Is It All in Your Head?
Some psychiatrists, especially those who specialize in psychoanalysis, claim that couvade syndrome is an expression of a man’s anxiety or ambivalence about his partner’s pregnancy. They believe it could be a way for men to publicly demonstrate paternity, a way for them to release jealous feelings about their own inability to carry a child, or a means of soliciting positive attention at a time when they feel overlooked or neglected. Many believe that couvade is a response to modern views on parenting, which demand much more effort and attention from fathers than previous generations of men offered. What better way for a man to show that he’s supportive and nurturing than to experience the uncomfortable effects of pregnancy right along with his partner?
There is some evidence to suggest that couvade is rooted in biology. A few studies have shown that men with pregnant partners tend to have higher levels of female hormones, like estradiol, in their blood. While the studies’ implications are inconclusive, they seem to suggest that bonding and preparing for the arrival of a baby could trigger the release of hormones meant to create a stronger father-child relationship.
Of course, couvade could also simply be a physical problem. Pregnant women tend to eat more, so their husbands may indulge, too, and therefore become susceptible to weight gain, mood swings, and insomnia. Fleeting emotional symptoms like depression, irritability, and mood swings are all considered normal behavior, but during a partner’s pregnancy, they could seem more profound or distressing than usual, prompting the men to seek help.
100 Percent Cured
Whatever the true cause of couvade is, it’s generally considered a psychosomatic disorder, and most doctors who see men with the syndrome believe it’s closely related to anxiety. Even if the symptoms are real, these patients’ minds are what create them, whether they’re responding to fears about fatherhood, to ambivalence, to excitement, or to other emotions altogether. After all, few times in life are as stressful as the impending arrival of a newborn. Weight gain, irritability, and many of the other symptoms attributed to sympathetic pregnancy are more or less natural reactions to the difficult life changes and transitions that the father-to-be is undergoing (not to mention the woman, of course).
Some research has suggested that first-time fathers and men who had distant or ambivalent relationships with their own dads are most at risk for developing couvade syndrome, but there’s really no way to know who will be affected. There’s also no treatment for those who suffer from it, other than to try to relax and relieve any anxiety. There is, however, a surefire cure, and it doesn’t even require any effort on the part of the man: not surprisingly, 100 percent of cases of couvade syndrome clear up immediately following childbirth.