The life and death of William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley seems unremarkable enough based on existing accounts of the period. Born in 1817, his list of life accomplishments seems relatively short and his death in 1885 was from natural causes. A somewhat irreverent obituary of the late Earl published in an American newspaper of the time tells a different story however. Describing him as "another titled crank that has been removed by death", he was further described as "a mental and physical wreck for years" and the obituary devoted words of praise to his "young and beautiful second wife" whose devotion to her husband had "made her revered throughout England".
In addition to his other ailments, the Earl was prone to a series of bizarre delusions in which be believed himself to be giving birth. As the obituary stated, "When he was possessed of this hallucination, he imagined himself that he had all the approaching symptoms of maternity and demanded that he be treated accordingly. He was always humoured in this matter, as it was the opinion of expert alienists (psychiatrists) that opposition to his whimsical fancy would cause the mania to develop into dangerous madness. Accordingly, the noble Earl would be put to bed, the family doctor would be summoned and would go seriously through his part of the farce, and a borrowed baby would be exhibited to the patient after a due interval". The Prince and Princess of Wales witnessed one of these odd episodes during their stay at Dudley Castle in the year before the Earl's death. Watching their host give birth resulted in an abrupt ending to the royal visit (at least he didn't give birth to a rabbit).
Couvade Syndrome (a.k.a., sympathetic pregnancy in men) in which men develop morning sickness, vomiting or other symptoms in conjunction with the pregnancies experienced by their wives is well recognized. Some men seem particularly susceptible to Couvade symptoms and, although various hormonal and psychological explanations have been advanced, the causes remain obscure. The cure seems simple enough: once the wife gives birth, the couvade symptoms usually disappear as well.
Actual delusions of pregnancy in males tend to be considerably rarer. Cases reported in the medical literature usually occur in conjunction with psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia. In one recent case, a diagnosed schizophrenic developed delusions of pregnancy during both of his wife's pregnancies. Poor sexual adjustment may also play a role as well. in the case of the Earl, while his wife had five children during their marriage, his delusions do not appear to have been directly linked to her pregnancies although it certainly worked as an attention-seeking measure. While I worked in the prison system, I dealt with a schizophrenic inmate who, in conjunction with a range of psychotic delusions, maintained that he had once given birth to two children who then became angels. The delusion was well-entrenched and didn't respond to medication (it's just as well that he was kept in solitary confinement).
Although delusions of pregnancy in males tend to be rare, imaginary pregnancy in females (pseudocyesis for you clinicians and Scrabble players out there) is not. More on that next week...