A friend of mine called me the other day bursting with excitement that her son and his wife were expecting their first child. “Trevor and Allison are pregnant!” she exclaimed. And of course I ooohed and aaahed and congratulated her and asked all the appropriate questions – when are they due? Are they having a boy or a girl? Have they picked out names?
But really what I wanted to say was, really? They’re pregnant? How many pounds has Trevor gained? How often is he puking his guts up in the morning? And have they contacted the news media? Because, you know, a pregnant man is pretty big news.
I know it’s a generational thing. When my son and his wife were expecting their daughter, they couched it in the same terms – “we’re pregnant.” It’s all part of the idea that all aspects of marriage and parenthood should be a shared experience. I applaud that. The world has changed dramatically from a few generations ago, when women stayed home and took care of the children, and men went to work and “brought home the bacon.”
My mom was one of the few women on our block when I was growing up who worked outside the house. She was a smart, stylish, sassy woman who loved her family but loved being in the thick of things, too. Along with working full time, she was a member of the Young Republicans (she used to tell us, “You can be anything you want when you grow up except a Democrat”), a den mother for my brother’s Cub Scout troop, and home room mother for one of our classes every year. And her mother, my grandmother, while proud of her daughter’s achievements, was always slightly appalled at her “thoroughly modern Jackie,” who dressed in suits and heels and hats and gloves and went to the office all day, smoked cigarettes and drank bourbon, and could hold her own in a conversation with any man, anywhere.
At the end of the day, though, it was still Mom’s job to make sure dinner was on the table and that the house was clean, the laundry was done, the kids were properly outfitted for school, and Dad’s shirts were pressed. (She taught me to iron dress shirts at an early age, sprinkling them with water and rolling them up and putting them in the fridge to get nice and cold first … but that’s a story for another day.)
And when she was pregnant, she was definitely the only one who was pregnant. Dad’s part in the whole process really only consisted of two things, the first being obvious and the second being passing out the cigars after the doctor came to the waiting room to announce whether it was a boy or a girl.
Then along came my generation, where more women worked outside the home than not, and things inside the home started changing, too. Women began to realize that we couldn’t, and shouldn’t have to, do it all, and men began to realize that being an active participant in homemaking and childrearing was, well, pretty cool, actually. More dads showed up at parent/teacher conferences and school plays in the middle of the day, and on weekends men were found behind vacuum cleaners as well as in front of the television. (I know I’m speaking in broad generalizations here, but cut me some slack; this is a blog post, not a scientific essay.)
But when my girlfriends and I were pregnant, we were still the only ones who were pregnant. True, our husbands went to childbirth classes with us (or theirs did, anyway; I delivered early and never quite made it to any classes) and were ready and willing to be in the delivery room, coaching us through labor (“Breathe, honey” and “Relax, honey.” Yeah, right). Toward the end they were right there with us: “Oooh oooh oooh, aaah aaah aaah, now push!” Then they would go out to the waiting room and pass out cigars.
Fast forward – a little – to my children’s generation (that is, today). I see from the Facebook posts of my children and nieces and nephews that even more of life’s “duties” are shared nowadays. Men cook and clean and ferry kids around to all the myriad activities they’re involved in these days. They are just as likely to take time off work to stay home with a sick child as Mom is; it’s no longer a given that Mom’s the one who will take the kids to their dental appointments — Every. Single. Time. I hear – this may not be true, but I hear – that Dad might even plan the occasional birthday party. I have a nephew who takes his daughters’ birthdays off work every year so that he can have Daddy Dates with them.
I think this is beyond commendable. I think it’s amazing. I think it’s wonderful. I think the more both parents are involved with their kids, the better – for the kids and the parents.
There are a lot of ways in which our society is degenerating, and it scares me a little to think of what my children’s children are going to have to face, but this is one area where I think we have progressed exceptionally well. I am so happy to see both partners really sharing the burdens and the joys of homemaking and childrearing.
And the whole experience of pregnancy and childbirth really is as shared as it can be these days. When my son and his wife were expecting, Scott went to every doctor’s appointment and saw every ultrasound. He and Stacey took childbirth classes and parenting classes. He was, of course, right there in the delivery room when baby Paige was born, holding Stacey’s hand through it all. Afterwards, he and the baby had “skin time,” something I’d never heard of before. And he takes off work to go to all her follow-up appointments and helps hold her when she gets her shots. Stacey is an amazing mom, and Scott is an amazing dad.
So I do get the whole shared experience thing, I really do. But I’m sorry. Maybe it’s the pedant in me. But men just can’t be pregnant. “We” can be expecting a baby, but “we” can’t be pregnant. As much as we have tried to level the playing field and equalize the roles of men and women in marriage and family, there is still one thing that only women can do, and that is give birth to a child.
Call it unfair, call it small-minded, call it cruel to want to keep this “marvelous” experience to women and away from men. The way I look at it, it’s the woman who spends months with her head in a toilet bowl. It’s the woman whose body gets stretched into some unrecognizable shape that reminds us of nothing so much as the Goodyear Blimp (unless you’re one of those women who go through the whole thing with just a cute little baby bump, and if you are, we actually hate you). It’s the woman who for months is uncomfortable sitting up, lying down, or really in any position at all. It’s the woman whose feet swell up, whose bladder is constantly screaming, and whose own belly button suddenly pops out like a third nipple in the middle of her stomach. And ultimately it’s the woman who has to make a six or eight or ten pound baby come out through … yeah.
So I think it’s only fair that she alone gets to feel this new life growing inside her. I think it’s only fair that when it moves, she alone gets to feel it on the inside, and he only gets to feel it from the outside.
I don’t think there’s anything the slightest bit wrong with a woman saying, “I’m pregnant,” and a couple saying, “We’re expecting a baby.” Because even though our society may evolve to the point where men and women are truly equal, they will never be the same.
I have two sons, and I want them to experience their wives’ pregnancies to the very fullest that they possibly can. But I also want them to remember that it is she, not they, who is actually, physically pregnant.
And to revere her a little for that.