Pregnancy can be a joyous, exciting, and strange event. Symptoms might appear and disappear with no rhyme or reason and no two pregnancies are the same - even for the same mother! But pregnancy is obvious when your belly begins to grow, you can feel movement, and your breasts change. You might even notice early symptoms like morning sickness, breast tenderness, or missed periods! Some women want to experience pregnancy so badly that they convince themselves that they are pregnant, even when their tests are negative. Those women are experiencing a false pregnancy, or a phantom pregnancy.
Scientists call this phenomenon "pseudocyesis" - or, pregnancy symptoms in the absence of a pregnancy. As a woman, I know that the symptoms of pregnancy can sometimes seem a lot like PMS - but those with false pregnancies go above and beyond the moodiness and the constant hunger! What would make a belly grow so substantially? No, it's not as easy as diagnosing them with a tumor! Some women even claim to feel the baby "kick".
So what would explain this type of imaginary event? False pregnancies are not a physical condition inasmuch as they are not the even of a human baby gestating inside a mother host. But they are very real, in that the women who experience them are deeply convinced that these pregnancies are actually happening - and the symptoms are sometimes quite visible and tangible. But why? Why does a woman's body start to change like this?
Faking A Pregnancy vs. False Pregnancy
Before we dive into this, let me be clear: false pregnancy is not the same as faking a pregnancy. Those women who choose to fake a pregnancy (or knowingly lie to others and claim to be pregnant) are motivated by other reasons. Their compulsion to lie about such a huge life-changing event might seem psychologically imbalanced, but it's not a true case of pseudocyesis.
Invisible False Pregnancy
I'm just coining this term because it seems unique - and yet, all false pregnancies are getting lumped together in one big bunch. When I saw, "invisible" false pregnancy, I am referring to the few women who believe they are pregnant but show no visible symptoms. Their stomachs do not expand, they don't appear to exhibit signs of hormonal shifts. Yet, they still believe they are pregnant! Perhaps this is a specific sort of body dysmorphic disorder?
Stereotypical False Pregnancy
Pseudocyesis is a real medical condition - rare, but real! The human brain is a powerful and mysterious thing. Some women can actually will their bodies into displaying all the symptoms of a typical pregnancy, without the presence of an actual fetus. Weird, right? But it's also fascinating. In the Western world, we tend to see body and mind as two separate entities. It would seem, then, that the mind can influence the body to a great extent! Notice that I'm saying mind, not brain, because I am referring to the amalgamation of persona and synapses that shape who you are (not your grey matter in your skull).
The prevailing theory of the cause of false pregnancy is as follows: "A woman wants what a woman wants!" In all seriousness, this is a matter of a deeply committed will to be pregnant or be a mother. When that drive gets paired with a slightly wonky brain chemistry, weird things happen. Women stop menstruating. They start actually growing very realistic-looking pregnant bellies. The only thing they can't replicate is a positive pregnancy test. Mind over matter!
There's a second, more sinister cause for visible false pregnancy. I first heard of phantom pregnancy when I was researching "Bloody Mary", or Queen Mary I. The first Queen of England herself endured the embarrassment of a suspected - but untrue - pregnancy. She claimed for months that a baby was due any moment. First, due in May. Then June. Then July. By August, she retreated to live alone at a private estate. Some historians speculate that Mary could have had a tumor of some kind that made her stomach appear larger than usual. What a cruel trick! Some might believe they are expecting a bundle of joy only to find they are filled with tumors. How awful!
Though there may be a few different "types" of false pregnancy, one thing remains the same: these experiences are real. The people who live through them - also real. While they may not result in actual babies, the false pregnancy phenomenon has been around for millennia.
Have you ever known anyone who has had a false pregnancy? What phenomenon did you notice in your own phantom pregnancy? Help me understand this strange and exciting condition on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 with #FalsePregnancyIsReal.