Pregnancy Impostor Syndrome Is a Thing & Here's What It Looks Like

An expectant mom took to Reddit to confess that she doesn't feel like she deserves the support and care that goes with pregnancy.

woman holding chalkboard sign that says "yes! I am!"
Photo illustration by Parents staff; Getty Images (2).

Before you get pregnant, you hear all about a variety of side effects of growing a human for nine months: tiredness, morning sickness, cravings, back pain, etc. But the women who experience impostor syndrome during their pregnancy likely didn't see that one coming. An expectant mom took to the Baby Bumps subreddit on Sunday, September 8 to share her experience with "pregnancy impostor syndrome."

Writing under the handle kykyboogieboogie, the mom-to-be shared, "I want to preface this with the fact that I’m not complaining or in any way requesting sympathy! I’m 17 weeks currently and have had a gentle pregnancy so far. First trimester was like being hungover for three months, but a lot of the time being pregnant for me is a lot like having brown hair: a fact, but not super relevant to immediate needs! Our baby boy is healthy and growing, but I’m not showing beyond looking like I ate six donuts in one sitting."

The original poster (OP) shared that while all of this has been happening, her friends have been supportive. "People are offering chairs, asking how I’m doing, and one friend literally leapt out of a bathroom at a party because I was walking down the hall, and he thought I might need it," she recalled.

Yet, "without an obvious belly or serious symptoms," kykyboogieboogie revealed that she feels "deceptive." "Like I don’t deserve the attention, and that if/when I do have reason to accept this much support, I’ll have ruined things by turning it down all the time right now," she shared. "I’m super jealous of ladies who are showing and feeling their babies, because they seem more legitimate. I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome at work, and just tonight realized this feels very similar."

The OP then raised the following question to other expectant moms in the community: "Has anyone else experienced this? It’s possible this is just staring a gift horse in the mouth?"

What is impostor syndrome?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), impostor phenomenon (also referred to as impostor syndrome) was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., and Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., in the 1970s. They defined it as a condition that occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success, attributing their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fearing that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

Impostor syndrome isn't an official psychological diagnosis, but psychologists and other experts recognize it as a "very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Impostor feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression."

It's also very common: Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that 70 percent of all people feel like fakes at one time or another.

What does imposter syndrome look like during pregnancy?

Tied to pregnancy, women like the OP feel like their pregnancies are fraudulent. As Dominique McMullan put it in an essay for the Irish publication Image, "Just like you might feel in a job, expecting someone to 'find you out, 'I feel a bit like someone might tap me on the shoulder and tell me they know that I’m not a mother, or a mother-to-be. They might even accuse me of making it all up. No one even knows yet by the way, so that’s unlikely. ... My state still doesn’t feel real. This is probably a form of subconscious self-protection. I feel completely removed from what is happening to me. Without a bump there is no physicality to hang on to. The world goes on as normal, with this little secret in my belly."

Other women question whether they actually are pregnant, even once they're well into their second or third trimester. As a blogger who writes on Girl Geek Up North shared, "That feeling you get when you doubt your accomplishment and fear of being outed as a fraud? Well, I spent two months of being pregnant worried that I wasn’t, and at some point, I was going to be exposed as lying."

What are ways to cope with impostor syndrome?

According to Medical News Today, one of the best ways to contend with impostor syndrome is talking about your symptoms with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional. This will help you to distinguish between your perception and the reality of their situation.

And the APA encourages impostor syndrome sufferers to "put aside the self-doubt and look at the data" (like an ultrasound image or any other grounding info that can serve to remind you that you're on your way to becoming a mom).

It might also help to remember that you're not alone. In response to Redditor kykyboogieboogie's post, several women responded with empathetic comments. 4skyy wrote, "Oh god did I feel this so hard. I was crying some days because I didn't look pregnant and I just felt like I didn't look good. Getting messages asking for belly pictures was such a stab in the gut. One of my coworkers literally only found out I was pregnant about a week ago (when I was 28 weeks!) I'd say it wasn't till about week 23-ish that my stomach looked actually pregnant."

Another Redditor named The2aces44 shared, "I just started doing prenatal yoga at 13 weeks and literally the first thing I felt in that room surrounded by beautiful very obviously pregnant women was that I didn't belong."

The fact is that, whether in school, at work, during pregnancy or even well into parenthood, most people suffer from impostor syndrome at some point. If these feelings arise when you have a L.O. on the way, you can take heart in the fact that other moms have been there, too.

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