How come some women are unaware they are pregnant until they are actually about to give birth?

Last week, 47-year-old Judy Brown made headlines for learning that she was pregnant only when she went to Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts due to severe abdominal pain. While she thought it was a gallstone issue, the hospital personnel figured out she was about to go through labor.

Brown, who said her pregnancy did not occur to her throughout that period, delivered a healthy 8-pound and 2-ounce female baby.

Doctors confirm that it is rare but actually possible for a woman to not realize she is pregnant until she is on the verge of labor.

“People don’t know sometimes or they’re in denial about it, and denial can be pretty strong,” said obstetrician and gynecologist Kimberly Gecsi of Cleveland’s University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

Even those in their late 40s, Gecsi added, should not assume they are already incapable of pregnancy until they have discussed menopause with their doctors.

Several reasons explain cryptic pregnancy or the total lack of awareness of childbearing:

• Inaccuracy of home pregnancy tests. Sometimes these tests do not work and false negatives can occur. It could be that a woman is using the test too early when there isn’t enough high levels of hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) in her urine.

• Unnoticeable extra weight among overweight women. Someone already on the heavy side may not notice putting on extra pounds, especially as pregnancy weight gain tends to spread out over the nine-month term.

• Minimal pregnancy symptoms. The telltale signs of pregnancy, including fatigue and morning sickness, may not manifest at all.

• Irregular menstrual cycle. While menstrual periods usually stop once a woman has conceived, some still undergo spotting during pregnancy. Some women regularly miss their period, and the irregular pattern gets in the way of detecting a pregnancy.

• Fetus barely moving in the womb. While most babies kick in utero, some do much less. Some movements, too, are mistaken for digestive issues.

• Infertility diagnosis. Fertility tests and practitioners could be wrong as well, causing women to give up hope of conceiving yet finding themselves suddenly pregnant. In certain cases, pregnancy symptoms may be misidentified as menopause.

• Stress and denial. These effects can show even if a woman does not have a history of mental conditions and may merely be influenced by external stressors such as financial difficulties or relationship problems.

• Psychiatric issues. Those with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or another mental health problem may not be armed with the coping abilities to address the pregnancy and therefore ignore it.

Photo: Torsten Mangner | Flickr

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