A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pregnancy

Let’s dispel a myth: There is no “we” in pregnancy.

I’m not sure why or when couples decided that being preggers is a two-party affair and should share the news as if they will both be hospitalized, side-by-side, holding hands as they simultaneously squeeze out potato-shaped humans in less than a year.

Beyond the superficial, there’s almost nothing remotely similar between being the one who’s knocked up and the one who did the knocking.

I speak from experience. My wife has been pregnant for the past eight months. How much of that time have I spent being pregnant? Let me do some quick calculations …
… plus two …
… carry the nine …
… divided by three-hundred-sixty-five …
… and …

None of it. I have spent none of that time pregnant.

For me, pregnancy is basically a nine-month version of survivor’s guilt. My life goes on as normal as my wife struggles with even the most mundane tasks.

I’ll take you through a typical day. Every morning, I awake from a restful night’s sleep to the sounds of my wife struggling to breathe beside me, the covers kicked down to her feet from when she either woke up sweating at 4 a.m. or had to urinate for the fourth time that night and was simply too exhausted to pull the covers back over her.

I slip quietly from the bed and tiptoe across the bedroom. Not that it matters; Mandy is far too bone-weary from having spent at least two of the six hours we’ve been in the bed struggling to fall asleep while our rambunctious offspring practices Muay Thai against her ribs to be bothered by my stirring.

No doubt, as I’m in the kitchen grinding beans for the fresh pot of coffee my wife isn’t permitted to enjoy, Mandy is stumbling half-asleep to the bathroom for her morning ritual of gagging and questioning every decision that led to this point in her life. While she’s in there, she’ll try to decide whether or not she can make it through an entire shower without falling asleep.

After a breakfast of whatever crumbs of cereal are left in the four open boxes in our kitchen, we’re both back in the bedroom getting dressed and ready for work. I’m feeling a bit lazy since it’s Tuesday and the previous day was kind of rough what with deadlines and all, so I’m rolling into work wearing one of a hundred T-shirts available to me and a pair of loose-fitting jeans. Mandy, on the other hand, will have to choose one of two outfits that still fits her, neither of which is clean because her husband had the sniffles over the weekend and just couldn’t bring himself to do laundry. Neither outfit fits comfortably at this point. I comment that I think I may have lost a little weight over the weekend; she contemplates how sympathetic a jury would find her story.

Nine hours later, we’re both at home after the day’s work is done. I complain that I had to conduct a phone interview, take two photographs, post a bunch of stuff on Facebook and write an entire column about whatever nonsense I wanted, and I’m just spent. Mandy has collapsed on the couch and so isn’t capable of complaining at all. I ask her unconscious body if she’d like me to fix dinner. She snores in response. I decide to wait until she wakes up and then ask again. I spend the next two hours snacking on whatever food remains in the house and playing video games.

At some point, she’ll wake up and stumble into the kitchen to fix herself a sandwich that she doesn’t find the least bit appetizing. It will be set to the soundtrack of me repeatedly asking, “Are you sure you don’t want me to do that for you?” while scrolling through our Netflix queue.

After supper, it’s time to start winding down. The clock strikes 8 p.m., and Mandy knows she had better start the process of getting ready for bed. She drops several subtle hints that a massage might help her relax.

“My back is killing me,” she says. Or, “My shoulders are so sore.” Or even, “This kid is really putting a strain on my legs.”

Eventually, she’ll cede to the fact that her husband of 10 years isn’t going to stop playing that pinball video game and retire to the bedroom. Ten minutes later, he’ll make his appearance.

“Hey, Mandy,” I’ll say timidly as I peep through the crack in the door. “Did you want me to rub your back?”

She’ll smile meekly and say, “That would be nice.”

I’ll respond by sighing as if she’s asked me to spend the weekend constructing a scale replica of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse out of freshly-harvested thistles.

After a laconic, ten-minute, single-handed massage, most of which I spent patting her belly trying to coax my daughter into pummeling her guts for my amusement, I’ll kiss Mandy on the cheek and ask if she’s ready for bed. She’ll relent and say, “Yes.”

It’s not because she necessarily wants to call it a night at 8:30 on a Tuesday, but because she knows if she gets out of bed now, she’ll just have to urinate another 50 times.

