Doctors stole my baby! The curious phenomena of the phantom pregnancy

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This morning newspapers carried the story of a young Brazilian woman who is taking legal action against a hospital, claiming they have stolen her baby, or covered up its death. She entered the hospital visibly pregnant, complaining of abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. She was anaesthetised for an emergency c-section, but woke up without a baby. The hospital are claiming that this was a case of ‘phantom pregnancy‘.

V.S. Ramachandran describes the bizarre phenomena of pseudocyesis or ‘hysterical pregnancy’ in his book ‘Phantoms In The Brain‘. The body develops many of the physical signs of pregnancy, accompanied by a strong belief that the individual truly is pregnant. Individuals may experience swelling in the abdomen, changes in menstruation, depositing of fat around the belly and lactation, amongst other symptoms. Often it will only take an in-depth examination from a medical professional to discern that a foetus is not present.

In some mammals such as cats and dogs, pseudo-pregnancy is more common and has been linked to the continued presence of the corpus luteum, which causes the signs of pregnancy. In humans the condition is believed to be psychological in origin and to relate to an overwhelming desire to have a child. Pseudocyesis is however, rare today. In the late 1700s, one in 200 pregnancies were believed to be ‘phantoms’. Now the incidence is closer to one in 10,000. This has been linked to changes over time in the pressures on women to conceive and give offspring, as well as advances in scanning techniques. In the modern age, an ultrasound can easy confirm a pregnancy. In previous centuries women might receive little education on pregnancy and childbirth and would have had little way of confirming a pregnancy other than going on outward physical signs. Many would have had little contact with a midwife prior to the birth. Indeed, often presenting the women with the ‘evidence’ of her (un)pregnancy is enough to resolve the condition. The pregnancy is not staged by the woman (though many people have lied about a pregnancy for secondary gain, few are actually capable of manipulating their own hormonal levels or altering the position of their spine). Men too have been seen to develop some phsyical symptoms in a ‘sympathic pregnancy’ (otherwise known as Couvade Syndrome), although this tends not to be accompanied with the same strong belief of pregnancy.

Pseudocyesis appears quite strange, although it has some similarities with the better known ‘placebo effect’ (when individuals’ health improves when they believe they are receiving treatment, regardless of whether the treatment is active), offers a fascinating insight into the way our minds can control our bodies, seemingly beyond our conscious awareness.

Layane Santos displays her visibly swollen belly

So what is happening in the case of Layane Santos? If, as she states, she had previously had an ultrasound that confirmed the birth, this would be convincing evidence that she really was pregnant.The hospital claims to have run tests before the ‘delivery’ that showed she was not carrying a baby. It is therefore a little questionable as to why they are not revealing these results, or why indeed they chose to anaesthetise Santos at all. If she was indeed not pregnant, the evidence of such should be straight-forward.

Undoubtedly the couple very much wanted a child and were quite invested in the pregnancy (as many couples are). A Brazilian newspaper claims that they had “already named their daughter Sofia, moved to a bigger house and had spent $3000 on clothes and furniture for their first child“. In pseudocyesis, although the pregnancy is not ‘real’, the news that one will not have a baby is obviously very distressing and there may be disbelief, given the many physical symptoms, that they were not pregnant.

It seems unlikely that a hospital would ‘steal’ a child, but while the hospital withhold details of their tests, it cannot be confirmed that Ms Santos was not pregnant. I shall be watching this case with interest…

(Images from GoogleImages)

Layane Santos

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The most amazing pancakes you’ll ever see

Would you just look at these! Nathan Shields is a Washington-based Maths teacher. He also makes some pretty badass pancakes. You can see more of them on his blog. Obviously I am drawn to the anatomical ones, but I also have a bit of a soft-spot for these marine invertebrate goodies. Inspired.

Nange Magro’s EEG-activated dress

Inspired by modern technology and Sci-Fi and driven by a ‘passion for surrealism and obscure, alternative worlds’ , London-based designer Nange Magro created the ‘Mechapolypse‘. The futuristic ‘electronic couture creation includes a cap with an EEG chip, detecting the electrical activity of the wearer’s brain. The designer states that when the outfit changes depending on the level of concentration, which I presume means that levels of alpha waves (associated with relaxation) are being measured. Changes in activation lead to the dress’s spine lighting up and the skirt opening up, rather like an insect’s wings, to reveal a transparent latex skirt. With a bit of practice, the wearer should be able to control the dress (and perhaps avoiding revealing themselves at the wrong time!).

On her website Nange describes her fascination with the concept of garments that are ‘technological sculptures’, “Which move and are in synthesis with the person who is wearing them represents both her ideal future and passion. A garment should represent an extension of the body and brain, and not merely be a mask that aims to divide or mediate the connection between a person and the surrounding world. Clothing should be something more than skin. It should be something that we can choose to describe ourselves in our own personal way; controlling it, means a lot more than we usually think. Being conscious of our body and its surrounding environment is one of the most important issues today.”

So what’s next, underwear that disintegrates with high levels of arousal? A shirt that shocks you if you start nodding off at work? I love the Giger-esque spiked helmet and spine but I’m not sure how I feel about my dress opening and closing according to my brain-waves. I applaud the unusual hybrid of science and fashion but I think this style may just not be practical for everyday wear (and also rather open to abuse!).

The Leg Show


From the current collection - axe + tree-trunk + heart?

Tights are often judged as the plain older sister to pretty stockings. Whilst stockings have their connotations of sexiness, lingerie and a naughty flash of suspender, tights have stronger associations with school uniforms, thermal underwear and your grandmother. I don’t think anyone could judge these incredible tights from French brand Les Queues de Sardines as being old or boring.They feature bold, colourful and wonderfully odd prints. Sometimes cute, though more often than not rather bizarre and surreal. Prints include tentacles, giant eyes, body hair, creepy crawlies, disembodied arms and axes. They’re drawn in a thick-lined, bright style that’s reminiscent of pop-art and children’s paintings. In the UK they’re stocked in Tatty Devine.

Under the cut are a few favourites….

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