Breast swelling, nausea, fatigue, missed period; all signs point to pregnancy — all of them except for the half-dozen pregnancy tests all showing negative. Phantom pregnancies are real, and by God they’re frightening.

What happens when you glace at an unopened box of tampons, wondering silently where the monthly visitor is? Your body and intuition feels off-kilter; the smell of the office break room makes your stomach churn; and the dreaded ‘after lunch’ fatigue sets in much earlier and much stronger. You begin to wonder if maybe you’re imagining the fact your clothes are fitting far too snug and your tender breasts seem to topple out of your bra.

Maybe it's hoped for? Maybe it’s not. Either way, a phantom pregnancy is possible for any woman, and perhaps that is the place where things begin to get real.

In a vulnerable tell-all email with a woman who prefers to be referred to as Jade, she explains her confusing and horrifying experience with a phantom pregnancy.

“I wasn’t even trying to get pregnant, but once I thought it might be possible based on all the symptoms, I was really upset and confused when every pregnancy test came up negative,” says Jade.

Also referred to as pseudocyesis, a false pregnancy is one where a woman experiences all the fun physiological symptoms of pregnancy such a breast swelling and tenderness, nausea, fatigue, swollen abdomen, and fetal movement. However, upon taking a pregnancy test, the results will always prove negative because a woman can only produce and sustain a pregnancy if the HcG hormone is present in her urine.

John Plebmon, nurse practitioner of an OBGYN department, shed light on the eerie pregnancy phenomenon via email.

“There is no specific treatment for pseudo-pregnancy, but it can be caused by changes in the endocrine system,” says Plebmon.

In the hair-raising conversation with Plebmon, he alludes to the fact that phantom pregnancies are all in a woman’s head … and endocrine and sympathetic system, along with a few annotations to a woman’s psychological state. 

Pseudo-pregnancies display psychological, gynecological and endocrine traits that suggest the endocrine system may be to blame for the emergence of phantom pregnancy symptoms. There is a whole slew of research that points to psychological illness, reproductive system issues and sympathetic nervous system overload as the catalyst for phantom pregnancies. But Plebmon has found enlightenment elsewhere.

“There are two sides to this condition,” he says. “One is that, the woman is just a coo-coo and knows she is not pregnant, yet she creates manifestations of symptoms and adamantly lies about the alleged pregnancy. The other being a generally healthy woman, who is genuinely being tricked by her body. After a few blood tests and whatnot, she learns that she is not pregnant and the whole thing is over with.”

In the aforementioned cases, the treatment approach is undoubtedly different. One person may end up on the couch of a mental health professional, while the other leaves the lab after a blood draw and carries on with life, business as usual.

Jade explains that she met a woman who thoroughly believed that she was pregnant. She went the whole nine yards and decorated a nursery, posted pregnancy selfies of her growing belly, poured over baby names and verbally expressed her motherhood fantasies, ad nauseam. Unfortunately, the only thing to birth out of this situation was pure skepticism, because after two years of pregnancy, the woman was still carrying on the pregnancy charade and explained that her unborn child was too small to be birthed yet.

Two flippin’ years of pregnancy? Terrifying and nope.

“She said that her baby girl was very small and because of this, she had to carry the baby longer,” says Jade. “I think by that time she had gone on to about two years of pregnancy. She was a mental case. I’m not sure if she ever let that go.”

A human pregnancy that rivals an elephant’s pregnancy timeline? Phantom pregnancy quickly becomes petrifying. Cases of phantom pregnancies have occurred in women and mammals and the severity of their symptoms ranges from slight to severe. Some women are able to use logic to eliminate thoughts of pregnancy when the test results come back negative and highly trained OBGYN medical professionals substantiate the results.

Others however, may take this unnerving pregnancy illusion and run with it.

Jade confesses, “It [cryptic pregnancy] irritates me. I think that medicine should supersede ignorance. If you are not mentally stable enough to convince yourself that you did not have a true pregnancy, then how can you be mentally stable enough to raise a child?”

Some women are lured by the macabre-tale of bouncing bundles of babies and live by the code of, ignorance is bliss.  But before being sucked into the lurid tale of phantom pregnancies take note; it’s all in your head.