Are you a dad-to-be with morning sickness?
It is, unfortunately, a fact of the human condition that there are limits to our capacity to imagine the suffering of another human being – even if the person experiencing the suffering is the one person in the world who is dearer and nearer to you than all others, even if that person is carrying your child.
And so it is with morning sickness. It is all too easy for us blokes to trivialise this fact of pregnancy as being just “one of those things”; morning sickness is a natural, normal pregnancy process, but so too are the agonies of labour, and we wouldn’t go about belittling this now, would we?.
It’s hard for a man to imagine what it feels like to have morning sickness. But we’re going to ask you to anyway: imagine that you’ve caught a virus of some sort – say flu or a gastrointestinal bug – and that you are in that queasy stage where it is just beginning to take hold and take hold it does, but then add something else to the mix – you suddenly come down with the most nauseating, belly-aching and vomit-inducing hangover you have ever had. To top matters off you are also carrying a child inside you and know that you must also turn up for work on time and carry on with your day as normal. Got it blokes, because, according to the women in our lives, this is what morning sickness feels like.
For some men, albeit a small minority, it really may be possible to imagine what morning sickness feels like. Couvade syndrome is a condition in which men experience, apparently through no will or design of their own, many of the physical and emotional manifestations of pregnancy.
In this so-called “sympathetic pregnancy” the male partners of pregnant women may actually develop symptoms such as morning sickness, bloating, back and abdominal pain, fatigue, food cravings, memory loss and even a swelling, pregnant-seeming belly.
Symptoms typically last right through the first trimester and have a tendency to dissipate in the second trimester before returning in the third trimester – sometimes they may even extend into the postpartum period.
You could be forgiven for thinking that sympathy pregnancies are a rare thing, but you’d be wrong. According to scientists who conducted studies into the phenomenon in the 1970s, as many as 50% of British dads-to-be experience some level of symptoms.
Although there’s bad news for any man experiencing a sympathetic pregnancy, because it’s fair to say that your complaints about Couvade syndrome might prove more than a little annoying to any woman experiencing the real, biological pregnancy.
But it’s real, isn’t it
According to a 2014 study carried out St George’s Hospital in London, Couvade is indeed an actual proper thing that may be caused by “an empathetic identification” with a partner. Other explanations are more psychoanalytical or psychosocial, while others have postulated that it may be caused by hormonal changes in the man.
One fact that may be of interest to your partner: there is no recorded incidence of a man ever developing sympathetic Hyperemesis Gravidarum; a titbit which neatly leads us to our next section…
Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is no fun at all. It is, basically, morning sickness with the volume turned up to one-million percent. For some women it is so bad that they are unable to hold down any foods or fluids: a situation which requires medical attention.
The condition affects around one percent of all pregnancies and, according to those women who do experience it, there is little that can be said that gives real insight into what it is like to live with HG.
All that we will see then is that Hyperemesis Gravidarum will have a profound impact on yours and your partner’s life together as well as your relationship. However, if you can remain strong throughout the pain of the process, including the long and inevitable hospital visits, you can come out the other side with your bond nurtured and strengthened.
For a man watching his partner endure HG the whole experience can feel as worrying as it does disempowering: often times it will feel like nothing can help; not peppermint tea; not crackers; not regular water; not cereal bars; not gentle massage; no, nothing. Your partner may not even want you close to her because any strong smell about you has the ability to send her heading for the toilet bowl.
Emotionally speaking, Hyperemesis Gravidarum is incredibly challenging; you will have to empathise while simultaneously accepting that you can’t really empathise. Above all, don’t trivialise, belittle or indeed over-identify with what your partner is going through with HG: the truth is that you have no idea what it is she is experiencing.
All you can do is offer the emotional and practical support she needs whenever she needs it – even if it is 3am the night before work and she has woken, needing you to hold her hair back while she vomits into the en suite lavatory.
And try to make her feel comfortable; offer those foods you know she might be able hold down, give her massages if she wants them, put on clean clothes and take a shower if she asks you to, and, above all else, DON’T DEVELOP SYMPATHETIC HG!