Growing a baby inside your body is undeniably one of the most fascinating concepts known to man. But to what extent can a man be affected by a biological function that he’s physically incapable of? For men experiencing Couvade syndrome, the answer is a whole heck of a lot! Better known as “sympathetic pregnancy,” Couvade syndrome is an involuntary expression of pregnancy in men who are partnered with expectant women. Essentially, these men are witnessing their partners experience the effects of an actual pregnancy, and somehow undergoing an artificial transference of symptoms.
The effects of Couvade syndrome range from physical symptoms like bloating and morning sickness, to psychological manifestations such as prenatal depression and mood swings. For women, these things are commonly due to the hormone fluctuations of pregnancy. So what exactly is causing men to have “sympathy pregnancies?” While the idea of a man being so extraordinarily empathetic to his partner may seem more nice than odd, the psychoanalytical theories behind this anomaly are rooted in something much more sinister than sentimental feelings of deep love and concern.
One theory suggests the syndrome develops due to the man’s envy of his partner’s significantly larger role in procreation. This is said to cause the man feelings of ambivalence, oftentimes leading to a regression of childhood emotions and oedipal conflicts triggered by the pregnancy. In this theory, the phantom symptoms he displays are his body’s response to the internal battle of contradicting feelings between his unconscious repressed mind and his conscious thoughts.
Another similar theory claims that the syndrome is derived from the father’s fear that the unborn child is a potential rival with whom he will vie for the mother’s attention. Albeit still rooted in an unconscious need for attention, this interpretation allows the syndrome to serve a more positive purpose; to nurture his partner’s pregnancy and hone his instinctual desire to protect both mother and child. It offers an alternative to simply resenting the pregnancy out of jealousy, functioning as a sort of outward coping mechanism for threatening feelings.
Playing roughly off the first two, the psychosocial theory is arguably the most ridiculous of the psychoanalysis proposals. It states that Couvade syndrome is a result of men feeling marginalized and useless during labor and delivery. This concept is on par with feigning illness in order to divert attention away from someone actually suffering, and onto yourself. This behavior is typical of young children, and the last thing women want when they are trying to birth a baby is a whiney man-child at their side.
The strangest thing about Couvade syndrome, is that it isn’t a medically recognized physical or mental disorder, so all we really have are a handful of hypotheses. There has been some research into hormone levels in men with the syndrome, but not enough substantial evidence to pinpoint a real cause. Regardless of the hows and whys, it’s probably a good idea to seek a psychiatric expert if you find yourself dealing with a pregnant man.