Mother is a verb. Moms clean, cook, dress, wipe, scrub, loan, advise, tickle, hug, kiss it to make it better, and love so much, it lasts a lifetime.
What if there were a more meaningful way to honor our moms than just giving them a bouquet once a year?
What started out as a simple tête-à-tête to improve The Book of Mom gestated all at once into three sets of fully-blown pregnancy suits. In February 2015, The Book of Everyone founders Jason Bramley, Steve Hanson, and Jonny Biggins found themselves suddenly 9 months pregnant.
Thus began a one-month “empathy belly” challenge for the three fathers in their mid-40s.
1. No taking off the suit for one month – except for daily showers.
2. Blog at least 150 words every day.
How far along are you? The physical toll
The 15kg pregnancy suits are designed to simulate the following symptoms:
- Abdominal Distention and Aches, Pelvic Tilt
- Shift in Posture Causing Waddling Gait, Difficulty Rising From Chair or Bed
- Lower Back Stress (“My lower back is stiff as an old plank and my front feels like Mike Tyson has been using it as a punch bag.” – Jason)
- Inability to Get Comfortable (“I feel like the morning after a rugby match. I have aches in my back and sore shoulders. I certainly didn’t expect this after only one afternoon wearing the pregnancy suit. My whole body is adjusting to my new portly physique.” – Jason)
- Pressure on Bladder, Stomach, & Lungs
- Increased Breast Size (“At first quite a pleasurable novelty, soon became about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit” – Steve)
- Rise in Body Temperature, Increased Blood Pressure & Pulse
- Fetal Movement
- Shortness of Breath, Limited Breathing
- Tiredness (“Over the last 20 days what I’ve missed most is at night, and it’s not what you think. It’s sleep. Every day I wake up feeling physically ill from lack of the stuff. They say 80% of pregnant women suffer from insomnia so I’m in good company.” – Jonny)
Given this laundry list of symptoms, it’s little wonder Jonny visited his local pharmacy on Day 3 to seek medical help: “I unzipped my jacket, exposing my belly and explaining my predicament to the woman behind the counter. I expected her to crack a smile or reel back in shock but she nodded professionally like she’s seen it all before, opened a drawer and placed an elastic waist strap on the counter.”
On Day 5, Jason mused, “I wonder why pregnant women don’t use wheelchairs. I have a chair in the office with wheels and this is a blessing. I can glide effortlessly across the office to my desired destination.”
Can I touch your belly? The public reacts
In addition to this heap of physical fun-and-games, the guys also had to deal with appearing seriously strange in public. As Steve put it on Day 2, “I have had people look at me strangely on public transport before, but never while sober.”
The sideways glances and disapproving stares mushroomed online. The project made it into The Daily Mail Online “Femail” section, prompting public vitriol like:
- “Divorce these 3 wimps immediately ladies please.”
- “I cannot accept this. Men should not get pregnant. It is unethical and against the will of God. Who knows what defects the poor unfortunate babies will be born with? When Science tampers with nature like this it is the hand of Satan that guides it.”
- “Men already have roles during pregnancy and after the birth of their children. This is just another example of the anti-male, anti-Fatherhood agenda at work in society nowadays.”
- “theres a sexual fetish, thats all about pretending to be a pregnant male. So dont try to bloody convince me, these fellows are doing it to be more empathetic.”
- “Grow some nuts you bunch of plonkers.”
- “My god have some self respect, you are a disgrace to mankind.”
As vicious as this collection of public commentary is, somehow the Three Pregnant Dads did not cause modern civilization to fall into ruin. Each detractor was balanced out by a veritable army of vocal supporters, praising the guys for taking on the empathy belly challenge.
It was significantly harder to get on with daily life, however. Steve admitted, “The truth is I don’t want to see people; I don’t want to face the open pointing and the unveiled laughter. I avoid people I don’t know, as much as I can. I’m tired of explaining why I have boobs and why I’m dressed like I’m an extra in a homemade sadomasochistic movie. I’m doing it in honour of my wife and mum seems to translate into, I’m a bit of an attention-seeking dick that likes to look silly.”
Even simple tasks risked stirring up trouble. As his wife and baby were away the whole month in Singapore, Jason had to strike out on his own for a late-night grocery run. But “it wasn’t long before the security escorted me through the store. Pausing as I paused to fill my basket, not my belly with various fruit and veg. It’s not like I would have been able to have made a quick exit, quite the opposite. A tired trudge at best.”
