The Internet is losing its collective mind about reports that a 16-year-old girl in Michigan allegedly faked being pregnant with triplets for a whopping 10 months. My jaw dropped when I read the story, too, until I remembered: Hey, I know someone who did that.
As crazy as it sounds (and it sounds absolutely bonkers), faking a pregnancy is far from uncommon. In fact, it’s so far from uncommon that a website exists solely for the purpose of helping faux moms fool their not-actually-babydaddies into believing they’ve got a proverbial bun in the oven.
You know what’s less common? Faking actually having a baby. That’s what a friend of mine did, posting photos of a pretty little infant girl that she claimed was her daughter – until I discovered otherwise. This story is still so unbelievable that if I hadn’t been a part of it, I might not believe it myself.
I had long suspected that my high school classmate Leigh (not her real name) was lying about a few things: being in a sorority, attending law school, working for Oprah.
While I doubted these things were true, I never pressed the issue. We weren’t close, and I figured she just wanted to make her life seem cooler than it was. Though I didn’t necessarily trust her, none of her stories really affected anyone else, so they seemed harmless enough.
In January, Leigh and I got together in person. Though we’d gone to high school together, our friendship formed mostly afterward on social media, and I hadn’t seen her in person for years. We chatted like old friends and caught up on one another’s lives, including her telling me all about her new relationship with a guy named Jake.
Not even two weeks later, Leigh texted me: “Can you keep a secret? Jake and I are having a baby! I’m due in May.”
I tried to reconcile my congratulations with my confusion. Leigh can’t possibly weigh more than 105 pounds, and when I’d seen her earlier that month, she was thin as a rail, like she always is. How could she have been five months pregnant?!
But hey, these things happen, right? Who among us hasn’t stopped on TLC’s I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant while channel-surfing? I offered her my well wishes, but my confusion grew when she and Jake posted a pregnancy announcement that featured her huge baby belly. I’ve heard of pregnant women “popping,” but this seemed a little extreme.
Still, I felt guilty for doubting her, especially because I’m not a mother myself. Who was I to question how someone else’s body works? I continued to follow Leigh’s pregnancy online, suppressing my suspicions that something wasn’t quite right.
At the end of May, Leigh posted that she’d had her baby – and left the hospital in less than 12 hours. That seems unusual, I thought, but again, what do I know about giving birth? I texted her my congrats and started looking for a baby gift to send.
In the meantime, Leigh began posting pictures of the baby on social media. I couldn’t help but observe that she didn’t post nearly as many as other friends seemed to, especially other first-time mothers, and no one but the baby was in any of the photos – not even her.
On top of that, any captions that mentioned other people referenced them only by initials instead of tagging them, like, “Thanks to JM for knitting this amazing baby blanket!” No one seemed to be connected to this baby in any identifiable way – again, not even her.
When Leigh posted a photo of the baby that seemed a little bit too professionally done for the likes of her iPhone, I ran it through a reverse Google image search. BINGO. Within .3 seconds, my search turned up professional photos of a popular blogger and her newborn daughter. On the blogger’s Instagram account, I found all the rest of the photos Leigh had passed off as her own. In many cases, she’d simply cropped the real mother out of the photo.
There was no pregnancy. There was no baby. Just as I’d suspected, Leigh made it all up.
I consulted with a friend, and neither of us could decide what, if anything, we should do. Was Leigh having a mental break? What was her end-game? Would she, God forbid, steal an actual baby to become the one she’d created online?
My friend asked police to do a wellness check on Leigh, and though they agreed, they also told her that faking a baby isn’t criminal. As worried as we were, our hands were tied, and neither of us felt comfortable approaching her about her lie.
Less than 24 hours later, Leigh deleted both of us on all forms of social media. Actually, she deleted everyone we knew from high school – presumably, anyone who knew her in person – and removed all online references to the baby. Was she going to pretend like this had never happened?
I didn’t really talk to anyone about what I’d learned, though I often wondered whether Leigh was still keeping up the charade.
This week, when I posted the story of the 16-year-old non-mother-of-triplets to Facebook, friends came out of the woodwork to start to discuss what they all seemed to know, too: Our friend had faked her pregnancy and her baby. One friend, a mother of two, had even helped her install a car seat… for the baby she didn’t have!
Leigh deleted them, like me, from social media, and though a few friends have seen her around town from afar, she won’t respond to anyone’s texts.
I feel relieved, frankly, to hear from other people about this crazy thing we apparently all suspected but didn't want to discuss. Still, my concern for my former friend remains, and I sincerely hope that, at some point, she gets the help she seems to desperately need.
In the meantime, I ask you to please forgive me if I do a reverse Google image search on any photo of your newborn that doesn’t include your face alongside it. I’m just making sure.