Hidden and Denied Pregnancy

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We’ve all seen the news stories and TV shows. A proud mother is cradling her newborn, but looking baffled: She didn’t know she was pregnant until she was in labor. For those who have been pregnant before, this seems impossible. After all, how can you miss all of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy? Most women are very anxious to take a pregnancy test the minute their period is late.

Reasons Behind Hidden or Denied Pregnancy

There are two situations in which a woman wouldn't be aware of her pregnancy. Both suggest that there are significant psychological issues at work. Hidden pregnancies are those that are intentionally hidden: The mom knows she's pregnant but doesn't admit it. Denied, or negated, pregnancies occur when the mother avoids noticing the obvious symptoms of pregnancy.

Why would a mother choose to ignore a pregnancy—or deny that she is pregnant? There can be many reasons.

  • The mother is obese and thus is unaware of the additional weight or pressure she might otherwise feel.
  • The mother has taken a pregnancy test which gave incorrect negative results.
  • The mother has an irregular menstrual cycle, and thus does not miss her period until she is several weeks or even months pregnant.
  • The mother is an athlete who is training hard enough that early pregnancy is not physically obvious.
  • Symptoms of pregnancy, such as morning sickness, do not appear—or appear in unexpected ways (morning sickness at night, for example).
  • The pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, and the mother does not acknowledge that she is pregnant in order to avoid the potentially negative consequences.

While some hidden pregnancies make sense, some are the result of psychosis. The mother has literally hidden her own physical state from herself until the baby is actually born.

Frequency of Denied Pregnancy

According to medical research, the state of denied pregnancy is not uncommon. In about 1 in 475 pregnancies, women are unaware of pregnancy until 20 weeks' gestation or longer. This means that this occurs more often than Rh disease and some other conditions we think of as fairly rare.

Frequency of Denied Labor

While it is a bit more rare to not know of a pregnancy until you’re in labor, about one in 2,455 births happen under this circumstance (according to the same study that found the 1 in 475 figure). When you put that into perspective, it means that a woman is three times more likely to give birth without knowing it as to give birth to triplets (1 in 7,225 pregnancies). In a country the size of Germany, where the research was conducted, this means that about 300 mothers a year would not know they were pregnant until they started labor.

The researchers proposed that a specific category of medical classification be added under reproductive dysfunction for negated pregnancies. This would include denied or concealed pregnancies. It may also include false pregnancy (pseudocyesis), obsessive desire to have children and other pathological behavior of a mother towards her offspring.

A Word From Verywell

This is not something that happens only in a certain subset of women. Hidden or denied pregnancy can happen in every socioeconomic group, race, religion, etc. Being unaware of pregnancy, even for only the first 20 weeks, has the potential to risk the health of both mother and baby. If you are sexually active and you experience persistent, unexplained weight gain, missed periods, or any other symptom that could be associated with pregnancy, seek medical attention.

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