The Emotional Pain of the Phantom Pregnancy!

Conceptual image of pregnant belly with painted clock

I can still remember her like it was yesterday. She was (and still is) the wife of a pastor, and was popularly called Iya Ibeji in the neighborhood where I grew up, back in the early 90s. She appeared to be in her mid-20s then, and was heavily pregnant. Her husband pastored the church my family attended and she eventually became friends with my mum.

I noticed something strange. A year passed, then another: she was still pregnant.

She came visiting one day and she and my mum spent quite some time chatting in the living room. I happened to be passing by the door (or let’s say I was eavesdropping, but that’s an issue for another day) and overheard her tell my mum “Ah my sister, the enemies have tried their best to stop this baby, but my miracle baby will soon be delivered and they will all be put to shame”.

She went further to say that even the doctors and the various scans have not detected any baby, but she can feel the baby inside her alive and well.


Guess what? That was over 20 years ago, and my mum recently told me she is still claiming to be pregnant!

Wonders shall never cease, you may say.

However, there happens to be an explanation that has baffled even the most experienced doctors over the years. It’s a condition known as the “Phantom” or false pregnancy. Medically it is called Pseudocyesis.

It’s a condition where a woman believes she is pregnant but is actually not. Her “pregnancy-like” symptoms are caused by other factors. Believe it or not, men have been known to experience it too, especially when their partners are pregnant. The emotional pain of this condition is better imagined, because at the end of it all, there is no baby.

It is quite an unusual condition and has been estimated to occur in 6 out of 22,000 live births.


Typical Symptoms

Symptoms are typically the same as for those who are actually pregnant:

  • Weight gain
  • Expanding belly
  • Interruption of the menstrual period
  • Actual feelings of fetal movements (like the lady I mentioned above)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Food cravings
  • Positive pregnancy test in a few extreme cases
  • Enlarged breasts and even milk production.

These symptoms historically have been seen to last for weeks…or even years. Some women with this condition will actually go into false labour, and arrive at the delivery room or hospital, only to be examined and found not to be actually pregnant.


Causes of Phantom Pregnancy

  • An intense desire to be pregnant. Many reasons could put a woman under pressure and make her almost desperate to be pregnant…especially in our environment. Repeated miscarriages, approaching menopause, and infertility are some of the usual factors that contribute to this state of mind. It becomes so intense that the woman’s body begins to produce pregnancy signs like a swollen belly, larger breasts and, in some cases, fetal movements. The affected woman’s brain then wrongly detects these signs as an actual pregnancy, and releases hormones (estrogen and prolactin) mimicking actual pregnancy symptoms.
  • Though the exact causes still remain unknown, psychological and physical issues are believed to be at the root of this phenomena.
  • Socio-economic conditions like child sexual abuse, poverty, lack of education and marital problems also play a part in phantom pregnancy.

An evaluation by a doctor would usually show that the woman is experiencing a false pregnancy. The doctor would also do well to check for ectopic pregnancy, cancer, and morbid obesity.

It is interesting to note that Pseudocyesis is not a “modern” condition and has, in fact, confounded doctors and midwives over the years with the earliest documented cases being recorded as far back as in 300 B.C.!

The English Queen, Mary Tudor, is one popular case of a phantom pregnancy. Her case was so extreme that finding out she was not pregnant is believed to have caused her to react violently several times, earning her the nickname “Bloody Mary”. Sadly she died at the age of 42, after enduring repeated false pregnancies from what was suspected to be uterine cancer.

Treatment should include therapy and psychological support to gently convince the affected woman that she is actually not pregnant and help her overcome the inevitable and painful disappointment.



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  1. I know this pain first hand. I had a phantom pregnancy for two months after my last miscarriage. From the morning sickness, to the weight gain, bloating and food aversion, I was sure I was pregnant. It took two scans and a stern talking to from the hubby for me to put my life together again. I lost all my symptoms as soon as I stopped hoping. Life!!!

    • Naa, it is truly one of the cruelest tricks our bodies can play on us. I had such convincing 2ww symptoms, I was always 100% sure each time. But having full blown pregnancy symptoms is just cruel! I have a friend who actually had what looked like a 5-month bump. But yet, nothing! Life can really be cruel!

  2. Whao! i av been waiting for the trend like forever its what make me join this forum.
    It happened to me too, i got married during my ovulation period and during our honey moon my husband and i had series of hot sex, 2 weeks after i started having the symptoms of pregnancy, until my period came on its exact day it should, even at that i still believe i was pregnant. i took series hpt which comes back -ive. still the symptoms kept coming strong with weight gain, fuller breast, growing tummy name it… i search d internet for answers that was when a came across Phantom Pregnancy!. i was sacred of going through that kind of emotional trauma so, i had to erase the thought of being pregnant from my mind and that was when the symptoms finally go away. Now am having a positive mind on my TTC journey with the hope i will get pregnant and hold my Precious Baby in my arms some day.

  3. My colleague told me her mother had it. she was the only child for 21 years. her parents tried everything medical both several failed IVF circles and yet no baby. Her mum later was introduced to a herbal doctor somewhere in PHC who also prayed for people and after several treatments which included her and husband, she got pregnant. it was exactly like a phantom pregnancy. she carried it for almost two years and in that single pregnancy she conceived 5 children. they were not born same day, some two months apart from each other. all the time she went for scan, the doctors saw nothing yet she was pregnant. those five kids are so adorable two are going to be five years this year while the rest 3 will be 4. She said they couldn’t believe it and today is real and some people even believed that her mum adopted the kids until they saw the major resemblance between the kids and their parents and she the big sister So i don’t know if this is phantom or……. why would one pregnancy last that long and the doctors not see anything in the scan

  4. Honestly, this story sounds weird. She would go for scan and nothing was found, yet she was pregnant, with five living beings, born different years. Abeg, my sister, there is more to this story than is being told. Which kain prayer dem do? The craziness of TTC.


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