Forty three year-old business woman, who only gave her name as Joy, has been married for 11 years but the marriage is yet to be blessed with a child. She said she had undergone all manner of treatments, traditional and orthodox and had three failed IVFs before a relation introduced her to a woman in one of the South Eastern states who she said could help her get pregnant.
“She told me the woman had helped many other woman and they added me to a WhatsApp group where other women who she purportedly helped, shared their stories. I was convinced and decided to give it a shot. I got in touch with the woman and she told me there were three categories with different prices; N700,000, N1,200,000 and N1,800,000 depending on sex selection and number of babies.
“Thereafter, I made payment and I got an appointment to visit the clinic where they inserted an object in my vagina and advised me to go home, have regular intercourse with my husband and return after two weeks. On my next appointment, they told me I was pregnant but that it was cryptic pregnancy and I should not bother carrying out any kind of test or visiting any hospital for a scan as doing so won’t reveal any result because of the nature of the pregnancy,” she narrated
Continuing, Joy said she paid regular visits to the clinic and was given an injection each time and that she was also told that with cryptic pregnancy, she will continue to menstruate but she shouldn’t be worried as it was normal.
“They also told me that I will deliver the baby through Caesarean Section (CS) as it will be a special kind of delivery,” she added.
She further stated that even though she was desperate for a child, the fact that she was still menstruating gave her cause for concern and she decided to go to another hospital for a second opinion where the bubble was bursted after series of tests and an abdominal scan revealed that she was not pregnant.
According to Very Well Health, cryptic pregnancy is a kind of pregnancy in which a woman is unaware that she is expecting a baby until halfway through it, or even up until labour or birth. Sometimes this is called a “stealth” or “denied” pregnancy.
Research estimates that as many as 1 in 475 pregnancies go undetected or unnoticed until the 20-week (five-month) mark, while one in 2,500 aren’t recognised until a woman goes into labour.
The website noted that though cryptic pregnancy may not have typical pregnancy symptoms like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, missed period or abdominal swelling, it doesn’t mean there are no signs, just that they are vague and may be easily overlooked or believed to be caused by something else.
Experts, as quoted by the website, list causes of cryptic pregnancy to include irregular menstrual cycle, intermittent spotting and bleeding, age and fertility issues, inaccurate pregnancy test results, no prominent ‘baby bump’, not feeling the baby move, polycystic ovarian syndrome, obesity, birth control use and recent pregnancy as well as mental illness.
While cryptic pregnancies are real, in Nigeria, they are rackets used to satisfy desires of women desperate to bear children.
How it works
According to sources, those who specialise in cryptic pregnancy in Nigeria are owners of maternity homes who pose as medical practitioners with the know-how to get women pregnant. These people prey on the desperation of women who are trying to conceive, tell them they are undergoing treatment then inject them with oestrogenand progesterone which cause physical changes that make them look pregnant. This happens after they advise the women to have regular intercourse, which they later claim pregnancy occurred through. Thereafter, they are advised not to go for a scan as the baby is behind the uterus and would not be detected. The women are then given an expected date of delivery and must give birth through CS on the said day.
Another woman, Margaret Isaac, said many women who get involved with cryptic pregnancies are aware the children are bought or stolen but go through it because of desperation.
“I know of a woman who did it and the husband asked her to go and look for the father of the child,” she added.
Continuing, she said, “I also want to believe it is the reason for some of the cases of failed DNA matching. It is possible that some of these women know what they are doing but the husbands are oblivious of what the real issue is,” she added.
Narrating an experience he was privy to, James Taver, said “In 2018, a church member who had been trying to conceive for about 16 years, took in with twins, according to her, and gave birth in 2020 to just one baby. She said after paying N1.5 million, she was told that the other baby was not brought out because her money was not complete so she’s saving up for the delivery of the second twin and it’s been two years already.”
Taver said, “My suspicion is that What these birthing centres do is that they inject the women with things that make them bloated, thus creating the illusion of pregnancy then by the ninth month or whenever the woman has raised the money demanded, book them for CS then put them to sleep with general anaesthesia and when she comes round, there is a baby by her side.
“It is sad that they do these things without worrying about the implications on the health of the victims who only succumb because they are desperate. For the women, I want to believe the desperation to have a child makes their senses take flight if not, some of the conditions they are given should make any rational person suspicious. Some of them do not even get to breastfeed as there is no real pregnancy to stimulate lactation. One thing they need to know is that cryptic pregnancy is not a creation of man,” he added.
Link with baby factories
While some of the children given to such women are stolen, some are actually products of baby factories, where girls with unwanted pregnancies who want to sell their children are kept.
Medical expert speaks
A senior medical officer at the Benue State Hospitals Management Board, Dr IoremberChiahemba, described cryptic or stealth pregnancy as a pregnancy that evades detection.
“It’s normal pregnancy but it happens in circumstances that one may never suspect. So when such a patient visits her doctor, her account takes the doctor’s beam light away from tests or procedures that would detect the pregnancy. Consequently, the pregnancy grows undetected, but not however with “zero” signs.
