathy at Last
I looked on as if I was watching a bad movie, but I felt too uncomfortable and weighted down to help. As we waited for our order to arrive, my mind turned from the food to the sweat dripping down my brow. All I wanted was for breakfast to arrive, not so much so I could eat but so I could get back home.
After eating our sausage and eggs, we headed slowly back down the boardwalk, where we saw a middle-aged man flying a kite attached to a fishing pole.
“OK already,” I thought. “Enough is enough. I, too, can do anything I want.” So I unbuttoned my shirt, ripped off the empathy belly and instantly became unpregnant.
Free at last.