So all our mother’s are coming over to Barcelona for Mother’s Day. My mother is avidly against anything as commercial as mother’s day but given a chance to see Enzo & Leo and meet 2 other mums who have offspring mad enough to embark on this endeavour has all meant that preparations were put in place and the bag packed. As my mother’s life is so full, such preparations require a small army of helpers to replace her. My father is just as busy as he puts the finishing touches to an amazing 4-years-in-the-making documentary on The Targa Florio called ‘A Sicilian Dream’ starring Alain de Cadenet and Francesco da Mosto. He’ll have to take over a few extra farm duties and apparently he’s treating it rather too flippantly (as it doesn’t involve vintage racing cars or homemade beer).  My mother has a peculiar vanity where she loathes the camera (as it has yet to produce a single decent photo of her) yet revels in the spotlight. Mafer has been put in charge of styling, makeup and a cup of tea on her arrival.

So, with pregnant sons and their mums ready, the makings of an unforgettable Mother’s Day await.

So we’ve put through our electrically induced birth simulation. This involves dousing the body in water (to ensure the current penetrates to the muscular tissue) and donning a special jacket as well as  arm, leg and buttock bands and then being plugged into the mains. After the initial minor contractions which are quite pleasant, the current is increased until you are no longer in control of your body. You can fight it or surrender yourself to the voltage demons. Imagine the girl in the exorcist film but with less projectile vomiting. It’s violent and involuntary and treads on that fine line between pain and pleasure and that’s probably where any similarities with a real birth end. There’s no ripping of flesh, expulsion of body fluids (although Jason did wee himself) and no beautiful bundle of screaming joy at the end. You do however feel strangely elated and happy to be alive – like you would if you were struck by a bolt of lightning and lived to tell the tale.

Only now, after 26 days of the empathy belly and just hours before our abdominal electrocution, do I read that it’s surprisingly common a father-to-be to start gaining weight, getting morning sickness and even feel cramps in his lower abdomen. The condition is known as a sympathetic pregnancy or the Couvade Syndrome (from the french word couvee meaning to hatch).  Psychosymptomatic sympathy sounds a whole load easier than 15kg empathy. But that’s the point,  empathy should be hard-earned. It’s all too easy to say ‘I know how you feel’; but to walk in that person’s shoes is different.   Anyway, there’s no time for what ifs or if only now, the end is in sight, the final push for the summit is days away, the home straight is there, and right now the imminent joy of of relieving myself of this suit forever far outweighs the pain of a few electric shocks.  I mean, how hard can it be. Bruce Lee.

I’ve stuck a garden fork through my foot, broke my arm in 7 places and had my heart broken. In each case I wept openly. So, I’m really looking forward to the birth simulator. I’ve heard the operator is ex-Guantanamo Bay and in his words is ‘out to fry us’. So I think this is an appropriate moment to say a few words to my wife: I love you very much and I’m so very grateful for the 2 amazing children you’ve given us. You are a natural mother and I know you find it hard juggling work and the children but when you’re with them you smother them so much love and happiness that you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Thank you also for putting up with the madness of the last month. Finally, to all you folk who liked The Book of Everyone Facebook page to get us to 6000, thanks. Thanks a lot.

So I very sensibly turned to the internet for a few tips:

1.Everything is harder on your body so celebrate the small victories – and ask for help. Paid a visit to the chiropractor and had seven vertebrae realigned. Celebrated with a beer.

2.Savor the time your baby is in your belly… it’s almost over! Love you but the minute this is over it’s back in your suitcase and onto ebay to find you a new home.

3.Keep yourself occupied. Went to the Barcelona government to apply for a tech grant for The Book of Everyone. Gave a gaggle of  middle-aged female clerks a free feel of my belly and grope of my breasts. I hope I did enough.

4.Start nesting. Took the rubbish out. Stocked the fridge for the big day.

5. Put a waterproof pad underneath your fitted sheet. It’s already there.

So there’s been a few suggestions, insinuations and casual remarks by members of the public, the odd member of family (Alex N), friends (Sophie C) and the French lady on The World Service Woman’s Day debate (I forget her name), that even after a month of lugging around these bellies day and night, the 3 pregnant dads haven’t suffered enough and that we should be subjected to the full horrors of a labour pain simulator as a fitting finale and to squeeze out a an extra squirt of empathy for the pregnant woman. For those unacquainted with this frankly medieval machine, it involves attaching a set of electrodes to the abdominal muscles and then discharging a bolt of electricity to cause sudden contractions, massive widespread pain and the occasional involuntary discharge. Nothing that millions of mothers haven’t endured since time began. Before you get too excited though, we’d need to gauge whether there is a general consensus for this finale or a just few isolated (and wholly sadistic) cases. So vote with your like button on The Book of Everyone Facebook page. If the total likes is more than 6000 by Friday then it’s labour pain for the 3 pregnant dads. If there’s less than 6000 likes on Friday we’ll settle for a natural birth in a jacuzzi with bottle of Champagne. You decide.

