For those of us who have suffered the discomfort of morning sickness, swollen ankles, itchy skin and bleeding gums, there’s absolutely no way you can ignore the fact that you’re pregnant. To the contrary, it seems as though every single body part gets involved – even those which, to all appearances, have no role to play in making a baby. I mean, is it really necessary for your nose to grow bigger?
And yet some women – admittedly, not many – have absolutely no knowledge that they are going to have a baby until the day they get stomach cramps and, instead of prescribing Immodium, the doctor tells them to get their nursery ready.
What exactly is going on here?
How it happens
Joburg writer Melinda Howard* says that she had been pregnant for five months before she knew of her baby’s existence. She hadn’t been trying for a baby. In fact, because she doesn’t ovulate and therefore doesn’t have periods, she’d accepted her gynae’s belief that she would never fall pregnant. This also meant that she wasn’t on the lookout for a late period. And, although her tummy felt a little hard, she hadn’t put on any weight. It was only because she was slightly worried about that hardness in the first place that she scheduled a doctor’s visit – only to be told that, far from a severe case of IBS, she was pregnant.
What the doctors say
According to the US National Library of Medicine, these hidden (or cryptic) pregnancies may affect one in every 475 cases.
Most often, the pregnancy goes unnoticed because the woman simply doesn’t present any symptoms. Think about it: the first hint that you might be expecting is usually that missed period, but if you’re not regular, you may not know to look out for it. Your first suspicions are usually confirmed by a home test but, again, if pregnancy isn’t on your radar, you won’t think to test for it, either. Remember, too, that not every woman has to swallow ginger biscuits by the fistful. It’s perfectly possible for symptoms to be so slight that they go unnoticed – plus, many can be explained away. Extreme tiredness may be attributed to stress, for example, while weight gain can be put down to a love of carbs.
From a medical perspective, healthline.com explains that a number of conditions may mask or cover up pregnancy symptoms. For example, your period may go AWOL if your body fat dips below a certain level; by the same token, if you suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), you may be accustomed to erratic or even absent periods. Plus, if you’ve entered perimenopause – that time before menopause becomes an undeniable reality – your body may be doing all kinds of crazy things as your hormones fluctuate, and many of these may bear an uncanny resemblance to pregnancy symptoms.
The good news? Babies who have hidden themselves from their mommies can be delivered just like any other – there’s absolutely no reason why birth should be anything except normal and healthy. The bad news? A mother whose pregnancy has gone unnoticed is going to have to make a mad dash to the nearest baby shop to stock up on supplies.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.