It’s sad, but true: I am addicted to peeing on a stick. Each month, like clockwork, five days before my expected period, I fetch the rectangular pink box hidden beneath the toilet paper in my bathroom closet. I’m sure that I’m pregnant. And each time the result is the same – negative. Except for the time I mistakenly became ecstatic to see two pink lines, only to learn two days later that it was just a chemical pregnancy (a very early miscarriage).
The first month of trying, a mere two and a half weeks into my menstrual cycle and just days after ovulation, I was absolutely convinced I was pregnant. I had all the symptoms – sore, enlarged breasts, frequent trips to the bathroom, and morning nausea. I’ve been pregnant twice before, so I’m more than familiar with the symptoms. Five days prior to my expected period, I began to take home pregnancy tests. The first one was negative. I waited another two days. Still negative. I couldn’t imagine what the problem could be. How could I not be pregnant?
The tests were negative (all seven of them!) because I was not, in fact, pregnant. After being five days late, my period finally arrived. I was disappointed, of course, but mostly, I was in shock. I went online to research such a thing, an imaginary pregnancy, and found that it is actually a rare condition called pseudocyesis – a condition that I’ve endured every month in varying degrees for the past year.
Of course, pseudocyesis is my own self-diagnosis. I haven’t actually addressed the situation with my doctor, because on some level, I refuse to admit my obsessive behavior. Is it possible that I could really have such a rare condition that occurs in just one to six of every 22,000 births in the United States? Sure, I have almost all the symptoms, which mimic those of early pregnancy, but I’m not an extreme case. I don’t have a distended belly or experience labor pains as do some women who suffer from this condition. I’m not that crazy.
Pseudocyesis is very unusual, yet cases of false pregnancy have been reported in humans for centuries, proof that the phenomenon is not bound by time or culture. In 300 B.C. Hippocrates described twelve women who “believed they were pregnant,” and Mary Tudor, the English queen, is also believed to have suffered from the disorder.
Okay, so if it happened to Bloody Mary, it could happen to me, I guess. But am I really in the “at risk” category for acquiring such a weird problem? Once again, I turn to the Internet for my medical information. According to womens-health.co.uk, the problem is caused by a hormone imbalance often sparked by stress and anxiety, which in turn causes the emotional and psychological shifts that lead a woman to falsely believe she is expecting. Women who are at most risk for pseudocyesis are:
· women in their late thirties or early forties, who have been trying to conceive for many years and who may have fertility problems: Check.
· women who are not generally emotionally unstable but who are extremely emotional with regard to pregnancy: Check.
· women who have suffered a miscarriage or who have lost a child: Check.
Great, so I guess I do fall into the “at risk” group. I’m reluctant to self diagnose, but maybe I do have the disorder. Maybe I do need help. Maybe I do need to reevaluate my obsession with taking prenatal vitamins, my frequent visits to chinagold.com to check if my imaginary baby will be a boy or a girl, and my trips to Costco to buy pregnancy tests in bulk.
The usual course of treatment for women with pseudocyesis is intense therapy sessions, as well as medical procedures to “cure” women of their conditions. Thankfully, I don’t need any medical procedures – I’m still getting my period every month (although it’s late more often than not) and my overall physical health is fine. So then, maybe it’s just a little therapy I need.
Still, the phenomenon baffles me. It’s a bizarre feeling to witness first hand the intensity and power of the mind over the body. I want a baby desperately, but I don’t want to let that desire lead me down the path of serious psychological problems. Whether it’s pseudocyesis or just some other strange pregnancy obsession, I’m determined to overcome whatever it is that makes me imagine those annoying pregnancy symptoms. And under no circumstances will I buy another pregnancy test before my expected period. Unless it’s on sale.