Explaining further on circumstances that could lead to cryptic pregnancy, he said, “there are women who do not see their menses regularly. These women are therefore used to missed periods. Should this kind of woman have intercourse that’s unprotected and maybe goes to the extent of taking pills to prevent pregnancy and let’s assume the pills fail for whatever reason, and she takes in, this woman would relax even after she misses her period for several months.
“Supposing a woman ventures into a family planning method (especially surgical ones like BTL) and it fails, this woman would most likely ignore symptoms of pregnancy, even when all she’s feeling is pointing towards pregnancy. Even a Doctor hearing she did BTL may focus his search on other causes.”
Continuing, Chiahemba said some women who have reasons to believe they have attained menopause experience this too.
“After a long period of about six months without menses, they relax and get caught and are busy treating malaria and typhoid until very late.
“Virgins with septate or cribriform hymen fondling with a penile shaft may fall victim. The guy ejaculates at the periphery and some sperms find their way up. She’s thinking there was no penetration so nothing can happen but then she feels sick and goes to a doctor with her mother complaining of early morning vomiting/nausea, weakness, poor appetite. The doctor asks if she’s started having sex and she says no but the ‘stubborn’ doctor goes ahead and writes pregnancy test but the mother sees it as waste of money and ignores. They, however, do the malaria parasite and typhoid test which turn out positive and are treated while the pregnancy progresses until late.”
“In the medical sphere, that’s what cryptic pregnancy connotes and it’s a big deal,” Chiahemba added.
He said the fact that a pregnancy is cryptic doesn’t mean that it goes undetected until 9 months.
“A woman should know she’s pregnant after one or two months. It helps her modify her lifestyle; drinking, smoking, etc. So to discover a pregnancy at four, five or six months is cryptic enough.”
He listed factors that aid pregnancies to remain cryptic to include low socio-economic status, lack of or weak health insurance cover etc.
On the kind of cryptic pregnancies that happen in Nigeria, where pregnancies are carried for upwards of three years and the babies must be delivered by CS, he reiterated that there’s no cryptic pregnancy without pregnancy and cryptic pregnancy is not mysterious pregnancy.
“Anything that makes your pregnancy not to be discovered on time makes it cryptic. A pregnancy can be cryptic to you for just three months and it becomes a big issue because of decisions you would have taken had you realised early enough. Imagine a 90-year-old Sarah who should have been post-menopausal and a Virgin Mary. Which doctor in their routine evaluation would consider pregnancy tests if they came to their clinic for even up to four visits?
Chiahemba advised women trying to conceive to desist from patronising those who claim to have the know-how to get them pregnant and end up pumping them with hormonal injections as there are harmful effects with continued usage of such medicines.
“For instance, the progesterone that is the chief pregnancy hormone is implicated in the development of breast cancer. And again, because the system is not working ideally, it might be impossible or at least difficult to suppress estrogens which are pre-pregnancy hormones. The interplay of these otherwise alternate hormones should be a subject for a separate research. But you can project that, the end would be undesirable.”
House of Reps intervenes
In April this year, the House of Representatives mandated its committees on healthcare services, and women affairs to invite the Minister of Health, OsagieEhanire, and his counterpart in the Women Affairs Ministry, Pauline Tallen, in a bid to investigate the trend of cryptic pregnancies scam in Nigeria.
The House also urged the federal government to adopt monitoring and evaluation mechanisms on the consequences of scam pregnancies, which could lead to health challenges and eventual loss of life.
The resolutions of the lawmakers followed the adoption of a motion by Hon. Ikenna Elezieanya at plenary.
Elezieanya had in a motion, noted that cryptic pregnancy is a slow-growing pregnancy caused by insufficient hormones, and as such, takes a longer time for the foetus to mature after a long while.
He said, however, there is a trend that has pervaded the Nigerian space where women are falsely pronounced pregnant by persons who impersonate themselves as doctors and nurses refer to this fraud as cryptic pregnancy.
The lawmaker said the House is aware that in Nigeria, many families are lured and fall victims to this fraudulent activity in the quest to have children; women are injected with hormones of pregnancy, and while these women parade themselves as being pregnant, no pregnancy is detected in the ultrasound.
He expressed concerns that these scammers inject women with hormones to boost pregnancy which has adverse effects on the adrenal gland and eventually leads to kidney failure.
“The House is also worried that women are sometimes sedated and operated on or given an episiotomy, and thereafter, the scammers bring arranged babies, several desperate women who have gone through this process ended up in perpetual sorrow due to the adverse effects of the drugs which damage the female reproductive organs thus, killing some women that have underlying ailments in the process, Elezieanya said.
“Convinced that since the core mandate of the government is to protect the lives and property of its citizens, the government should carry out public enlightenment campaign from the grassroots on the danger and consequences of cryptic pregnancies.”