Two thousand years ago, scholars recorded stories about women who had given birth to elephants and mothers who had borne over thirty children (none of whom were elephants, thankfully). We may think we’re too sophisticated to believe such tales today, but that’s not so. Instead of elephant-bearing women, modern legends have progressed to human clones, pregnant men, and online supermodel egg auctions.
Reality Rule 1.1
Just because a woman looks pregnant, it doesn’t mean she is.
Foam-Pad Pregnancy, n.: What you get when a woman stuffs some padding under her shirt and claims to be pregnant. More generically, any fake pregnancy.
The Fake Pregnancy Scam
You meet a pregnant woman—one who not only looks pregnant, but also says she is. How do you know she really is pregnant? The odds that she’s faking it aren’t very high. Unlike fake tattoos, fake tans, and fake hair, the fake pregnant look is a fashion that’s never caught on. When fake pregnancies happen, the motivation is usually fraud, not fashion.
The scam goes like this: a woman claims to be pregnant, then persuades an adopting couple to support her while they wait to become the proud parents of her nonexistent child. By the time the couple figures out what’s going on, the con artist is long gone, looking for the next pair of suckers.
For instance, in early 2004, authorities charged Maya-Anne Mays with deceiving at least three couples who hoped to adopt her child. Maya-Anne wasn’t pregnant, but her heavyset build made her look like she was, and a recent miscarriage allowed her to test positive on a pregnancy exam. The couples who were paying her rent (and food, and travel money) only grew suspicious when, as the months rolled by, Maya-Anne stubbornly declined all medical care. In hindsight, her only mistake was sticking around for too long.
If you think a woman’s growing belly owes more to foam padding than to a fetus, what can you do to verify your suspicions? Not much. That’s the beauty of the scam. Start poking her stomach, and you open yourself up to charges of assault and battery. Ask that she subject herself to a medical examination, and she’s well within her rights to refuse. The most reliable fake-pregnancy-debunking method is to wait nine months. If no baby appears, then you might consider your suspicions confirmed.
case file: Erin McGaw
Although most fake pregnancies are pulled off by con artists, occasionally you come across a “fake pregnancy as fashion choice” or “fake pregnancy as research project.” Take the case of Erin McGaw.
Erin’s classmates at Penn Manor High could scarcely believe this wholesome seventeen-year-old was pregnant. She was the kind of girl who hung out after school with her church group, not with boys. But the evidence of her growing belly was undeniable. And anyway, she said she was pregnant.
But Erin wasn’t. Early in fall 2003 she had hatched a plan to fake a pregnancy as a way of completing a senior-year independent study project on child development. (Why didn’t I think of that? It would have beat my senior-year study of nineteenth-century Romantic poetry hands down.) She imagined experiencing how pregnant teenagers are treated in our society and then reported her findings at the school’s year-end Festival of Learning. Her teacher, Mindy Rottmund, approved the project and promised to keep it a secret.
Each week Erin carefully stuffed a little more padding into the swimsuit she wore beneath her clothes. Pretty soon boys were commenting that she looked fat and girls were whispering behind her back that she must have had a one-night stand. Erin found herself shunned by her peers, but she soldiered on, determined to complete her project. Even when her priest voiced concerns to her family, she didn’t give up.
Erin could probably have gone for nine months without anyone realizing what was up, but after three months Ms. Rottmund squealed to the headmaster, who immediately called a halt to the whole thing and forced Erin to confess to her classmates.
That should have been the end of it, but one year later Erin’s fake pregnancy bore fruit of a different kind. A camera crew from MTV rolled into town and asked the entire high school to reenact what had happened so MTV could film it for High School Stories: Scandals, Pranks & Controversies. Erin didn’t reprise her role, though she did appear as an extra. Nevertheless, the school got to witness the surreal spectacle of a girl pretending to be pretending to be pregnant, while everyone around her pretended that they didn’t know she was pretending.
Given all the pretending going on at Penn Manor High, it’s not surprising that a cynical and ugly rumor soon spread claiming it was all a hoax within a hoax—that Erin had actually been pregnant all along and had only pretended to be pretending as a way to explain away her condition and its sudden conclusion. There is absolutely no evidence to support this rumor.
Empathy Belly, n.: A strap-on belly manufactured by Birthways, Inc. The device simulates pregnancy so that anyone (but particularly fathers-to-be) can experience all the wonder and joy of the symptoms expectant mothers feel, including weight gain, shortness of breath, bladder pressure, backaches, fatigue, and, as the manufacturer promises, “much, much more!”
Reality Rule 1.2
Human women give birth to human babies.
Pull a Mary Toft, v.: To pretend to give birth to a nonhuman species. The phrase derives from the case of the eighteenth-century Englishwoman who claimed to have given birth to eighteen rabbits. It was only when a doctor announced his desire to operate on her to examine her astounding uterus that Mary Toft admitted she was lying.
case file: The Woman Who Gave Birth to a Frog
Imagine you’re a news editor at the prestigious British Broadcasting Corporation and across your desk comes a story about a woman in Iran who has given birth to a frog. Details are sketchy, but an Iranian newspaper has theorized that the woman picked up a frog larva while swimming in a dirty pool, and that the larva then grew into an adult frog inside her body. What do you do with this story? Do you (a) leave it to the likes of Ananova or the Weekly World News, noting to yourself not only the possibility that the woman is “pulling a Mary Toft,”...