I stand over the giant cardboard box with the Japanese postmark, kind of looking forward to and kind of dreading what waits inside it. I slice open the packing tape and there it is: my pregnancy suit. It looks a little like a flak jacket—a froggy shade of green, ribbed with stitching, and made from nylon thick enough to bend a butcher knife. The Velcro straps come together over each shoulder and three times around the back. Its breasts are as round and hard as tennis balls. And the belly beneath them swells with a giant gel dome zippered into a sleeve. Weighted bags fill another compartment, each bag meant to replicate another month of pregnancy. This is not a Halloween costume. This is my reality. For the next few months, I am going to be a mother-to-be.
illustration by John Ueland
When our son was born, when my wife tried to breast-feed him, he had trouble latching on and began to precipitously lose weight. It would have been easier to stir up some formula, but my wife was determined: Her gyno-Guinness would not go to waste. So every time the boy woke up to feed, she would pump, and I would ready a bottle and kick back in the recliner with him. For the first five months, before he began sleeping through the night, this was our routine, so that I fed him through his infancy, the boundary between mother and father blurred, which seems indicative of a larger trend.
No one has bought me the World’s Greatest Father coffee mug yet, and I don’t deserve one. I’m crabby. I’m impatient. I wear skull T-shirts. I kind of look forward to my children growing old enough to walk twenty yards ahead of me in the mall and pretend I don’t exist. But male empathy— at least among the co-op-shopping, NPR- listening crowd—seems never to have been greater. And when I see a man coaching in the junior soccer league, or watching his kids for the week while his wife travels for business, or shopping for groceries while patiently playing spelling games with his 5-year-old, I know I should do better.
I never felt like a better father than when tucked into that La-Z-Boy, feeding my son, his wrinkled face hardly distinguishable from the swaddle surrounding him. Maybe, ridiculously, the pregnancy suit will bring me back to that time. Maybe—by helping me experience the one thing unavailable to men as parents—it will be more than a costume, but a way for me to alter my point of view, deepen my empathy, help me overcome my mouth-breathing-caveman deficiencies.
The pregnancy suit was shipped to me by the Kanagawa Institute of Technology, where a scientist and professor named Dr. Takayuki Kosaka has headed up the development of an even more technologically advanced pregnancy simulator, the Mommy Tummy, which somehow hooks up to a computer and supposedly replicates nine months of weight gain and balance struggles and baby kicking. In a few months Kosaka will host me outside Tokyo, where I’ll try it out. It is hard to know what to expect. I imagine I will swim through a giant glass vaginal channel in a white scuba suit or be strapped to a table and stabbed with hormone-oozing needles, all while Dr. Kosaka studies me and takes diligent notes on a clipboard.
But in the meantime, because part of the agony of pregnancy is how long it lasts— and experiencing the extent of the agony is kinda the point—I’ve agreed to wear the rudimentary prosthetic he has mailed me for a nine-week term. And if the women in my life love me for it, all the better.