Is it a boy or girl? Becoming one with the bump
The emotional toll of the month-long challenge may not have been fueled by hormones, but the Dads’ morale was subject to wild fluctuations regardless.
After a few days of waddling, Steve observed his belly “taking on a personality. It has a name, and its name is Bump. I cradle it, pat it, rub it and I just caught myself talking to it while patting it.” The suits are equipped with a hanging weight inside that simulates kicks, punches, and general wiggling about.
Jason’s relationship with the heavy suit was decidedly love-hate: “Whilst there are times that I have grown quite attached to this thing that sits in front of me, most of the time I find it an absolute pain. My initial thought is to call it Morph, however I am open to suggestions.”
Getting used to strange public reactions became par for the course. Yet one “gorgeous day of blue skies and sunshine in Barcelona,” Jonny found himself experiencing quite the opposite response as he head to the beach for a picnic with his son, Enzo: “The promenade was bustling with happy people: the strollers, the sun-soakers and the volleyballers to a soundscape of waves lapping on the beach and the clackety-clack of the old men playing dominoes. I noticed that we were gathering more smiles, laughs and nods of approval than looks of confusion, worry or revulsion. Something was amiss. Then I turned to Enzo who had stuffed his football up his t-shirt and was mimicking my waddle and proudly sticking his belly out besides me.”
Are you going to deliver naturally? The labor simulator
As the Dads neared the end-of-the-month finish line, one follower suggested that the ultimate experience to round out the challenge would be to hook themselves up to a labor pain simulator. The guys had more of a cheese-and-champagne finale in mind, but their fans spoke up in strong support of the idea.
Conspiring colleagues located a convenient machine right in sunny Barcelona.
The anticipation was terrible. Jason speculated that “there might be three grown men screaming and crying in our pillows. I am wondering whether we will be given a heavy dose of Morphine to deal with the pain. This is going to be one mother of a day…”
One by one, the guys took turns being hooked up to a series of straps and wires that cause the abdominal muscles to contract, simulating the contractions that a pregnant woman feels when going into labor. It’s not completely the same experience, of course: “There’s no ripping of flesh, expulsion of body fluids (although Jason did wee himself) and no beautiful bundle of screaming joy at the end,” explained Jonny. “You do, however, feel strangely elated and happy to be alive – like you would if you were struck by a bolt of lightning and lived to tell the tale.”
What three Dads learned from wearing pregnancy suits for one month
When Mother’s Day finally rolled around, the three Dads got together with their own Moms and families for the shedding of the suits. And yes, there was champagne.
The pregnancy suits can be unstrapped, but wearing them for a month impacted the guys for good.
“Huge respect goes to all you pregnant mums out there. Every single one of you,” said Steve.
Jason was similarly awed: “The respect and gratitude I now have to my wife, Mondrey, for being so strong during her pregnancy with my son is now unmeasurable.”
Finally, for any guys out there contemplating the empathy belly experience, Jonny condensed his advice down to five key points:
1. Women generally think you’re great in a pregnancy suit. Men think you’re a plonker. 5-year old boys think you’re a punch bag.
2. Having breasts is fun for a day and then they get in the way.
3. If you like the idea of having your belly stroked by women you’ve just met, this is an unlikely ice-breaker.
4. This thing is a 33lb nutcracker and can crush a walnut with a single blow. (EDITOR’S NOTE: which actually happened on Day 19!)
5. Never, ever, attempt to go over a speedbump whilst riding a bike (for the same reason as 4).
More press about the Three Pregnant Dads:
- Three Pregnant Dads – BBC
- This Is What Happens When 3 Dads Decide To Find Out What Pregnancy Is Really Like – Huffington Post
- Three dads don ’empathy bellies’ to experience pregnancy – Mashable
- 3 Pregnant Dads Try Being Moms For 1 Month – boredpanda
- Backache, swollen breasts and the constant urge to pee: Meet the DADS wearing 33-pound ’empathy bellies’ to experience the pain of being nine months pregnant – DailyMail
- Three Pregnant Dads: Meet the Men Wearing ‘Empathy Bellies’ – ABC News
- Dads Praise ‘Superhuman’ Women After Struggling With Fake 33-lb. Baby Bumps – Yahoo! News
- ‘Three Pregnant Dads’ try birth simulator after month of wearing empathy bellies – SheKnows
- Meet the Three Pregnant Dads Wearing “Empathy Bellies” for One Month in Honor of Mother’s Day – Closer Weekly
- ‘Three Pregnant Dads’ Wear Empathy Bellies For One Month – The Bump