My Empathy Experiment: How I Did It

My Empathy Experiment: How I Did It

If you were going to pretend to be pregnant for 9 months, how would you do it?

Right—gain weight and stop drinking alcohol.

Or you might of immediately thought: “Why would anyone do that?”

And that's a fair question. But it's not today's topic (if you wanna know why I did this experiment, read this article).

Today’s article is about how I did these 9 things to emulate being pregnant. But before you say it, let me explain. I know doing these things aren’t the same as actually being pregnant, but the impact is similar. They gave me a different perspective about pregnancy that I could never have if I didn't do them for 9 months.

Ok, so here’s what I did for the “the Empathy Experiment”:

  1. I Gained 30 Pounds of Fat
  2. I Gave Up Drinking Alcohol
  3. I Avoided Some of My Favorite Foods
  4. I Stopped Doing Everything Fun Lots of My Hobbies
  5. I Restricted My Sleep
  6. I Peed 17 Times Per Day
  7. I Abstained From Intense Exercise
  8. I Took a Pharmacy’s Worth of Vitamins Every Day
  9. I Took (Unnecessary) Travel Precautions

In this article I share the nitty gritty details of how I did each one for 9 months of pregnancy (ok, it was more like 7.5 months because our daughter was born early, but you get the point).

And just so you know I’m telling the truth, here’s proof of pregnancy rule #1:

#1: I Gained 30 Pounds of Fat

Doctors recommend that pregnant women gain between 25 – 35 lbs.

And that can be pretty scary, especially when you feel like you have no control over your growing belly. Gaining weight is among women’s top pregnancy fears.

And so naturally, it was the #1 thing I did to support my girlfriend when she got pregnant.

This part of the empathy experiment was by far the most difficult and took the most commitment. I’ve been skinny my whole life and had to work really hard to put on the pounds.

I took drastic measures:

  • I ate two tubs of 9% yogurt (500 ml) almost everyday.
  • I added cheese, bacon, and mayonnaise to everything.
  • I drank liquid whipped cream (33%) in all my coffees.

And guess what? I got fat. Fast.

When I started this experiment in September of 2016 (the same month I found out Sarah was pregnant), I weighed 167 pounds. I was lean, fit, and active. But all that changed.

By the time our daughter was born in April 2017, I weighed 196 pounds and had purposefully gained exactly 29 pounds of fat and jumped from a size 32 inch waist to a 36.

I had to buy ‘fat pants’ because I couldn’t fit into my jeans anymore. Sound familiar?

Here are some before and after pictures. The pictures on the left were taken in September 2017, and the ones on the right, in April 2016. The time span between them was about 7 months.

Putting on weight this fast, despite it being on purpose, isn’t all sunshine and lollipops.

I struggled with:

  • Not fitting into my clothes anymore
  • Always feeling out of breath
  • Food cravings
  • Cellulite
  • Acne

Then I started to struggle emotionally.

I became self-conscious of my body, declining physical abilities, attractiveness. It seemed my identity was changing with every extra pound I gained. And I guess that was the point.

Pregnant women also don’t have the choice when it comes to their growing baby bump, widening hips, and disappearing waistline. As for the other pregnancy symptoms (pregnancy rules 2 through 9), I felt like I could at least manage them. They were just symptoms and not apart of me.

But getting fatter, that was starting to change me.

I think my unconscious emotional threshold for weight gain was around the 20 pound-mark. Prior to that amount of weight gain, I wasn’t really phased. This was still a fun experiment that I was in control of.

But gaining the last 10 lbs seemed to weigh on me. I became really unhappy with myself. And again, I think that’s the point. I imagine the feeling is probably similar for women during pregnancy.

Putting on a bit of weight is novel at first (especially if you can rationalize it as literally “baby weight”). But then you reach a threshold and its effects sink in—this is happening and you feel powerless to stop it.

So it was official. I was feeling fat and I could empathize with Sarah.

#2: I Gave Up Drinking Alcohol

We all know that pregnant women shouldn’t drink.

And let’s be honest, that’s one of the biggest drawbacks to pregnancy for some. If only there was a way around it.

But since it’s still taboo and a major kill-joy to drink while gestating, I joined Sarah’s sober train for her entire pregnancy.

Neither us got drunk during her entire pregnancy. I say drunk, because the rules changed after the first trimester. For the second and third trimesters, I allowed myself one drink per night.

Now before you say: “That’s cheating”. Hear me out.

Most doctors recommend a blanket no drinking rule for the entire pregnancy. But when you dig into it (and I recommend you do!) you come across different answers.

We really liked Emily Oster’s book called: “Expecting Better”. It’s a research-based decision making approach to all things pregnancy. Caffeine, alcohol, food, and various drugs are all covered. You name it, she did the research. That book is one of our favorites and is sitting on our bookshelf right now (if we haven’t lent it out to one of our pregnant friends).

