Monday, March 20, 2006

You don't envy my penis and I won't envy your parturition, OK?

Many will be familiar with the idea of a "pregnant father" - a man who experiences some of the symptoms of pregnancy while his partner gestates his children. Not many will know that this has a name: The Couvade. Of course, in our modern age, so careless of fatherhood, it is often shrugged off with a wry smile as "psychosomatic". That gets a little harder to swallow when you learn that researchers estimate that it affects from 11 to 65 percent of expectant fathers, but there's always someone to come out with a string of jargon to explain it away: "somatized anxiety, psuedo-sibling rivalry, identification with the fetus, ambivalence about fatherhood or parturition envy."

"Parturition envy"? I tell you what, you don't envy my penis and I won't envy your parturition, OK?

Then there's the New Age waffle: "I firmly believe that these 'symptoms' were the result of something a little more spiritual. A kind of symbiotic connection that she and I felt not only toward each other, but to our little girl growing inside of her."

Er, yeah, OK, if you say so.

But there is another possibility - what if it were an evolutionary adaptation? A survival trait?

A what? Well, a survival trait is some aspect of genetically inherited phsyiology or behavior which enhances an organism's ability to survive in the face of the deadly onslaught of daily life. The dinosaurs ran out of survival traits, and died. So did the dodos - being big, fat, meaty and slow just didn't hack it when hungry colonials showed up. Cockroaches and rats obviously have a lot of very good survival traits within our environment as they are just about impossible to kill off. I have heard it argued that intelligence must be a survival trait. Well, as long as we haven't killed ourselves off yet, I guess that might be true, but I reserve judgement for a few millenia.

So how could sympathetic pregnancy be a survival trait? If it contributed to the survivability of the children, that's how.

Let's say, for giggles and grins, that you are a male creature whose instincts dictate that you spend a lot of time looking after your young once they're borne. We don't have to go as far as the sea horse whose female buggers off and leaves the kids with dad, but how about marmosets and tamarins (they're monkeys, folks) the male of which species spends a lot of time looking after the young. It's called parental investment and biologists in their boring white jackets put a lot of store in that and which parent exhibits how much. It turns out that the male mamoset or tamarin spends so much time and effort doing this that he has to prepare for their birth by gaining weight.

Really, male New World monkeys gain weight when their female partners have a bun in the oven. Check it out, and here. It'd be kind of hard to put that down to psychobabble or New Agey crap, wouldn't it?

'Funny thing is, human males do the same thing.

My God! That'd actually make it a good thing, a bona fide, objective even scientific reason to think well of fatherhood! Imagine, men have actually evolved instinctive behaviors with accompanying physiological changes to enhance their paternal investment in the children. That would make it a biological imperative that he help look after the kids. (Conversely, not that I'm one to be melodramatic about it, but it would make obstructing that drive a, er, "perversion of nature", wouldn't it?)

Screw your prejudices and ideologies, I'll go with what nature demands any time.

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