Three Pregnant Dads: Meet the Men Wearing 'Empathy Bellies'

They are attempting to experience pregnancy for one month.

ByABC News
February 23, 2015, 3:34 PM

— -- From exhaustion to bladder discomfort to lack of sleep, pregnant women endure an array of aches and pains on the path that culminates with childbirth.

If only a man could even begin to understand what it was like. Well, now three guys are trying to do just that.

In an effort to pay tribute to the challenges of pregnancy as well as to their wives and mothers, three men have decided to wear 33-pound 'empathy bellies' for one month straight in the run up to March 15, when Mother's Day is celebrated in England. To spread awareness of their plight, the men are sharing the ups and downs of the experiment with readers on a site titled, appropriately enough, Three Pregnant Dads.

Jason Bramley, Steve Hanson and Jonny Biggins--all hail from the United Kingdom but work together in Barcelona for The Book of Everyone, a company that creates personalized books for birthdays and family events--have strapped on their pregnancy suits for just a little over a week.

The men could not be reached for comment, but The Book of Everyone's community manager Mike Smith spoke with ABC News about the Three Pregnant Dads' experience so far.

"[They] get a lot of belly rubs from beautiful strangers, fun and excited reactions from the public and have received a lot of sympathy from colleagues, friends, and women," said Smith.

Despite their comical appearance, 'empathy bellies' can provide a serious shift in perspective, according to experts.

"I think it is as close as possible to simulating how pregnancy may feel for some women," said ABC News Senior Medical Contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton, an OB-GYN based in the United States. "While many of the changes that women may experience in pregnancy are physical, some are also emotional, and the 'empathy belly' can't simulate that, but it does make an effort."

To wit, the suits are designed to reproduce "abdominal distention, pelvic tilt, a shift in posture causing waddling gait, abdominal aches, lower back stress, pressure on bladder, stomach, and lungs, shortness of breath" even fetal movement, among other pregnancy symptoms, Smith said.

"Something moves inside the belly," explained Jonny Biggins in his second blog post. "A weird alien-like lump of solid resin swings like a embryonic pendulum with each move you make. It’s freaky."

Bridging the experiential disconnect between men and women during pregnancy is just part of the inspiration behind the project. The men also wanted pay homage to Anna Jarvis, who is credited with trademarking the Mother's Day holiday as an annual celebration of motherhood.

Before embarking upon their project, the three men wrote out a list of rules for the experiment on a couple of drink coasters, including:

  • The suit must be worn the whole time for one month (apart from showering or bathing).
  • A daily video diary must be kept to monitor the joys, trials and tribulations.
  • A daily written diary must also be kept. About 150 words.
  • No cheating, you will only be cheating the honor of your mother.

Some observers have reacted to the experiment with negative sentiments. After the Three Pregnant Dads project was written about in an article in the UK's Daily Mail, Steve Hanson relayed some of the less supportive reactions on his blog.

"I have just spent a most pleasant hour reading the comments," Hanson wrote. "From 'Idiots ... and I am a woman’ to ‘Divorce these 3 wimps immediately ladies please.’"

While some comments expressed disgust, another reader felt the project undermined a father's traditional role.

"Men already have roles during pregnancy and after the birth of their children," the person wrote. "This is just another example of the anti-male, anti-Fatherhood agenda at work in society nowadays."

But such responses leave the men relatively unfazed, said Smith.

"[They] don’t take it too seriously, as it’s just a bit of a fun," he said. "We’re happy that it provokes discussion."