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I Don't Get It: How Can You NOT Know You're Pregnant?

Surprise! You're 8 months pregnant!

I’ve forgotten I was supposed to start my period even though cramps were tying my stomach in knots and causing rampant diarrhea, but how can you be so out of touch with your body you don’t know you’re carrying a full-term baby?

Easy, say the people involved with “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant,” a reality TV show that tells the story of women who conceive and carry babies full term without realizing they’re pregnant.

“I think at first glance you think, how could a woman not know,” Wendy Douglas, director of production for the TLC network tells MSNBC.  “Clearly she’s not paying attention or not smart or something. But that’s really not the case.”

Doctors back up Douglas, saying that many women just don’t experience the usual pregnancy symptoms of nausea, cravings, swollen ankles and even weight gain.  Some women gain only five to ten pounds and have no other symptoms – no obvious ones, anyway – and others are throwing up every day.  Often, women experience plenty of pregnancy symptoms but blame something else; morning sickness becomes food poisoning or the flu, swollen ankles are because of a long day on their feet.  Weight gain is blamed on job stress, the fact that they quit smoking – or they simply won’t gain that much weight in the first place.

“One woman on the show was taking all of these extra Pilates classes and working very hard at exercising because she was gaining weight and didn’t know why.” says Dr. Michelle Evans, a reproductive endocrinologist from Pasadena, California who’s featured on the show.

Some of the reasons women don’t know they’re pregnant include the following:

Some women will take a pregnancy test and receive a false negative.

Women have been told by their doctor they’re unable to conceive so pregnancy never figures into their thought process.

Moms who’ve just delivered a baby often mistakenly believe it’s too soon to be pregnant.

Women using birth control will think there is no way they could be pregnant and attribute their symptoms to something else, when, in reality, the condom failed or they missed a pill.

But wouldn’t these women feel the baby kick?  I mean, I could feel my son’s foot tangling in my ribs for hellsakes!  Again, a lot of times women attribute the baby moving to something else like indigestion.  And often, the positioning of a baby makes it hard to feel those tiny kicks and punches.

Dr. Evans says a lot of women featured on I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant had irregular periods, so a missed period wouldn’t have sent up any red flags (pun totally intended) either.

Psychological factors like fear and denial can also play a role.  “There are people who really don’t want to be pregnant and convince themselves that they’re not,” says  Dr. Karen Wells, an OB/GYN. “This happened twice during my residency. One time, a woman was in labor and was sure she wasn’t pregnant even when the baby was crowning. Some people are in complete and total denial.”

Although doctors say going full-term without knowing you’re about to give birth is rare, TLC’s Wendy Douglas says she’s been inundated with stories of surprise pregnancies.

“Each time a show airs, we get a flood of letters from people saying ‘This happened to me!’ or “I know someone this happened to,’” she says. “I think right now we have well over 150 stories that we could tell.”

It’s hard for me to fathom, a woman NOT knowing she’s pregnant.  But then again, I’m only viewing pregnancy through my own wretched, puking every day, gaining sixty pounds pregnancy experience.  Still, doesn’t it absolutely blow your mind?

Image: flickr.com/flequi

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