You may have heard that certain men develop “sympathetic pregnancies.” Some of us take on the physical characteristics of our pregnant wives—cravings, nausea, weight gain, insomnia, et cetera. Sounds freaky, but it really happens. These are called Couvade symptoms, derived from the French word “couver,” which means “to hatch.”

Does Couvade really exist? Whether it’s psychosomatic, spiritual, or other, the quick answer is yes. The chemical changes that happen inside a man have been scientifically proven time and time again, and manifest themselves in physical changes that are impossible to deny. The bigger question is, why? A few theories out there—from most plausible to most ridiculous:

  1. It’s a physical expression of anxiety over the birth.
  2. It’s a subconscious attempt to shift the focus of pregnancy to yourself.
  3. It’s a way to prove your level of commitment.
  4. It’s a method of identifying with the fetus.
  5. It’s a display of guilt for having impregnated your partner.
  6. It proves that you are the father.
  7. It’s an attempt to “take your wife’s pain away” and make it your own.
  8. It’s jealousy that you don’t get to carry the child.

Numbers one through five make a hell of a lot of sense to me—99 percent of my actions are based on angst, guilt, and selfishness. Six through eight seem patently absurd, consciously or unconsciously.

So far I haven’t gotten sick or had weird cravings, though I’ve certainly gained weight. In a weird way, I kind of want Couvade. Men have been experiencing some form of it for thousands of years, and it might make up for forgetting our anniversary.

Long ago, when a woman gave birth in the Huichol Indian tribe in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, to ensure that her husband felt the pain of childbirth, he would sit in the rafters of a hut above his laboring wife with a rope tied around his testicles. Every time the woman had a contraction, she pulled the rope. 

So maybe a little insomnia wouldn’t be so bad.

* * *

The final George Bush/John Kerry presidential debate was last night, and  everyone has an opinion about who won. (Neither, I say.) I went on the message boards of a well-known parenthood website to see what the future mothers of America were saying. Their astute analysis of the debate included the following:

• “OK now I don’t know much about American politics, but I gotta say, George is so cute!!! lol Like a big teddy bear!!!”
• “Yeah, not cute in a Vin Diesel way; cute in a Teletubby kinda way!!!” 
• “I agree he has a great smile for a old man. Hehehe I personally like him as well.”
• “He’s a doll.  Sigh…”
• “Yep I agree, Bush just looks more friendly and honest!”
• “People used to think Bush wouldn’t do so well in politics because of his funny little smile! I think he has a great smile, and he still looks almost boyish for his age.”
• “Yeah I like Bush better!! To me Kerry looks like a child molester ((creepy!!!))”

So you see, the pregnant women of America have spoken, and their preferred choice for the future leader of the free world is clear. You could take this with a grain of salt, but remember: there are a lot of pregnant women out there.