What is pregnancy denial?

Qu'est-ce que le déni de grossesse  ?

What is pregnancy denial?

Pregnancy denial is one of the forms of denial of pregnancy. It refers to the fact of being pregnant for at least three months without knowing it, without being aware of it. In fact, the usual signs of a pregnancy are very weak or even absent and can go unnoticed. This is true for both the woman and those around her. Specialists call this phenomenon the "contagion" of pregnancy denial.

Pregnancy denial can affect women of all ages, from all social backgrounds, from all marital profiles, etc. It can even affect women who thought they were pregnant. It can even affect women who thought they were infertile or menopausal, or women who have already had one or more children, and who therefore know the clinical signs of pregnancy.

However, pregnancy denial often has nothing to do with whether or not you want to have a child.

Several forms of pregnancy denial?

There are two forms of pregnancy denial according to specialists,

  • Partial denial of pregnancy: the woman discovers her pregnancy after the first trimester but before the term. It happens that the woman's body changes very quickly, going from a flat stomach to a bulging belly as soon as the pregnancy is discovered.

  • Total denial of pregnancy: the woman discovers her pregnancy during childbirth, after a visit to the emergency room for severe abdominal pain, for example, or during an unexpected delivery at home.

Denial of pregnancy should not be confused with hidden pregnancy. In this case, the mother is aware of her pregnancy and chooses to voluntarily hide it from those around her.

Misleading clinical signs:

In the case of pregnancy denial, there are a number of clinical signs that contribute to mislead the pregnant woman, her entourage, and sometimes also the health professionals:

  • The absence of amenorrhea, i.e. not having a cessation of menstruation,

  • The use of contraception,

  • An absence or slight increase in abdominal circumference,

  • Very little or no weight gain or even weight loss,

  • Non-perception or non-identification of fetal movements,

  • Reduction of usual symptoms of pregnancy such as: tension in the breasts, shortness of breath, frequent need to urinate, backache, ...

Moreover, if some of these signs are sometimes perceived by the pregnant woman, they are attributed to constipation/indigestion/gastro for weight gain or sales pain. A delay in menstruation can be considered normal because menstruation is usually irregular (in this case you can wear our menstrual panties outside your period, in anticipation). Indeed, these women are not aware of their condition so nothing can allow them to understand that it is a pregnancy. Their body does not show any symptoms because it acts as a defense mechanism.

Indeed, the uterus, instead of positioning itself forward, will position itself lengthwise, vertically, pushing the diaphragm, the intestines and the lungs. The fetus is then partly under the mother's ribs. It is in fact the abdominal muscles, which unconsciously controlled by the brain, will force the uterus to position itself in this way, by tensing itself. The organs are thus compressed without the woman feeling the slightest discomfort and without there being any physical signs that could indicate a pregnancy.

Possible causes of pregnancy denial:

Pregnancy denial is a psychic gestation disorder. Indeed, pregnancy is both a process of physical and physiological changes (allowing the baby to develop), but also psychological. During the 9 months of pregnancy, a woman "becomes a mother", she prepares herself for it.

However, during a pregnancy denial, the psyche unconsciously denies the pregnancy, and this has repercussions, as we have seen previously, by physical changes that are not or hardly perceptible. This is often due to the history of each woman, such as

  • Ambivalence of the desire for a child

  • Unresolved internal conflicts

  • Difficult relationship with the body

  • Difficult relationship with sexuality, or lack of sexual education in youth (taboo, etc)

  • Difficulty communicating emotions

  • Difficult family context (relationship with one's own parents, recent bereavements, etc.)

  • Past or current trauma (sexual or psychological abuse)

  • Adjustment disorder

  • Suspected sterility

  • Close pregnancies

  • Context not conducive to pregnancy (work, family, etc.)

Pregnancy denial seems to be a defense mechanism, originating from the unconscious, to deal with an internal suffering that prevents them from dealing with the reality of a pregnancy.

Denial of pregnancy and psychological repercussions:

The denial of pregnancy is often lifted when a third person (doctor or others) verbally states the fact that it is a pregnancy. If this is not the case, the denial often continues until after the birth. However, if the denial is lifted, a physical and psychological change is suddenly unblocked.

Nevertheless, the discovery of a pregnancy is a real shock for the woman and this announcement can be very difficult to live with. A feeling of losing control of her body, that it has betrayed her, can be experienced. But also a feeling of guilt and shame because they have the feeling to have abandoned the baby and were not actors of their pregnancy, with sometimes abuses (alcohol, tobacco, ...). There is also sometimes a feeling of inability to be a good mother and to have a natural maternal instinct because they were not "able" to know that they were pregnant.

After a denial of pregnancy, it is therefore important that the mother be accompanied until term and sometimes afterwards, in order to understand this trauma and to allow the creation of a mother-child relationship.

Indeed, during a denial of pregnancy, there is no psychological pregnancy, only a physical one (although it is very hidden). However, our society still places a taboo around this subject, putting forward the myth of the "good mother" who must be like this or like that. Nevertheless, every pregnancy is a form of "adoption" and some women find it difficult to accept their child after the birth, it even happens often. Pregnancy denial is therefore only an extreme form of this phenomenon.

It has been noted that a significant number of abortions and births under X were the result of denial. It is therefore important to accompany women so that they make the best choice, with full knowledge of the facts and with reassurance.

Denial of pregnancy in figures:

Denial of pregnancy represents about 1 in 500 births each year, which represents about 600 to 1,800 women affected each year in France. 38% of these denials (approximately 330) are total and 0.6% of women in denial of pregnancy give birth at home (approximately 85).

In addition, the medical community can sometimes make the woman who has denied pregnancy feel more guilty by maintaining that it is impossible for her to have missed signs that announce a pregnancy. Midwives feel that they have not been sufficiently informed/trained on the subject. It would therefore be important to have appropriate training for medical personnel and better information for the general public in order to provide the best possible support to women who discover a denial of pregnancy, with the aim of minimizing the consequences for the mother and the child.


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