Male Sympathetic Pregnancy
Understanding Couvade Syndrome
Ramos is no longer experiencing cravings, but in earlier days she and her husband had many arguments over their shared pregnancy symptoms—mostly because he kept eating her food. “I sent him out one night for canned pineapple chunks and he came back with two cans—one for that night and one for later should the cravings return.” They opened one can and put the other away for the next time, but when Ramos next craved the fruit, the spare can had disappeared. Her husband admitted to having eaten it when she was napping one day. They subsequently had the same problem with chocolate candy, apples, and other leftovers—and her husband experienced heartburn, abdominal pains, and cramps.
“What was most surprising was that he’d often ask me ‘What are you in the mood for?’ and before I could answer, he would suggest exactly what I had in mind!” Ramos mentioned her husband’s strange behavior to her doctor, who didn’t seem surprised to hear about it, and her only comment on the situation was “it happens.”
No one really knows why Couvade happens or why it seems to be occurring more frequently, but theories revolve around changes in society over the last 30 years; today’s fathers play a much larger role in pregnancy and birth. Additional theories that try to explain this phenomenon include:
- A physical expression of anxiety over the birth
- Sympathy or empathy with the mother
- An assertion of paternity
- Jealousy at the mother’s ability to carry a child and her birth experience
Dealing with Couvade
Dr. Kleinman adds that some men certainly are more likely to experience Couvade than others, especially if the woman has been having fertility problems or the man is adopted. “Couvade has been seen as an expression of somatized anxiety, pseudo-sibling rivalry, identification with the fetus, or ambivalence about fatherhood.”
Whichever theory seems to characterize your husband most is probably the right one. Dr. Kleinman goes on to say that it is likely that the dynamics of Couvade may vary between individuals and may be multidetermined (i.e. several factors contribute to the existence of the syndrome).
So the next time your husband insists that he is unwell and unable to do something you ask because he is “experiencing the pangs of pregnancy,” take pity on him and remember that not only will his symptoms disappear with the birth of your child, but so will his excuses!
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