Cryptic pregnancy or stealth pregnancy is a phenomenon that occurs where a woman does not know that she is pregnant up until she gets to labour or even after she has given birth. Sometimes, the woman does not become aware till around week 20 (4 months) of the pregnancy. A woman with a cryptic pregnancy would not experience the symptoms commonly experienced by pregnant women. As unusual as it may sound, cryptic pregnancy is not a rare occurrence as it happens in 1 out of 475 pregnancies. Cryptic pregnancy is different from concealed pregnancy, where women who are aware of their pregnancy deliberately conceals it.
Women with cryptic pregnancy would not experience some of the symptoms connected with the early stage of pregnancy, like morning sickness, nausea, and vomitting. Some symptoms are never experienced while they do not take notice of some other ones. Sometimes, women who experience cryptic pregnancy are those who experience irregular menstruation on a normal basis. So they are not usually alarmed when they experience delayed periods. Before they realise that the irregularity or delay is caused by pregnancy, they may already have spent months pregnant.
Another group of women who may not know that they are pregnant is those who are obese, since they may not immediately notice any change in their physique. Being pregnant comes with changes as the body grows to accommodate the baby. This leads to weight gain and notable physical changes. But those changes may not be so visible if the woman was already obese before becoming pregnant. There are conditions associated with cryptic pregnancy such as perimenopause, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
In Nigeria, the concept of cryptic pregnancy takes another meaning. While it is acknowledged that women may be pregnant without symptoms or obvious signs, cryptic pregnancy has also come to represent something else. Women who are looking for children go to hospitals where they are made “pregnant.” This is done by injecting them with estrogens to make them feel pregnant and prompt physical changes, all without their knowledge. Such women are told that the baby is hiding behind the uterus, so that is why an ultrasound or any other tests would be unable to pick up traces of the child. When it’s time for delivery, the women are “delivered” by C-Section, where another child is presented to them as theirs, without their knowledge. Everything regarding that is a crime, and the law enforcement agencies are always after those who facilitate such setups.
The true concept of cryptic pregnancy has been stained in Nigeria due to the actions of a few people. Cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria has been used as a scam by some people. Recently, a Nigerian doctor on social media shed light on the cryptic pregnancy scam in Nigeria. This scam involves brainwashing women into believing they are pregnant, this is done by injecting the woman with with a high level of oestrogen and sometimes progesterone hormones. These hormones will make the abdomen to enlarge which leads to formation of cysts and appearance of being pregnant. There are many reports of this cryptic pregnancy scam in south east Nigerian, and Lagos. Also, cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria is used as a scam by women who fake pregnancy to extort money from their lovers.
Now, the average person on the street regards cryptic pregnancy with suspicion. Besides that, it is also very hard, in a country like Nigeria, to believe that a woman was not aware that she was pregnant all through the months leading to the pregnancy. Cases of cryptic pregnancy are hardly reported here. The one known story was of a 19-year old girl in Enugu, South East Nigeria, who reported to a hospital on account of feeling back pain, very unaware that she was pregnant, and only a few hours later, that same day, she was delivered of a baby. Up until the point before she came to the hospital, the woman had no idea that she was pregnant as she continued to see her period without noticing anything was wrong.
Cryptic pregnancy comes with its share of problems and risks. A woman who is cryptic pregnant would not go for antenatal or effect any change in her lifestyle because she does not know that she is pregnant. So, a woman may continue to smoke and drink up to the ninth month since she does not know that she is pregnant. That puts the health of her and the baby at risk.
A lot of work has to be done by relevant health agencies to create awareness about what cryptic pregnancy is and encourage women to seek tests whenever they notice anything slightly wrong with them. In a country like Nigeria, where women who are aware that they are pregnant still have issues accessing relevant and necessary facilities, those with cryptic pregnancy are at a higher risk of facing difficulty during delivery because they are not prepared, with most knowing of their condition after going into labour. And Nigerians would have to do away with the idea that cryptic pregnancy is a scam and come to terms with the fact that it is a reality for many people.