In terms of ‘interesting Jews,’ Darren Garnick is somewhat unconventional. He’s a journalist, and before his child was born four years ago, he decided to embed in the big story of his life at the time: his wife’s pregnancy. At Massachusetts General Hospital, Garnick procured an “Empathy Belly”–an educational tool that allows men to physically sample what it’s like to lug around 30 extra pounds, etc. Normally, men try it on for a quick turn during childbirth classes, but Garnick got the belly to go, and walked out of the hospital wearing it around Boston for 24 hours. He later wrote up his experience for the Boston Herald. Years afterwards, we asked him some questions about what he learned from the experience.
Do you feel that your experience with the Empathy Belly made a big difference in how you saw pregnancy–or, for that matter, your wife?
It would be incredibly naive and beyond pretentious to believe that I could really experience what pregnancy is like by wearing a costume–even one that strategically impacts the bladder! I love pursuing offbeat journalism topics and to me, the Empathy Belly experiment was initially a stunt similar to my day working as an alligator baseball mascot or dressing up as Anne of Green Gables at a tourist site.
Although I was primarily aiming to amuse my wife, Stacy, who was two weeks away from giving birth, I inadvertently learned something when we went out to restaurants and saw a movie. Little things you take for granted, like reaching for things at a table or especially going to the bathroom, become extremely challenging. At night, I also forever gained an understanding of how difficult it is for pregnant women to sleep.
In childbirth class, it’s common for fathers to take turns wearing the Empathy Belly for a mere 20-30 minutes. I think 24 hours in the suit should be mandatory.
How did men react to your doing this? Was there a difference between the reactions of unmarried men and married men?
My goal was to wear the pregnancy suit with confidence, you know, like it was perfectly normal for me to fill out my tacky maternity shirt. Carrying a notebook and escorting Stacy inoculated me from most ridicule, because most strangers assumed I was doing this for a reason and not because of some weird fetish. However, at the movies while I was waiting outside the women’s room for my wife, I received lots of awkward stares from the other husbands and boyfriends. No words were exchanged, but I knew exactly what they were thinking.
How did women react?
With one notable exception, women were delighted by the experiment and wished their husbands would try “being pregnant” too. One female friend offered to play a Mozart CD for me so the imaginary baby would be smarter. However, there was one sassy lady who scoffed at my appearance. “Male pregnancy?” she huffed. “Pffffff! After you’ve peed in your pants a few times, then come back and talk to me about male pregnancy!”
In light of what you did, how would you advise husbands of pregnant women to conduct themselves around their pregnant wives?
I’m not sure I’m in a position to be a role model in any regard here. Although I made every doctor’s appointment and fetched a lot of Chinese food, I probably could have done more to make my wife comfortable. My advice? Remember that pregnancy isn’t a part-time gig.
Any other insights we should know about?
Even though this was an artificially created situation, I did get a taste of what it’s like to have your body be constantly stared at. Nobody dared do this to me, but strangers who affectionately pat pregnant women on the stomach should be locked up. I also think that for all the hardships, pregnancy seems like it would be a lot of fun given the rewards. Except for the delivery room part.