Pregnancy usually comes with a slew of pregnancy symptoms, including but certainly not limited to morning sickness, fatigue, sudden food aversions, and a missing period. Then again, there are numerous reasons to feel nauseous in the morning, everyone is tired these days, people's food preferences change, and you light bleeding/spotting is common in early pregnancy. So, how common is it to not know you're pregnant? Turns out, pretty common.
With something called a "cryptic pregnancy" — a pregnancy where there is no detectable hCG in the mother's system, due to a hormonal imbalance in the mother," according to Cryptic Pregnancy Support Group — walking around unknowingly pregnant isn't unbelievable or irresponsible. In fact, a 2011 HuffPost article about cryptic pregnancy reports that one in 450 women don't know they're pregnant until 20 weeks gestation, or after. The same article reports that one in 2,500 women remained in the dark until they went into labor and delivery. This strange phenomenon, according to Cosmopolitan, happens most commonly to women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), perimenopause, lower levels of pregnancy hormones produced by a genetic quirk, or suffering from a large amount of stress.
Yes, a woman going the duration of her pregnancy without experiencing an ounce of symptoms seems like fiction, but as the above information shows, it happens a lot more than you'd think.
Amy Autry, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics-gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, says that 30 percent of women don't have "regular" periods, further complicating a woman's ability to tell when, and if, she's pregnant. In other words, a missed or late period doesn't necessarily mean a woman is pregnant. And since a reported 20 percent of women report they experience spotting during their first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), it's not uncommon for a woman to assume spotting during pregnancy is just a light and/or irregular period.
There are also instances in which a woman runs a greater risk of having a false negative on a pregnancy test. For example, if you take a test before your hCG levels are high enough to detect a pregnancy, the test will read as negative. Pregnancy tests from the drugstore aren't 100 percent accurate, either. As CBS News reports, the "hormone levels rise once the embryo has implanted into the wall of uterus, 7 to 10 days after ovulation, so taking a test too early might deliver a false negative." And if you haven't experienced any pregnancy symptoms, there's no need to assume a negative test is a false reading.
While it's, unfortunately, the cultural norm to denounce women who didn't realize they were pregnant until the second or third trimester, it's definitely not an uncommon experience to traipse through life unknowingly carrying a child. If you can explain weight gain away to overeating, fatigue to sleep disturbances, or your missed period to "never being regular," it's not far off to attribute any pregnancy symptoms as just another day in the life of a woman/person with an often unpredictable reproductive system. If you have reason to believe you may be pregnant and a pregnancy test says otherwise, check with your doctor about an in-office test or, in some cases, an ultrasound to detect a heartbeat or abnormal mass. At the very least you can rule it out, and it's always better to know about a potential pregnancy sooner rather than later.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.