When it comes to drinking alcohol during pregnancy, most studies look at the extremes (e.g., mother’s who are alcoholics) and then infer the very horrible outcomes that can result (like fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) to the entire range of drinking scenarios.

But that’s clearly not accurate.

That’s like saying drinking one beer or glass of wine has the same potential to affect your fetus as drinking seven does.

Doctors seem to make blanket statements about alcohol because they reduce their liability, and because frankly, they don’t trust mother’s to just have one (or two) drinks, and then stop.

So after doing our own research, we decided that it was technically OK to have (up to) one drink per night in the second and third trimesters (but please do your own research and decide what you’re comfortable with).

So together, Sarah and I broke the “no drinking rule during pregnancy” multiple times. But we did so safely and in an informed way (turns out the rate of consumption of alcohol is critical to maintain safety margins for the developing fetus).

Full disclosure:

I cheated at Austin City Limits music festival as part of a plan to hide Sarah’s pregnancy from her brother. Needless to say the plan didn’t work. I didn’t end up getting drunk and Sarah’s brother found out she was pregnant that trip (he was the second person to find out she was pregnant).

#3: I Took a Pharmacy’s Worth of Vitamins Every Day

If you’re a health-nut then taking vitamins everyday doesn’t seem like a big deal. That’s because it’s already a habit and you believe in the benefits.

But for me, taking a least a dozen pills every day was a straight up pain in the ass.

During pregnancy, women are encouraged to take a pharmacy’s worth of prenatal vitamins. And prior to doing it myself, I never thought it was a big deal. God damn it takes a shit load of time to sort them all out, put them in their little cups, and close everything back up.

Here’s what I took:

  • Multivitamin
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin D3 (x2)
  • Digestive enzyme
  • Niacin (x2)
  • Salmon oil (x2)
  • Garlic (x2)
  • Green tea extract

Note: Not all pills are taken by pregnant women and I doubled up some pills to get it closer to the number Sarah was taking.

I suffered the usual side effect:

  • Radioactive pee
  • Bad breath (from the garlic and fish oil), and
  • Doing extra laundry because I forgot pills in a pant pocket and they exploded.

So trust me—don’t underestimate the nuisance of taking prenatals when your partner complains. The struggle is real.

#4: I Avoided Some of My Favorite Foods

You know that saying “You are what you eat”? Well it’s never rang more true than when you’re pregnant. Your baby is what you eat.

Accordingly, it goes without saying that some foods should be avoided. Mostly because of the bacteria they might harbour. Turns out there are three main strains of bacteria you want to avoid:

  • E.coli (often associated with sushi and human poop)
  • Salmonella (often associated with chicken, eggs, and other fresh meats)
  • Listeria (often associated with deli meats, especially turkey, unpasturized cheeses, and even cantaloupe).

But to be honest, after doing the research, while E.coli and salmonella will make you feel pretty shitty from throwing up, losing sleep, or becoming slightly dehydrates, they’re not going to seriously harm you or the fetus (so long as you aren’t negligent in dealing with the symptoms of being sick).

But Listeria, listeria is a bad mother fucker.  It’s not to be messed with. It can cause some serious birth defects.

So, all in all, I ended up only having to avoid some varieties of deli meats and unpasteurized (i.e., the ones that have previously been associated with Listeria) since Sarah and I decided that her nor I were really concerned with E.coli or Salmonella.

And then there’s caffeine. I had to stop drinking all caffeine.

Just kidding. Drink as much as you like! Up to 7 cups a day appears to be fine. But again, do your own research.

Want an easy solution? Grab Emily Oster’s book called: “Expecting Better”, it’s all covered in this book. If you’re like us, you won’t be disappointed if you buy this book—I can’t recommend it enough.

#5: I Stopped Doing Everything Fun Some of My Hobbies

Like bungee jumping, scuba diving, kite surfing, free diving, trampoline dodgeball, sky diving, or even hot tubs. Believe it or not, Sarah and I did have to avoid lots of these activities during her pregnancy.

We passed up on:

  • Scuba diving in Portugal
  • Kitesurfing in Squamish
  • Trampoline dodgeball in Vancouver (Sorry, Abby!)
  • Go-karting in Richmond, and
  • Too many hot tubs to list.

Ya, I know. How could we right?

It killed us both to pass on these opportunities, but we had to… Because let’s be real, fetuses don’t like trampolines (or do they?)

Full disclosure: While I avoided diving for fun, I allowed a limited amount of diving for work (since it was a rare event and I didn’t want to disappoint my colleagues). But obviously women who are pregnant don’t really have this option, since for the most part, the potential risks of breathing air at depth isn’t well understood.

Oh ya, and in line with this “hobbies rule”, I also sold my two motorcycles. But that’s OK because safety doesn’t take a vacation when you’re expecting.

Pro tip: While the adventures don’t have to stop just because you have a baby (that’s what is all about), it does get harder. So if you’re thinking of having a baby, start taking advantage of your baby-free time now. You’ll thank us later.