3 weeks trapped in this suit has given me plenty of time to reflect. I’ve never celebrated mother’s day in the past. My parents raised us with a good wholesome and uncommercialised existence and void of most of the trappings of modern life such as television. Ironically this led me straight into a career in advertising.  My mother told me recently that we once cleaned the kitchen for her on Mother’s Day. What sweet little boys we were.  She then added that the motivation was not appreciation for her selflessly toiling away for us, but one of hunger: the sooner the kitchen was clean the faster we’d be fed. My mother was pregnant for 2.5 years as she popped out 3 boys one after the other.  She juggled being a mother, working as a teacher and her passions (horses, farming and acting) with joy. It was life – no doubt exhausting but colourful like life should be. As children our lives were spent outdoors, independent and free. Muddy but happy. And for that I’m very grateful.

Today was a gorgeous day of blue skies and sunshine in Barcelona. Mafer was working so we made a picnic, packed the bucket,  spade and football and headed to the  beach. The promenade was  bustling with happy people: the strollers, the sun-soakers and the volleyballers to a soundscape of waves lapping on the beach and the clackety-clack of the old men playing dominoes.  I noticed that we were gathering more smiles, laughs and nods of approval than looks of confusion, worry or revulsion. Something was amiss. Then I turned to Enzo who had stuffed his football up his t-shirt and was mimicking my waddle and proudly sticking his belly out besides me. It was brilliant. Here was I  empathizing with my wife’s pregnancy and at my side was the result of her pregnancy empathizing with me. We’d completed the empathy pregnancy circle. Later that day I was with Jason and a young Italian woman came up to us and  explained that she’d heard us on the radio in Italy last week and that we were doing an amazing thing and she please have a picture with us.  If 10 years ago someone had said ‘Jonny, your 15 minutes of fame will be wearing a 15kg pregnancy and generally making a right tit of yourself in front of the world’, I would have changed my life’s trajectory there and then. Today, I’m having second thoughts.

Ever since I first put on the pregnancy suit my family have been brilliant. Over the last 3 weeks Enzo (5) has just made the most of it – punching, headbutting, playing big-bad-belly and generally accepting it into our life. Perhaps he’s too young to feel embarrassed or awkward when we’re together in front of his school friends or at football practice. I prefer to go out in public with him than alone as it’s more fun and you don’t feel quite so weird – it’s better to be a pregnant dad than a pregnant loner I guess. I’m not sure if there’s any lesson to be learnt here; if anything it could be that challenging the norm is a good thing even if you look like a dafty. If you can do this you can do anything. It’s a bit too early to say this will have a purely positive effect on my family in the long run as the disruption has been difficult, especially on my wife. With 2 young kids and our jobs, life is hectic at the best of times and the belly hasn’t made things any easier. However, even she admitted last night that she had got used to it and that we’ve adapted. Each evening she enjoys hearing the stories from my day. I’ve also noticed she no longer walks just behind me when we’re out together. Is there a little pride creeping in?

Over the last 20 days what I’ve missed most is at night, and it’s not what you think. It’s sleep. Every day I wake up feeling physically ill from lack of the stuff. They say 80% of pregnant women suffer from insomnia so I’m in good company. I’ve now tried all the pregnancy sleep tricks in the book: the yoga left nostril inhale, the squeeze the toes and relax, the eye roll, pressing between the little indentation between the eyebrows. I’ve tried sleeping pills – before you start tutting remember I’m not actually pregnant – but they only get me to 4am. Having two young children; one of whom has a tendency to wet the bed and the other who possesses a cry that would shatter a breezeblock don’t exactly contribute to the nocturnal peace of the house. Last night was different though. There was something in the air; a drop in pressure, a changing moon, a soporific quality that had me in the land of nod past 3am, 4am, 5am and heading towards the soft lights of dawn and a glorious sleep-in. But at 6am my wife’s alarm went off and I woke up. She’s one of these people who go to bed with the best intentions of an early start and then sleep them away during the night. Then she didn’t just hit the snooze button once (legal), or twice (a civil offence) but 3 times (a criminal offence) and then turned it off and went back to sleep (death penalty). I looked at the fluffy white pillow and then at my wife inhaling and exhaling softly in the deepest most beautiful sleep. Yes, I love you very much but I have to kill you: the law of the alarm clock is the law. I slowly leaned over to pick up the pillow and then Enzo walked in clutching a sodden pair of pyjamas and looking all miserable and distressed. I quickly pretended to be asleep. Mafer got up, calmed him down as only a mother can, washed him and put him back in his bed. I decided that murder was unnecessary this morning and let my wife off with a warning and a big hug.