There are many fathers who might never have had the experience of getting pregnant. Yes, I mean being literarily pregnant, in some form. Well, before you cringe in your chair, read me out. I’ve been pregnant before. In a literal sense and, if I would borrow statistical assumptions, I would score my first pregnancy a seventy percent reality. The remaining thirty percent would be assigned to actual foetal carriage. But that was five years ago.
The news of expecting our daughter was exciting. I had a name for her long before getting married. She was to be named after me. So, when my wife called to tell me that she was confirmed pregnant, I was about two hundred miles away from her and would return only after two days. Both of us inhabited our modest apartment and the girl seemed to be growing within the following weeks and months in a regal manner. I remember having to buy a copy of Chicken Soup for the Expectant Mother’s Soul then and reading it alongside with my wife. It was a warm waiting, an exciting expectancy. Since we were living alone those early months, I’d wake up and heat the water as well as serve it at the bathroom for her. I would speak to the baby in the womb, pray upon her, pour kisses and tenderly rub my spouse’s back when it ached.
I can’t remember exactly when it started, but somewhat around the fifth month, I gradually became aware that I was caught up in incipient pregnancy. My wife was not spared the normal bout of morning sickness, but the pregnancy progressed without any noticeable stress upon her. However, around the the fifth month, I became aware that I was experiencing signs similar to those my wife was complaining about, especially signs such as indigestion, backache and eating at odd hours. She would desire to eat very early or late in the day, often igniting in me the urge to do same. I remember those nights, when we were about to retire after dinner for the day, she would complain of hunger and I would have to get up to fix something. I often found myself eating along in response to the hunger pangs. Somewhat I was practically woven into the meanders and detours of the birthing process. There noticeable, almost sustained, experiences of sleep disorder. My consciousness of similar experience like hers was incremental, but it grew to a point my anxiety made me to bury myself in the Internet where I searched for information about expectant fathers experience.
My research led me to learn of the term “couvade syndrome,” otherwise known as “sympathetic pregnancy” or “pregnant dad syndrome.” Couvade syndrome, according to the Free Online Medical Dictionary, refers to “a condition in which a father-to-be experiences some of the physical symptoms of pregnancy prior to the baby’s birth.” According to a BBC 2007 report (click), experts tend to relate the experience to anxiety over the pregnancy and Dr Arthur Brennan of St George’s University in London, who led a study of 282 fathers-to-be compared to similar number of controls, noted that “these men were so attuned to their partners, they started to develop the same symptoms.” Other researchers have identified both physical and psychological symptoms and the condition can be categorized as mild or serious, the latter often leading to medical treatment.
After finding out a name for what I was experiencing, I found it hard to accept it, especially as a medical condition. I didn’t think it was necessary to share my experience then with my spouse, until years later, since I felt it might be unsettling for her as it was for me. There were times I seemed to experience some form of insomnia, often staying awake and mindful of how she was feeling. We were virtually almost awake during the nights at about same times. As I struggled to come to terms with the increasing reality, I tried to find out from my friends who had walked the path of fatherhood before me if they had similar experiences, though without letting them imagine that I was by any means “pregnant.” I was disappointed to find myself being alone in my condition. Looking back I’d assume some of them who might have experienced the syndrome in some mild forms, accepted it as normal, didn’t bother to notice or were in denial of accepting the experience for what it was.
I remember sharing the experience with a female friend who was recently pregnant then and instead of sympathizing with me, she was quick to accept it as a worthwhile condition, on the assumption that what I was experiencing resulted from being well-bonded with my wife. Her response made me ponder the underlying causes of the experience. The theoretical explanations have mainly been classified as either psychological or physiological, though I could readily relate with the psychological one, given the sympathetic disposition I felt during the pregnancy. I still remember that night in the hospital, as I sat and tried to calm myself to await my daughter’s arrival. The hours seemed endless, yet when they ended and she let out her cry, my life took an entirely different turn. The symptoms receded but I was now caught up with being a father.
I’ve heard people say a woman forgets about the birthing experience and soon desires another. To tell the truth, my birthing experience is a conscious part of reality and might have also enriched my relationship with my daughter. Every true father has a story to tell, though would rather lock it away from consciousness. Being pregnant is not an experience you forget in a hurry. Over the years I’ve come to realise that couvade syndrome is more common than we can dare to admit, though many men don’t understand it as such nor do they want to accept it. There may be some instances where a man may even experience similar symptoms alongside a pregnant friend with whom there’s no spousal relationship.
A few weeks ago, Charlene and I had a private talk about life, during which one thing led to another and she asked “Daddy, when are you going to bring my brother?” She had this comely and innocent smile that lit her face. I couldn’t let her question pass unanswred, so I hugged her warmly, as if to make her understand something I couldn’t bring myself to explain, and assured her: “When Jesus brings him, you’ll see your brother.”