TLC and Discover Health both have aired the now extremely popular show “I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant.” The show, which features two or more women who endure the entire term of their pregnancy without knowing they were expecting at all. The popularity of this particular show is perhaps yet another extension of well-received reality, health-based shows like Obsessed, which features patients having strange, clinically diagnosed obsessions.
The entertainment of these shows aside, how rare is it to not know you may be expecting?
According to Dr. Kristin Bendrikson, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California, being unaware of a pregnancy is extremely rare, but it isn’t particularly surprising in women who are either already overweight when they conceive, or if they happen to have very irregular or erratic periods.
There are two types of women who may be plagued by irregular periods. On the one hand, a young woman can have what is called polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders affecting women–approximately 5%-10% of women aged 12-45 years old have the disorder. On the other hand, women who are experiencing a phase of perimenopausal transition are also subject to unnoticed pregnancies. Perimenopause occurs a few years before and after the final period, in which periods are light and erratic. In both instances, women may dismiss a missed period, or they may have light spotting throughout the pregnancy and mistaken that for an actual period.
A highly critical Time Magazine article about the TLC/Discovery Health Show demonstrates the more adverse effects the show may have on the popular imagination. The article notes:
“The cult of pregnancy today requires a lot of self-denial. Women are advised to avoid alcohol and cigarettes as well as deli meat, sushi, coffee and a million other pleasures. But the women of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant didn’t deny themselves anything during those nine months, had few if any symptoms and still wound up with perfect-looking babies!”
While producers of the show insist that this was not their intention, it is very important for women who are sexually active–whether or not they are on birth control–to be constantly aware of the possibility, however slim, of pregnancy. While the show always ends happily, an unexpected pregnancy in real life isn’t always so convenient. The most important thing is to be always aware of even the slightest changes in your body.