Just last week I reported on Four-day-old Mychael Darthard-Dawodu, a newborn kidnapped from a hospital in Texas.
At first not much was known about her abductor Rayshaun Parson, but now the illness she suffered from is coming to light and it is a condition that many of us don’t know much about.
It was an obsession that some say included a so-called phantom pregnancy — a rare medical phenomenon in which women who aren’t pregnant experience physical and emotional changes similar to those of expectant mothers. It continued through two miscarriages and a difficult breakup with a boyfriend.
She has not spoken publicly about the allegations, but court documents reviewed by The Associated Press and interviews with people who knew her suggest a troubled young woman whose love of children and motherly ambitions had grown into a compulsion.
Conchita Davis, the mother of Parson’s former boyfriend, Malachi Johnson, recalled the changes Parson underwent in 2002 when she was mistakenly believed to be pregnant with what would have been Davis’ grandchild. Parson’s breasts swelled, her abdomen distended and she experienced cravings common to pregnancy.
“Rayshaun wanted the baby so bad that she got the symptoms,” Davis said. “She was the perfect vision of a pregnant woman.”
False pregnancies — also known as pseudocyesis — are usually linked to underlying emotional and psychological issues, said Dr. Cornelia deRiese, an assistant professor in Texas Tech University’s department of obstetrics and gynecology. More common centuries ago, she said it is rarely seen in an era of modern medicine that includes early neonatal care, ultrasound tests and over-the-counter home pregnancy test kits.
Several months after that episode, Parson did become pregnant in 2003, according to Davis. But she suffered an early miscarriage.
“We got through that but I’m not sure Rayshaun ever did,” Davis recalled. “I don’t think she ever recovered.”
Ann Parson remembers her granddaughter watching longingly as friends gave birth and raised their babies, wishing she, too, could be a mother.
Pseudocyesis has been observed and written about since antiquity. Hippocrates set down the first written account around 300 B.C., and recorded 12 different cases of women with the disorder. One of the most famous historical examples is Mary Tudor (1516-1558), Queen of England, who believed on more than one occasion that she was pregnant when she was not. Some even attribute the violence that gave her the nickname “Bloody Mary” as a reaction to the disappointment of finding out that she was not carrying a child. Other historians believe that the queen’s physicians mistook fibroid tumors in her uterus for a pregnancy, as fibroids can enlarge a nonpregnant uterus.
Pseudocyesis has become increasingly rare in many parts of the world in which accurate pregnancy tests have become widely available. Cultures that place high value on pregnancy, or that make close associations between fertility and a person’s worth, still have high rates of the disorder.
No single theory about the causes of pseudocyesis is universally accepted by mental health professionals. The first theory attributes the false pregnancy to emotional conflict. It is thought that an intense desire to become pregnant, or an intense fear of becoming pregnant, can create internal conflicts and changes in the endocrine system, which may explain some of the symptoms of pseudocyesis. The second theory concerns wish-fulfillment. It holds that if a women desires pregnancy badly enough she may interpret minor changes in her body as signs of pregnancy. The third leading theory is the depression theory, which maintains that chemical changes in the nervous system associated with some depressive disorders could trigger the symptoms of pseudocyesis.