Can I feel pregnant when my wife is?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. I am a staff writer here at HowStuffWorks.com. And with me is trusty editor, Candace Gibson. Candace, is it editor or editrix?

Candace Gibson: I'm going to go with editrix just because it sounds authoritative and I'm feeling pretty authoritative today because I've got a really weird question for you, and I already know the answer. Can I, assuming I'm a man, feel pregnant when my wife is?

Josh Clark: They answer is a resounding yes, at least from anecdotal evidence. We're talking about Couvade Syndrome, first described by Hippocrates, I believe in 300 BC, correct?

Candace Gibson: That's right. And if you don't feel like whipping out your French, you could also call it false pregnancy or sympathetic pregnancy. And essentially, what happens is a man develops pseudocyesis, which is a swollen belly, this phantom belly, as if he's actually carrying a child. And now I've heard about men succumbing to their pregnant wife's cravings and them also wanting chocolate shakes and French fries at three in the morning.

Josh Clark: Well who doesn't?

Candace Gibson: Well naturally, I do every day. But when you get that phantom belly, I think you're going a step too far. You're really stealing your wife's thunder, don't you think?

Josh Clark: Yeah, and it's one of the theories behind Couvade syndrome is that the man has developed a rivalry with this wife. He wants in on the attention, the action, just the glamour of being pregnant.

Candace Gibson: And it's worth mentioning, too, no men choose to develop phantom pregnancy, any more than they choose to develop man breasts. This is a psychosomatic condition. And it's brought on by this emotional attachment or maybe confusion with all these changes that are happening. And it's also very important to mention, too, that this isn't something exclusive to men. It happens to women who maybe have had a miscarriage in the past or they've lost a child and they have this extreme emotional need to actually bear a child again. And there's actually a pretty famous case of this. Have you heard of Bloody Mary?

Josh Clark: I have, actually, the woman, where if you stand in the mirror and you say her name how many times, fast?

Candace Gibson: I'm not going to tell you because you're going to try to do it and I don't want her loose on HowStuffWorks.

Josh Clark: But yes, I have heard of Bloody Mary.

Candace Gibson: Well apparently, one of the reasons she was so bloody, reputedly, is because she had this syndrome. She either had a lot of bad runs with miscarriages or she couldn't, actually, bear her children, and so she took her aggression out in a pretty violent way. And when women get this condition, a lot of times, it results in more serious consequences than men because when men have it, I think they know, innately, they're not going to actually give birth to a child, when all is said and done. It goes away after the woman gives birth, things get back to normal. But for women, at the end of the gestation period, they expect to see a baby. Lisa Montgomery was a woman who had a pretty extreme case of Couvade syndrome. In December, 2004, she actually murdered a woman who was pregnant. She cut open her womb and removed her unborn child because she felt very, proprietarily, that was her baby. She should have that baby.

Josh Clark: That was a bad day for everyone.

Candace Gibson: Indeed.

Josh Clark: My big problem with sympathetic pregnancy is this. Obviously, with Lisa Montgomery cases, that's pretty serious stuff. But specifically with men, it's psychosomatic. And it is, across the board, in every case. This isn't a physical malady. It's basically a mental disorder to a certain degree. And it is psychosomatic. It's the mind playing tricks on the body. That seems logical enough, but the thing is the medical community hasn't really established a clear link yet. Although, I think they're hot on the trail with electrolytes and hormones. What do you think about psychosomatic conditions? Should people with them be pitied? Should they basically be smacked around and told to get over themselves?

Candace Gibson: Well I'm not really sure because I'm no psychiatrist, but it does make for pretty great TV. Did you see the episode of Grey's Anatomy with the man who had this?

Josh Clark: No, I didn't, but I did watch Law and Order SVU where a homeless woman had had several children taken by the state and she developed Couvade syndrome. It made for moving television. I'll tell you that.

Candace Gibson: The good news is because this is in the media and more people know about it, there are ways for people to get help. You can get counsel. You can go see a psychiatrist. There are ways that you could sit down with your wife and talk about the feelings that you're having and see if maybe you can reach a level ground where she understands what you're going through and she's equally as sympathetic to your condition as you are to hers. All the while, you're fetching her pickles and ice cream.

Josh Clark: Clearly, what you're saying is that this could, conceivably, be worked out, just by talking about it, which indicates it is a psychosomatic condition. It's the mind exerting some sort of authority over the body, causing physical symptoms. The bottom line for all of this is if you do have Couvade Syndrome, seek help. Seek it fast.

Candace Gibson: And be sensitive to people who have it.

Josh Clark: And be sure to read, "Can I feel pregnant when my wife is," on How Stuff Works.com. It could save your life.Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit HowStuffWorks.com.