#6: I Restricted My Sleep

Everyone always says to new parents: “Sleep now while you can”, or “Better sleep before the kid comes”.

And in some ways it’s true—you’ll will sleep better pre-pregnancy and pre-baby. It’s just a fact.

But if compare sleep during pregnancy and postpartum, you’ll be surprised to hear that Sarah actually slept better postpartum. That’s not always the case, but it doesn’t necessarily get worse and worse as pregnancy advances and the baby arrives.

As I’m finishing up this article, Poppy is 3 months old and Sarah sleeps better now than she did when she was pregnant. But she slept really poorly during pregnancy so this comparison might just be skewed because she had such a hard time earlier on.

During pregnancy, sleep is usually poor because:

You have to pee lots (see the next rule for more on that one)

  • Your large belly and raging hormones make you uncomfortable and extra hot
  • The baby kicks you while trying to fall asleep or in the middle of the night often waking you up
  • You suffer from baby induced sciatic nerve pains

So as you know, I reduced my sleep too by waking up in the middle of the night with Sarah when one of these things happened.

Initially, I was still slamming water before bed (keeping with rule #8) but that led to Sarah and my’s pee schedule clashing, and both of us getting way less sleep was possible.

So, as a solution, I stopped drinking water before bed and I convinced Sarah to simply wake me up when she peed. I’d pee. She’d. Then I’d pee. Sometime we’d pee together. Sink and toilet, side by side. Staring into each others blurry red eyes as we relieved ourselves. Ok that never happened.

All in all, I effectively cut my sleep in half and again, I hated my life.

I struggled a lot with this rule because I was tired and moody every day. It made me question the whole experiment. Why have two grumpy people when you only have to have one, righ?

This definitely made me contemplate what two pregnant women sleeping in the same bed would be like—just awful.

And on top of this, we were also waking up extra earlier to work on before working our regular jobs. I was fuckin miserable.

#7: I Abstained From Intense Exercise

I didn’t do any contact sports or attempt a one-rep max deadlift. Again, similar to avoiding certain foods during pregnancy, this measure was purely precautionary and preventive against any freak injuries or accidents that could hurt the fetus.

It meant that we passed up on:

  • Krav Mcgaw (we only went to one class)
  • Ultimate frisbee
  • Crossfit
  • Aerial silks

But in some ways this rule wasn’t that hard to follow, but it definitely did have a tangible effect on our lifestyle. So that’s why I included. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experiment (and I learned a lot), it’s that all the little things add up in pregnancy.

Find out everything the Empathy Experiment taught me—read my final article here (coming soon).

#8: I Peed 17 Times a Day

Sarah peed like a racehorse. All. Fricken. Day.

This went on for weeks and weeks. And as you can imagine, peeing every 45 mins is highly inconvenient and disruptive to your day, and consequently to my day.

I asked Sarah to track her bathroom visits (of the liquid variety) so I could match her. During the first trimester she peed on average 15 times per day. So subtract the 2 – 3 times she peed at night and that meant I needed to pee a dozen times a to keep up.

And I did.

I drank loads of water. I started with 750 ml before getting outta bed. Then I’d make sure to drink about 500 ml every hour or so. Lucky for me our pee routine eased during the second trimester as Sarah’s pregnancy progressed.

As she peed less, I also peed less. Thank fricken god.

I remember peeing so often that it felt like all I ever did was try and hold my pee back. This rule was super disruptive at work because I was constantly being interrupted, either physically because I had to go pee, or just in my thoughts as I paced back and forth in my chair trying to finish one last task before hitting the urinal.

Plus, every time we left the house, Sarah and I would hit every bathroom we saw, “just in case”.

It’s like pre-drinking before going out and trying to make it to the bar without peeing in the bushes. Somehow you’ve just left the bathroom and you’re already worried you’ll have to go again.

So pregnant women (and anyone who pees often) I can totally empathize with the nuisance of having to pee all the time.

#9: I Took (Unnecessary) Travel Precautions

For a short period I avoided x-ray scanners in the airport (and we were travelling a lot at this time).

This manifested in lots of pat-downs and weird looks when I, seemingly for no reason, refused to be scanned.

Ok, I might have taken it too far, but I wanted to know first hand as many of the inconveniences pregnant mothers face, as possible.

Turns out airport scanners aren’t dangerous for your fetus.

Okay, That’s It.

That’s everything I did for the Empathy Experiment. And it definitely allowed me to relate to pregnant women, and the issues surrounding pregnancy in general, on a whole new level.

Now I know I made some exceptions (because the point of the Empathy Experiment was to empathize with Sarah, not grow a healthy baby), but I genuinely think I experienced things that helped me develop real empathy for pregnancy.

This was an intense journey for me and I want to share it with others because I think there's something for everyone, be it, laughs, inspiration, understanding, or comfort.

So please SHARE this article and read why I did this social experiment (if you haven’t already).

Got questions? Leave a comment and I’ll try and get back to you as soon as possible


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *