The Empathy Belly

Want to know what it feels like to be pregnant? Strap on one of these guys.

By Catherine Price

Published July 9, 2007 10:00PM (EDT)

Here's something that sounds like a joke, but isn't: the Empathy Belly. It's a pregnancy simulator designed to "enable men, women, teenage boys and girls to experience over 20 symptoms and effects of pregnancy." (The Empathy Belly is not to be confused with the Empathy Lungs, put out by the same company.) The Empathy Belly's effects include a 30-pound weight gain, pressure on your bladder to encourage frequent urination, shallow breathing, increased pulse and body temperature, other uncomfortable pregnancy-related conditions, and my two favorites:

"Low backaches; shift in center of gravity; waddling" and

"Fatigue, irritability, and much, much more!"

Unfortunately, the Empathy Belly is expensive (its discounted price is $449) and isn't available to the general public (something about how it's designed as a teaching tool for medical, social and educational fields, blah blah blah).

But luckily for anyone curious about such things, a writer for The Boston Herald got ahold of one and wrote a column about the experience. The author was inspired by his wife, who said that she wished he could feel what it was like to be pregnant after he started treating an ultrasound appointment as a prenatal photo shoot. Unbeknownst to her, he went to the hospital to get fitted with the 33-pound apparatus, then met his wife for lunch. She was amused (and squeezed his fake body parts over the table). Then they went out to the movies, both pregnant. Something tells me that marriage is going to last.

On a more serious note, I'm glad that the Empathy Belly's out there. As the Web site's tag line says, "Tell me and I might forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me, and I'll understand and remember." That makes sense -- I'd imagine that having students wear an Empathy Belly would be a much better teaching tool than making them carry around a sack of flour.

And also: The simulator's only meant to be worn for 30 minutes. To get to wear it for more than three hours, the author had to sign "multiple health waivers." (He maxed out at 24 hours.) I wonder how many forms there'd be if you wanted to wear it for nine months.

Update: The last paragraph of this post initially reported that the Herald author wore the Empathy Belly for a total of 18 hours, when actually lasted 24. We've corrected the paragraph.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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