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Expecting: One Man's Uncensored Memoir of Pregnancy

Expecting: One Man's Uncensored Memoir of Pregnancy

by Gordon Churchwell

Gordon Churchwell his a problem he's never faced before—
his wife, Julie, is pregnant.

"What is happening to me? It's 6:30 A.M. My Wife is peeing on what looks like a scale model of the spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's an early pregnancy test called something like First Alert, or Early Response, some name that sounds like a smoke


Gordon Churchwell his a problem he's never faced before—
his wife, Julie, is pregnant.

"What is happening to me? It's 6:30 A.M. My Wife is peeing on what looks like a scale model of the spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's an early pregnancy test called something like First Alert, or Early Response, some name that sounds like a smoke detector or a piece of EMS equipment."

From this unavoidable physiological fact follows the greatest psychological crisis of his life, a story that eventually illuminates the journey of all men and women as they make the passage to becoming parents.

What really goes through a "pregnant" man's mind? Combining his personal story with interviews with doctors, midwives, evolutionary scientists, and other fathers-to-be, Gordon Churchwell delivers the gritty, intimate details, as well as important new information, in an irreverent style that mixes poignancy, wit, and laugh-out-loud humor.

He covers all the issues without flinching. On relationships: "There are moments when you are not just individuals trying to solve a personal problem, but representatives of your gender, acting out some social drama. Over Julie's shoulder I see a chorus of angry women. . . ."

On sex: "While the party line is that Julie remains 'my beautiful partner to whom I am devoted,' to Mr. Weenie, she is beginning to look like Danny DeVito in Batman Returns. . . ."

On why men find change difficult: "Why do I feel like a bystander in the most important 280 days of my life? Where are the stories that make a man feel like he's in it, and not out of it? The answer is simple. When it comes to the stories of fatherhood, our culture has discarded them."

When he starts having morning sickness, Churchwell turns science detective and makes some startling discoveries: He finds out that male pregnancy symptoms are extremely common and uncovers evidence of a physiological paternal response-men have hormonal changes, too, which help prepare them emotionally for fatherhood.

Does nature make fathers out of men? Working with a leading evolutionary psychologist, Churchwell argues for a revolutionary new perspective on a man's role in reproduction. Parental investment on both sides is not automatic. Pregnancy behavior is part of a continual process of negotiation about parental commitment. A man's response to pregnancy, including sympathetic symptoms, may signal his plans about investing in the child. His behavior can directly affect the mother's own response, including the quality of her maternal care.

By showing that men have a physiological transformation of their own that integrates them into the biology of the family, Churchwell restores men to the story of reproduction.

Expecting is an important contribution to the new literature of fatherhood that will amuse and inspire men and women as they transform themselves into parents. This personal story ends where it began, with him and his wife, Julie, struggling-this time as a team-through a harrowing thirty-five-hour birth ordeal, and welcoming their daughter, Olivia, into the world.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Gordon Churchwell's wife is pregnant. After watching her pee on something like "a scale model of the spaceship from '2001: A Space Odyssey'" and seeing the little window turn pink, they are sure of that. Now, after several weeks of feeling everything from disembodiment to ambivalence, from happiness to emotions "a lot more subtle, a little more complex," Churchwell watches his wife read pile after pile of pregnancy books. And then, in a characteristically comic passage, he explains:
Mysteriously the birth manuals seem to be pursuing some ancient migratory route and begin appearing on my bedside table. I ignore them for a week. Through our nightly reading rituals, I can tell Julie is watching me for any signs of self-initiated interest. I feel like a subject in a Jane Goodall experiment: Chubby ignored the books for several days, until the most amazing thing happened. He picked one up, and, realizing it was about the female primate reproductive experience...read voraciously to the point of overstimulation. We subsequently had to sedate him to save his life.
In reading the manuals alongside his wife (Churchwell relented, fearing that his stash of computer magazines was in danger of being burned), he finds that most books about pregnancy leave him out. They scarcely acknowledge, let alone discuss or provide support for, the emotions and even symptoms of expectant fathers. This book sets out to do just that, and to do it with self-revealing honesty and humor.

Interviewing doctors, midwives, psychiatrists, and friends, Churchwell collects perspectivesandexperiences related to expectant fatherhood. He explores topics that range from feelings of jealousy, hyperprotectiveness, abandonment, fear, and ambivalence to having (or not having) sex during pregnancy, attending birthing classes, considering various schools of thought about birthing, and even living through couvade — male pregnancy symptoms.

Churchwell walks us through his experience of his wife's miscarriage, with his subsequent feeling of being "spooked" and of feeling "in limbo." He also shares his own perspective on the the two-day-long birth of his daughter, Olivia. He starts with the first untimely contraction and moves through his wife's prolonged labor, the decision to have an epidural, and finally to the moment the new baby is born and Churchwell acknowledges, "Life is already different."

