The New Womb Envy

You knocked her up, sure, but that doesn't mean you should act like you're pregnant too.

When my wife got pregnant, all kinds of miraculous things occurred. Cells divided within her, organs took shape, limbs formed, a brain—I don't know—hatched. I, meanwhile, found myself comparison-shopping for nursery furniture. And it seemed enough. I may have skipped the parenting mags in the midwife's waiting room in favor of Travel + Leisure, but I never shirked my duties as husband and future father. Then an acquaintance said to me—the husband, the man—"So, I hear you're pregnant!" and I thought, Am I missing something? Because I was clearly not pregnant, nor did I have any desire to be even if it were possible. But I knew who to blame for this friendly overestimation of my biological capacities: all those couples who trumpet the successful insertion of sperm into egg by proclaiming, "We're pregnant!"

Until recently, our ideas about the procreative roles of men and women were distinct enough to keep us from getting co-pregnant with our partners. When I was born, in the late sixties, for example, my father was banished to a linoleum-tiled dad purgatory where he watched game shows until a nurse padded in with the news of my arrival. I'm not saying that sort of separation of maternal and paternal powers during delivery is the right approach, but what it did do was prevent any confusion about who wore the uterus.

In the intervening decades, the American man has been imported into the delivery room to watch the whole, gory show from a vagina-side seat. He is asked to hold his wife's hand, remind her to breathe, and sometimes even cut the umbilical cord (the consistency is remarkably like that of raw calamari). Perhaps that's why guys, considering their new integration into the birthing process, now imagine that they are part of the pre-birthing process, too. Baby Daddy, it seems, has got a bad case of womb envy.

Men are packing on extra weight, downing prenatal vitamins, and swearing off alcohol, driven as much by the delusion that they're contributing to the baby's health as by their duty to stand in solidarity with their spouse. Male hysterical pregnancy was a subplot on not one but two popular hospital shows, Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy. And now come reports in scientific journals that so-called couvade syndrome (couvade is derived from the French word meaning "incubate" or "hatch") is rampant among even our simian peers, as male marmosets and cotton-top tamarin monkeys will pile on grub-and-banana pounds during their mates' pregnancies.

And then there's Hollywood's new baby epidemic, which induces leading men like Heath Ledger and Tom Cruise, hands resting covetously on their girlfriends' flashbulb-hogging abdominal swells, to blather about gaining sympathy guts and to wheel sonogram machines into their homes. How long before one of these progressive A-list hunks opts for what medical science has already made theoretically possible: an artificially grown fetus implanted in his abdominal cavity? (One piece of advice: Schedule a C-section.)

Have gender divisions really eroded to the point where guys secretly yearn for nine months of bloat, urine squirts, and aching knees, followed by the excruciating passage of an eight-pound creature through a tiny orifice? David A. Levy, a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, suggests that men talk and act as if they're in the third trimester because "there's not much else they can do. Being pregnant means being out of control, so people tend to fixate on things they can control. In American culture there's a strong belief that, if we work hard enough, we can really affect our futures." But if we need to appropriate every aspect of the female experience, we might be pushing things too far. Because when you take that kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, your chick ought to wear a strap-on—and I'm not sure we need to understand every wrinkle of what it feels like for a girl. Despite the Baby Björning of American men, and no matter how many lower-back massages we give or breathing exercises we moderate, we simply do not have the requisite oven in which to heat up a bun of our own—and why would we want one? Ask any woman who's been pregnant and she'll tell you flat out: Your inability to sprout varicose veins overnight in disturbing places is a good thing.

Word to the wise: You are a man, so be one. Scratch your balls and revel in your biological exemptions. After all, once your baby is born, you will be an equal partner in pretty much everything from changing Junior's diapers to answering the door when he's 15 and trying to explain to Officer Portly that it wasn't vandalism, it was, you know, youthful exuberance. Those nine fetus-free months are a gift—don't waste them. While she is moaning and puking and crying at H&R Block commercials, you should be patting her hand and counting the minutes until she goes to bed, so you can start drinking. And yes, you should drink. Just because she will be visited by Social Services if she so much as sniffs a glass of Cabernet Franc, that doesn't mean you should forgo the pleasure of single malt and tekkamaki.

So find something better to do than filch your wife's hard-earned moment in the procreative spotlight. Like, say, your job (you are going to need the cash). Pregnancy (unlike childbirth) is a relatively passive affair—and only one person can sit on the egg. You should stick with the sofa.


Mr. Mom: Thomas Beatie

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