I turn out the light, slip from the bed and through the bedroom door. As I pull it closed behind me, I whisper to my wife, “I love you. I can’t wait to meet our little girl.”

I don’t catch her reply. I imagine it’s something about teamwork.

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The most Herculean of all tasks

One day long, long again in ancient Greece, Zeus dropped by to visit his son, Heracles. He took the form of a bear or a wombat or a rock or something. Mythologists aren’t quite certain. It was probably a bird, though, so let’s just go with a goose.

“You do far too much sitting around,” honked the Zeus goose. “You need something to do.”

Heracles, a sassy teen at the time, answered with a sigh.

“I’ve got stuff to do,” he said, thumbing down through his Twitter feed on his phone.

“Not enough, apparently.”

“How would you even know. You’re, like, barely even here.”

That really ruffled Zeus’ feathers. Literally, in this case.

“Now see here,” he said, taking a second to preen his feathers before continuing. “Whether you like it or not, I am your father. And when I speak, you will listen.”

Heracles sighed again and looked up from his phone.

“I have created for you thirteen tasks,” Zeus said. He motioned with his wing, and a series of scrolls, each rolled and sealed with a dab of wax, appeared before Heracles. “Each scroll contains one objective you must complete. When you have done so for all of them, you will have become a man in my eyes and may join me in the pantheon of gods.”

The young man scoffed.

“Really, Dad? Scrolls? Can’t you just DM me the list?”

“I don’t even know what that means.”

“You wouldn’t,” Heracles said and returned to his phone.

Mythologists say a lengthy argument continued from here. In the end, this battle of stubborn insistence versus stubborn indifference ended with Heracles reluctantly agreeing to complete the tasks, but only if Zeus promised to delay his curfew to 1 a.m. on weekends and stop randomly checking his Internet browser history.

So, one by one, Heracles tackled the 13 tasks, each more annoying than the last. He had to kill the Nemean Lion, Stymphalian Birds and the hyrda; he had to shovel mountains of dung from Augeas’ nasty stables; and he had to fetch Cerberus back from Uncle Hades, who stole the multi-headed pooch when he and Zeus were heavily embroiled in some kind of disagreement over property.

One after the other, Heracles begrudgingly completed his tasks, only breaking to periodically share his misery with his Instagram followers.

But then he hit No. 13. He unrolled the parchment and read it with disdain.

“Choose an appropriate name for your unborn daughter,” he read. “Ugh.”

Now, Heracles had never even considered having kids, let alone naming one. He first consulted several popular baby-naming sites, but couldn’t find a combination of first and middle names that sounded satisfactory to his ears. For days, he marched around Greece mumbling names to himself. None felt comfortable.

Heracles turned to the gods to aid in his quest, but found their opinions of what constituted a respectable name for a child to be far too varied. All of Apollo’s suggestions seemed pretentious, and Ares’ were all too blunt. Aphrodite’s were a little too … how to put this delicately … risque for Heracles’ liking, and all Hermes offered were ridiculous gag names like Apple Blythe or Pilot Inspector or Blanket. Those who didn’t offer their own awful suggestions turned their noses up at the ones Heracles had been considering. Although he possessed strength to capture the Erymanthian Boar and wits enough to remove the Amazon queen Hippolyta’s girdle, Heracles was incapable of counting the number of times someone answered his suggestions with, “You don’t want to name a child that.”

Heracles was stuck. After whipping through the first twelve tasks like Cetus through a Trireme, it seemed the last would best him. He returned to his father humbled and ashamed.

Zeus, lounging around Mount Olympus in the form of a giraffe, nodded his long neck knowingly.

“I figured that last one might trip you up, son,” he said. “Names can be tough.”

“So what do you suggest?” Heracles asked his father.

Zeus shrugged.

“I don’t,” he said. “I think you just have to go with your heart, regardless of what others think. Besides, in the end, it doesn’t even matter. Regardless of her name, people are going to call the kid whatever the heck they want.”

“Is that why everybody calls me Hercules, Dad?”

Zeus flashed two rows of gigantic teeth and patted his son on the shoulder with his hoof.

“No, son. That’s just ignorance.”

For the first time in forever, father and son laughed together.