Expectant men will appreciate the candor and jocularity in this rare male account of the nine months of pregnancy. They will find conversation that goes far beyond such traditional male comments to the father-to-be as "You'll never see a movie or have sex again." Expectant women, too, will appreciate this book. They will find an unusual window into the thoughts and feelings of a father-to-be and a starting point for discussion with their own partners. And both sexes, pregnant or not, will find many passages in EXPECTING that call out to be read aloud and laughed at together. —Kate Montgomery

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With this lively memoir, Churchwell presents two books in one (twins, if you like): a funny, honest account of a regular guy's response to his wife's first pregnancy and a serious investigation of this "weird juncture" in the history of the family, when some men are trying to find ways to participate more directly in child-rearing. A typical "expectant zombie-father," Churchwell gestates into a man who asks challenging questions about why fathers are the "forgotten parent." He finds that "the typical American birthing experience for most of the 20th century is nothing to brag about" and that pregnancy, experienced as a crisis by so many men, can be "ground zero for many relationship problems." His inquiry into couvade (male "pregnancy") leads him to suggest that this crisis arises because men have "disappeared from the story of the family" and are not taken seriously as participants in a pregnancy. If they are not "invited early on into the process, is it any wonder that many men find it difficult to step into the sacred circle of parenting later on?" he asks. Myths and rituals that once helped us cope with what we could not control have been replaced by science, our "sole storyteller." One of this memoir's strengths is that Churchwell uses science to tell the story of "paternal response," a psychological complement to the biological changes experienced by pregnant women that might enable both partners to "transcend the gender boundaries that confine pregnancy and parenting roles." Agent, Elaine Markson. 5-city author tour; 25-city radio tour. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Churchwell, creator of the Hometown Discovery Project, an interdisciplinary, multimedia educational model in Grahamsville, NY, recounts nine months of expectant fatherhood in a unique and witty manner. Initially, he was simply "trying very hard to feel excited about the pregnancy." As he explored his role, however, he found that in addition to being deeply spiritually and emotionally moved, other "men who experience pregnancy and birth are marked permanently by a biological transformation." During this transformation, called couvade syndrome, males exhibit signs of pregnancy. Churchwell surveys current research and describes how emotional, psychological, and behavioral changes in men take on physiological symptoms. When reading this in conjunction with Armin Brott's The Expectant Father (LJ 3/1/95), dads-to-be will feel well prepared for pregnancy. Highly recommended for all libraries. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
A funny and informative memoir of a husband who grows from a disgruntled observer of his wife's pregnancy to an active, even co-pregnant partner. Churchwell has written for magazines, television, and medical centers (which helps him to negotiate the wealth of medical and scientific information camouflaged within his wit). The greatest dangers of pregnancy and parenthood, as initially seen by this Gen-X, yuppie author, are the threats they pose to his perfect, self-indulgent lifestyle. Friends warn him that sex will change (and his wife will soon resemble a "hard boiled egg on stilts") and they'll no longer be welcome in movie theaters and finer restaurants. His pregnant and transformed wife, however, forces the author to realize that "men don't really live in their bodies," whereas "women carry time in theirs." Churchwell is intimidated by the husband's limited role in this consuming adventure, and feels "reduced to being a barnyard animal at your own nativity." At first, he resents his wife buying a baby seat and clothes for a fetus the size of a dragonfly nymph, but soon he gets sympathetic symptoms of pregnancy, including morning sickness. Churchwell's frightening new life revolves around OB/GYN appointments, and he discovers other husbands who felt abandoned (and even some who broke off relationships during pregnancy). Some anxiety is relieved viewing humorous pregnancy scenes from TV archives, and even more from the amniocentesis promising a healthy daughter. After a boot-camp scenario of birthing exercises, the memoir is taken over by the natural birth vs. hospitals debate. The newly sensitized author explains that, withtheimpersonalized (albeit sterile) conditions of hospitals, the midwives' case has its merits. After nine months and a healthy birth, the author's love of cooking has shifted to a love of nurturing. Churchwell delivers a bundle of anxious joy and gives us hope that parenthood can drag children, kicking and screaming, into adulthood.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.01(d)

Read an Excerpt

Month One

In the Beginning . . .

Ambivalence doesn't even begin to do justice to what is happening to me.It's 6:30 a.m. My wife is peeing on what looks like a scale model of the spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's an early pregnancy test called something like First Alert, or Early Response, some name that sounds like a smoke detector or a piece of EMS equipment. I should remember the name, because I went to a lot of trouble to be the one to go out and buy it, so that I could show how positive I was about our plans to have a baby, to telegraph, to signal what a sensitive and "proactive" partner I was going to be.

