Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dude Looks Like He’s Pregnant: Male Columnist Wears ‘Empathy Suit’ and is ‘Pregnant’ for 24 Hours

If you’ve ever been pregnant, it’s likely that at one time or another, you wished that your spouse or partner could experience one iota of what you were experiencing. When I was pregnant with twins, and then years later with a single baby, there were many, many moments when I wanted The Spouse to be the one who was pregnant, so he would stop telling me that all of my pregnancy woes were in my head and that I should stop reading, “What to Expect What You’re Expecting,” which he thought was putting bad ideas into my head. (Yes, I did hit him with the book after he uttered that little chestnut of empathetic support.)

Well, a former male UMass colleague of mine, donned one of those empathy bellies in an attempt to try to figure out what his wife – who’s currently pregnant – is experiencing. Boston Herald writer Darren Garnick wrote about his “pregnancy” in a column and in a 24-hour pregnancy journal. He also agreed to field my snarky questions about wearing the “empathy suit.”

Meredith: Why on earth did you decide this would be a good idea?

Darren Garnick: I thought it would amuse my wife, Stacy, who is mere days away from giving birth. Of course, the journalistic curiosity also always burns for an unusual opportunity like this one. I did not do it to prove any point or to show how “sensitive” I allegedly am. Depending on the day, I don’t always wear the “sensitive” brand very well.

Meredith: Did you REALLY think that putting on a suit would give you an inkling as to what your wife’s going through?

Garnick: An inkling, yes. A complete understanding, no. I never realized how tough it is to reach things when you’re pregnant or how quickly standing up can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. But I am absolutely under no delusions that I “know what it’s like to be pregnant.”

Meredith: What surprised you the most about your time in the suit?

Garnick: Besides my sleepless night? This exercise evolved to be just as much about sociology as women’s physiology. I was surprised by how most strangers I encountered treated my appearance like it was no big deal. I mean, look at how ripe I look in so me of those pictures posted in my 24-Hour Pregnancy Diary.

I suppose this is an encouraging sign that Bostonians aren’t as rude as we think we are.

I wasn’t trying to do the Tyra Banks-fat suit thing here. Especially since I probably weight the equivalent of five or six Tyra Banks already. But I did feel self-conscious and awkward walking around with fake breasts.

What really stunned me later was learning – in a phone interview – that the Empathy Belly company received death threats when the product was first introduced in the early 1990s. Some rednecks were angry about schools allegedly forcing teenaged boys to wear the suits in sex ed classes. According to belly creator Linda Ware, no one is ever forced to “become pregnant.” The curriculum stresses participants must be volunteers, she says.

Meredith: Do you secretly wish you could be a woman, so you could actually experience the mind-blowing pain of labor and the glories of pregnancy, like stretch marks?

Garnick: I’m pretty happy with the stuff God gave me, but would be proud to be an “Honorary Boston Mommy.” Do you have any certificates suitable for framing?

Meredith: Now that you’ve experienced “faux pregnancy,” are you going to try to experience “faux labor?”

Garnick: No thank you! I’ve been in the delivery room once, and am looking forward to the next time. But I’m thrilled with my role cheering from the sidelines.

Given that Darren did wear a pregnancy suit in public, for all the world to see -- and then documented it online -- I think that’s sufficient grounds for me to bestow upon him the dubious honor of being my first ever “Honorary Mommy.”

E-mail Meredith

(Image from the Boston Herald.)

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