Woman, 59, Admits She’s Not Pregnant

Frances Harris surprised everyone for a second time. The first surprise was when this 59-year-old woman announced in November that she was pregnant with twins. And it wasn't the result of in-vitro fertilization, like that 56-year-old lady who gave birth to twins late last year. Harris said she just got pregnant. The second surprise (not much of a surprise really) was when she admitted yesterday that she just made up the pregnancy. Why did she do it? Her family is chalking it up to "personal issues that are still being evaluated". But to me the problem is clear. She's suffering from Southcott Syndrome, a medical condition whose name I coined myself. I define this condition as being when a post-menopausal or otherwise infertile woman insists, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that she's pregnant. I named the syndrome after Joanna Southcott, the 19th-century prophetess who announced at the age of sixty five that she was pregnant with the new messiah. Nine months passed and she never gave birth, much to the disappointment of her many followers. Instead, she died. Doctors who performed an autopsy on her could find no evidence of pregnancy. Maybe there's an actual medical term for something like Southcott Syndrome, but I'm not aware of it. Believe it or not, I've heard about cases like this often enough that I had coined the term before I read about this most recent case.


Posted on Wed Jan 05, 2005


...strange. Maybe she just wanted attention.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Wed Jan 05, 2005  at  11:47 AM
There is a well-known phenomenon called "hysterical pregnancy," where someone thinks she is pregnant and may even develop some symptoms of pregnancy, without any actual pregnancy being present. I think there have even been a few rare cases of men exhibiting "hysterical pregnancy."
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Wed Jan 05, 2005  at  12:15 PM
Another interesting case is that of Teena Brandon, the woman-posing-as-a-man who was the subject of a book and of the movie "Boys Don't Cry." Before she was exposed as a woman in male drag, at least one of her "girlfriends" claimed to have been impregnated by her.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Wed Jan 05, 2005  at  12:17 PM
So what I'm calling Southcott Syndrome would be a subset of hysterical pregnancy: false pregnancies in women who can't possibly be pregnant anyway (typically because they're way too old). Really southcott syndrome should also involve the claim that supernatural forces were responsible for the pregnancy. One of these days I'm going to get this term in a medical textbook.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Wed Jan 05, 2005  at  12:30 PM
Good luck with that.
Posted by thephrog  on  Wed Jan 05, 2005  at  01:00 PM
It is called a phantom pregnancy (aka hysterical pregnancy)if the person truly believes that she is pregnant and sometimes has some pregnacy symptoms. Feigned pregnancies fall under malingering and occur to trick someone into marrying them, get some monetary gain, gain notoriety ......
Posted by wayne levy  in  honolulu  on  Wed Jan 05, 2005  at  05:11 PM
Congratulations, Alex, on coining a term for your very first syndrome. I hope it catches on.

I'm majoring in behavioral science, and have several psychology and sociology classes ahead of me before I get my degree. If I ever come across an official term for this phenomenon I'll be sure to let everybody here know. The pathology again is "woman who can't possibly be pregnant insists that she is via supernatural means", right?

Haven't heard of such a classification so far, though it reminds me of Munchausen By Proxy syndrome (totally different, but the cry for attention via children seems similar).

The one that really fascinated me in 101 was Taijin Kyofusho....
Posted by Barghest  on  Wed Jan 05, 2005  at  09:18 PM
At least it didn't end like this tragic case. The world would be a better place if it was acceptable and normal to seek help from a mental health professional. Unfortunately, Montgomery found religion rather than the psychiatrist she needed.
Posted by ac  on  Thu Jan 06, 2005  at  12:46 PM
Well, I'd have to say Montgomery didn't find enough religion. She seems to have been doing a poor job of keeping the major commands that most religions seem to have. Not exactly an either / or question, though... if she was seeking help from the clergy, a competant pastor should have known to refer her to a mental health professional. Unless she wasn't insane but just unbelievably evil and had this all planned out.
Posted by Matt  on  Thu Jan 06, 2005  at  01:37 PM
The term for someone who actually believes they are pregnant but isn't is pseudocyesis. If they are just saying they are to get attention or for other reasons that is different.
Posted by Reb  on  Thu Jan 06, 2005  at  03:22 PM
I agree with Matt. A competent religious counselor works with medical and mental health professionals, not against them.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Thu Jan 06, 2005  at  04:42 PM
Not to flip the subject, or anything, but Alex - You might be interested to know that the nationally syndicated show 'Jeopardy!' featured a question on it's televised program of yesterday, 01/05/05, (on our network, anyway), regarding "Pope Joan". You cover the subject in your pre-1700's section of "Hoaxes Throughout History" section of the Museum. According to the gist of the question, Pope Joan, also mentioned as John VII, was dragged outside her city walls and stoned to death following the birth of her child in 1457. The research "experts" who put together the show are apparently convinced of the fact of this report. You already "took on" National Geographic - want to try Jeopardy!?
Posted by stork  in  the spiracles of space  on  Thu Jan 06, 2005  at  10:05 PM
My 11-year-old just walked through the room and I read him the title of this as "59-year-old woman admits she's not pregnant"; his answer: "So, what? She's just fat?" What could I say?
Posted by autumn  on  Sat Jan 08, 2005  at  01:40 AM
the actual term for this is pseudocyesis. wikipedia.org has a detailed definition as well as instances in popular culture.
Posted by sarah  in  USA  on  Wed Oct 10, 2007  at  12:54 PM
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