"Surprise Babies" - Not as Rare as You Think
Rare diagnoses deserve our attention, too, and we’d do well not to rule them out as fantastical or impossible.
A Facebook friend of mine swears that this happened to her. She went on holiday in the Caribbean, hoping a little sand and surf would help her decompress after a long semester of countless hours in the library, leaving her a bit weary and overweight due to stress eating.
All was well until, just a few days into her trip, she had a series of unusual abdominal pains. Mildly nervous, but mostly just curious, she went to the clinic at the resort where a quick examination revealed the cause of her discomfort. Eight hours later, after an uncomplicated caesarian section, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Talk about an all-inclusive experience. Look, I didn't believe it either, although I did think that posting a bunch of pictures online of her allegedly "surprise" baby showed an impressive commitment to the story.
But, it turns out, denied pregnancies — cases in which a woman is genuinely subjectively unaware of her pregnancy, sometimes up until the birth itself — are more common than you think.
Several studies put the frequency of pregnancy denial at 20+ weeks somewhere in the range of 1 in 5001-2 and denial until birth around 1 in 2500,3 which is to say there's a good chance that this has happened to one of your Facebook friends, too.
For whatever reason, denied pregnancy seems to lend itself to lazy generalizations. For years, the literature presumed that these patients were likely to be poorly educated, primiparous, and schizophrenic (or otherwise psychologically unstable), without even a shred of evidence to back up what amount to thoughtless stereotypes. In fact, the best evidence available shows that women in this cohort are about as likely as women with traditional pregnancies to be married and have multiple children.
More to the point, even though denial of pregnancy might, initially be easier to understand in the context of mental illness, only around 5% of these patients have an associated diagnosis of schizophrenia.3