There are two distinct pregnancy experiences that aren’t well known but which are
quite significant phenomena with potential implications going beyond the confines
of pregnancy and childbirth. These are Phantom pregnancy (pseudocyesis) and concealed
A woman with phantom pregnancy exhibits all or most of the usual pregnancy signs
and symptoms. These would include lethargy, nausea and vomiting, breast engorgement,
increasing abdominal size and of-course absence of menstrual periods.
Phantom pregnancy which is also medically termed ‘Pseudocyesis’ (Greek: pseudes[false]
and kyesis [pregnancy])is not a new phenomenon. The most famous historical sufferer
was probably Queen Mary I, the daughter of King Henry VIII and ruler of England in
the mid-16th century. Even Hippocrates ‘The Father of Medicine’ described cases of
pseudocyesis all those centuries ago.
Causes of Phantom Pregnancy
Nobody knows for sure what causes phantom pregnancy. However, one thing binds sufferers
together: The extreme desire to bear a child. Contrary to some descriptions, Phantom
Pregnancy is not the same as ‘feigned pregnancy’. There is one important difference:
Women with phantom pregnancy are absolutely convinced that they are pregnant.
Even a negative pregnancy test and a negative ultrasound scan are not sufficient
to shake their belief. They are not trying to deceive anybody and will describe all
the common experiences of a pregnant woman including fetal movements.
Feigned pregnancy merely refers to women who set out to deceive others that they
are pregnant for a variety of reasons. This includes the women criminals who put
out an elaborate plan, the end of which is meant to be the stealing of infants from
other women and passing them off as their own newborns after a well demonstrated
‘pregnancy’. That is not Phantom pregnancy.
True phantom pregnancy is thought to have a deep psychological basis, strong enough
to bring about the hormonal changes which cause the display of the physical features
such as absence of periods, breast engorgement and abdominal swelling which is merely
gaseous distension of the bowel.
Treating Phantom Pregnancy
Phantom pregnancy is quite uncommon. However, women who suffer from this do require
sympathetic specialised counselling by a psychotherapist. It is a condition that
affects women of any age even though it is more common for women in their 30s and
40s. It could and often does affect women who already have children.