If you’re still patting yourself on the back because you brought your wife ice chips while she was in labor, this native Mexican birthing technique is going to put things in perspective real quick. The Huichol people, descendants of the ancient Aztecs, have a pain-relieving ritual (for the one giving birth, anyway) where the woman gets to yank hard on the man’s baby baskets every time she has a contraction.
If you haven’t blacked out from that mental image yet, here’s more on how it works. While the wife gives birth, the husband sits on the roof above with ropes tied around his scrotum. Every time a labor pain hits, she pulls on the rope (and presumably yells out “This is all your fault you f–king asshole” in Huichol), so her man can share in the childbirth experience. At the end, she has a baby, and he has balls the size of cantaloupes.
This testicular tug-of-war might sound like some cartel-level torture, but it’s actually part of a long tradition of extreme paternal participation during pregnancy known as couvade, which is derived from a French term meaning “to brood, or hatch.” On some Caribbean islands, men fast for 6 months, starting from the fifth month of the pregnancy. And in parts of New Guinea, men participate in a symbolic form of menstruation, where a special instrument is inserted into the urethra in order to drain “bad blood.” Ok, you definitely just blacked out.
From an anthropological standpoint, couvade is attributed to matriarchal societies and shows how other cultures acknowledge the role of paternal responsibility. Georg Groddeck, a contemporary of Freud, even believed that couvade proves Freud’s “penis envy” is totally bogus, and instead it’s men who have “uterus envy,” because they’re hung up on the fact that they can’t give birth. (Although nobody is jazzed about experiencing hormonal rage and bleeding from their crotch once a month.)
In modern times, couvade syndrome is the medical term for “sympathetic pregnancy,” where the father can experience symptoms like weight gain, nausea, insomnia, and mood swings. Ninety percent of men are said to experience it to some degree, but it’s largely attributed to empathy and stress — which is understandable because, holy shit, you’re bringing a brand new human person into the world. Roll with that food baby in your belly, because according to psychologists this kind of sympathetic support is great for new moms. Mothers who receive stronger emotional care from their partners show fewer symptoms of post-partum depression and anxiety.
And if you’re not going the vigorous-scrotal-squeezing, shoving-sharp-objects-up-your-peen, down-about-your-lack-of-womb route, that’s cool. By modern American standards, you’re probably doing just fine. Because while you’ll never have the rock-solid stones of a Huichol patriarch, showing up for the obstetrician appointments and Lamaze classes is beneficial, too.
If you still feel like you could be doing more, try buying a lavish Kanye-level “push present.” The money you spend will feel like you’ve been kicked in the balls.
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