I know as we peer at the little window that I am going to be required to display some emotion, whether the window remains light mauve, indicating negative, or turns darker mauve, indicating positive.

We synch up for a moment to decide with nervous giggles that whoever designed this test is either a sadist or a moron. Why can't the little window say "Yes" or "No," "Win" or "Lose," "Continue with Your Perfect Life" or "Risk Everything"?

With both of us raptly looking on, the window darkens. Mauve, dark mauve is storming across the window like a Panzer division. It's definite. Mauve has asserted itself. The dye is cast.

My wife looks up from our little science project, a smile radiating upward and outward from her lips, carried on a hundred million capillaries of happiness. "Well, what do you think? Aren't you happy?" she asks me.

I'm thinking: "Isn't that what Marie Curie said to her husband when she discovered radioactivity?"

Let's just say my reaction is a little more subtle, a little morecomplex. What I'm really worried about is the fact that I can't seem to summon up any emotion at all. I know I'm supposed to feel something, but inside my emotional self is on a ventilator. To top it all off, I'm having an out-of-body experience like you read about as you're checking out of the supermarket. You know, those near-death testimonials: "There I was hovering over the O.R. while they operated desperately, trying to save my life." I'm thinking, perhaps the shock of all this has actually killed me.

I'm about to turn toward the "long tunnel of light" when I notice that what I've been watching is my expression reflected in the bathroom mirror. One look at my blank face and I realize that I have to do something to save myself. I pull an Ali "rope-a-dope" and pull Julie toward me with a hug, mumbling with as much conviction as I can muster, "Yes doll, of course I'm happy. This is so wonderful."

I glance at ourselves clinching in the mirror. Julie, her head tucked into my shoulder, is the very picture of mother-to-be bliss. And me? The expectant zombie-father. I give myself the eye. Whatever part of me is still alive knows I'm in deep trouble.

"Women are creatures of biology and destiny with philosophies synchronized to a progressive vision of history with the same certainty as their uteruses are timed to the cycles of nature and the clock of the cosmos."Men are ahistorical, transitory, emotion-deferring, future-obsessed creatures whose only bonds with biology are hunger and libido—mobile GI tracts with egos and penises.

"What makes women women makes them relationship-driven, life-perpetuating, and family-centered.

"What makes men men makes them self-intoxicated, death-seeking, isolationist . . ."

It's not easy living under the same roof with a Smith College education, if you're a man. My wife, who is better educated and smarter than I am, is telling me all this a few days later while standing in front of the mirror, naked, stabbing the air with her toothbrush, her breasts tremoring slightly with every thrust. I'm staring down past my slight paunch, so I don't have to look at Julie's face, watching my penis shrivel from some errant wintry draft. I'm having this weird out-of-body feeling again, except this time instead of being dead I am stuck in some installation put on at the Whitney Museum. Adam & Eve Argument: Morning After the Expulsion. I glance up for a moment to steal a look at Julie's face. On closer inspection, the foam at the corners of her mouth is only Tom's of Maine.

There are moments in a relationship when you feel that you are not just individuals trying to solve a personal problem, but representatives of your gender, acting out some social drama. Over Julie's shoulder I see a chorus of angry women, between the ages of thirty and forty, hundreds of thousands strong, all being channeled through my wife.

I can't quite make out everything they are saying, but I sure know what it means: revolution.

After decades of trying to get to the promised land, women have finally figured out that success, as defined by men, is not necessarily what they bargained for. Never mind pay parity and glass ceilings—the dirty little secret that women have discovered is that the world of male work is a temple full of false gods. Its treacherous theology works like this: After years of killing yourself to get to the top of the pyramid, you arrive, expecting to find the celestial executive dining room, only to have your heart ripped out and eaten and the smoking hulk of your body tossed over the edge to be cannibalized by those coming after you. Yes, it's perverse, but for some reason men find pleasure in it.

Women, of course, have the option of having better things to do—like perpetuating the species, for instance. But here the problem becomes more complex. Our particular point in gender history comes equipped with a "Catch—22" quandary for women. Choose Option #1: Exercise the biological imperative, abandon your job. . .

Meet the Author

Gordon Churchwell writtes for magazines, television, and book publications across a wide range of topics. His piece "Atalanta: The Riddle of Fathers and Daughters" appeared in Room to Grow, a multiauthor collection of essays about parenthood. He recently hosted an hour-long documentary on Pregnant Man for the Discovery Channel. He lives in Cold Spring, New York, with his wife, Julie, and his daughter, Olivia.

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