Doctors in Brazil performed an emergency C-section on a woman, only to discover that she wasn’t actually pregnant.
The 37-year-old woman went in to Women’s Hospital in Cabo Frio with proof of prenatal care that indicated she was 41 weeks pregnant and had seen a midwife throughout the pregnancy. She was “showing” with a protruded belly and complained of sharp pains. The woman was admitted and the clinic’s medical team assumed she was in labor. When they checked for a fetal heartbeat, they didn’t hear one.
Assuming that the baby was in peril, the attending physician determined that there wasn’t enough time to do an ultrasound and sent the woman to the emergency room for a C-section. When they cut into the woman’s abdomen, they were surprised to find that there was no baby.
The woman was suffering from pseudocyesis, a false or “phantom” pregnancy. In cases of pseudocyesis, the woman actually believes she is pregnant and present real symptoms, including ceased menstruation, weight gain, nausea, and cravings. They may even feel fetal movement in their stomachs and, in rarer cases, may test positive in pregnancy tests.
The patient was released from the hospital and advised to seek psychiatric care. When the staff spoke with her husband, he told them that this was his wife’s second “pregnancy” in the past year. She told him she lost the child the first time, but he never saw a death certificate.
Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary, is the one of the most famous cases of pseudocyesis. In September 1554, she stopped menstruating and gained weight. She also felt nauseous in the morning, leading the court — including her doctors — to believe she was pregnant. She continued to exhibit signs of pregnancy until July 1555, when her abdomen receded — but not due to childbirth. Historians believe the false pregnancy resulted from her overwhelming desire to have a child.