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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les mystères du déni de grossesse

by Bruno Vincens

The mysteries of pregnancy denial

Translated Tuesday 25 November 2008, by Lisa RICHARDSON

Health. The first European seminar on this badly understood phenomenon was held in Toulouse this week-end.

Toulouse (Haute-Garonne),

How can pregnancy denial be defined?

Dr Noé Guetari. It’s the non-recognition of the reality of pregnancy. The woman doesn’t know that she’s pregnant. The baby doesn’t really exist yet. The woman goes through her pregnancy without being aware of it. This phenomenon doesn’t strike any particular type of woman, there is no specific profile. In the inquiries carried out no particular mental illness, social status or age group stands out, hence the difficulty in establishing a diagnosis.

You describe cases where the women keep a flat stomach and continue to have periods. How can this be explained?

Dr Noé Guetari. The physiological pregnancy continues without the psychological pregnancy. The fœtus doesn’t develop towards the front of the body, but grows against the spine.

I explain these phenomena by the force of the psyche. But when the woman is informed of her condition, sometimes during a scan, an x-ray or a pregnancy test, the mental pregnancy kicks in.

And what happens in the case of total denial right up to labour?

Dr Noé Guetari.
The delivery goes badly, outside of the medical structure, in the toilets for example, stressful and solitary. There is a danger for both the baby and the mother. There are many accidents where the baby is often the victim of a fall or lack of care because he/she is not expected.

Women in denial perceive perfectly the rest of their reality. Why does the denial occur? Why does the denial focus uniquely on the pregnancy?

Dr Noé Guetari. We don’t actually know. Perhaps this denial is linked to problems of representation during the Oedipal phase, before the age of seven, and at the moment when parents transmit the notions of masculinity and femininity, paternity and maternity.

Why is the body sometimes preserved, as in the case of the frozen babies?

Dr Noé Guetari. We could hypothesize that the mother wanted to stop time, the death process and the destruction and rotting of the body. This is contradictory with the denial itself and it reveals the mothers feelings of ambivalence. When the baby’s body is thrown into the bin, it is assimilated to rubbish.

How does the judicial system cope with denial that ends in infanticide?

Dr Noé Guetari. The justice system handles these cases very badly. Pregnancy denial is not a recognised pathology and experts find it difficult deciding if there is an abolition of moral discernment in these situations.

After having given birth in terrible conditions, risked their lives and recognised the death of their baby, these women are held in custody, put in temporary detention centres…They run the risk of a life prison sentence for the voluntary manslaughter of a minor under 15 ! In these cases jurisprudence is very varied: from two to fifteen years imprisonment.

The woman who denies her pregnancy is a victim. She needs medico -psychological care and not coercive measures, inappropriate and unfair.

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