What is Complete Pregnancy Denial?

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A forensic psychiatry specialist from Chicago was a key witness for Theresa Bentaas’ defense in Thursday’s sentencing for the Baby Andrew cold case. 

Dr. Cara Angelotta, who provided testimony via Zoom, spoke for nearly 45 minutes and provided information regarding her psychiatric diagnosis of “Complete Pregnancy Denial” for Bentaas. She answered questions from lawyer Raleigh Hansen, who represented Bentaas. You can listen to the full testimony in the clip below. 

Angelotta works for Northwestern Memorial Hospital and at medical school at Northwestern University, where she’s the director of psychiatry training for medical students and the fellowship director for forensic psychiatry. 

During testimony, Angelotta said she met with Bentaas in her Chicago office on February 26, 2020, for four and half hours for a psychiatric evaluation. She estimated she’s done 50 to 60 psychiatric evaluations in the past five years.  

Angelotta told Judge Bradley Zell and the full courtroom she reviewed medical records, police files and the autopsy report on Baby Andrew before meeting with Bentaas. She said it’s important to have a good understanding of what happened and look for any inconsistencies. Angelotta called it “a standard psychiatric evaluation,” which included looking back through Bentaas’ childhood, her pregnancy, her delivery, the time right after that and her following pregnancies.

Angelotta said to “a degree of medical certainty,” Bentaas suffered from “Complete Pregnancy Denial.” 

Angelotta said “Complete Pregnancy Denial” is a psychiatric condition when a person doesn’t recognize a pregnancy until intrapartum, which is the onset of labor until after delivery. 

“It occurs in one in 2,500 pregnancies, which is three times more common than triplets to give context,” Agnelotta told Hansen and the courtroom. She added the stats come from peer-reviewed scientific studies. 

Angelotta said there are “high rates” of poor outcomes for babies born in the hospital with “Complete Pregnancy Denial.” 

“In all cases, the pregnancy is not recognized,” Angelotta said. “The person in retrospect reports either not experiencing or misinterpreting the typical signs of pregnancy.” 

Angelotta said people in the woman’s life don’t notice the pregnancy, including partners and even some physicians don’t recognize the pregnancy. 

“When they see the baby is when they realize they have given birth and they’re in a state of shock. Dissociation symptoms are quite common,” Angelotta said. “Dissociation is when the normally integrated mental functions like emotion, cognition, sense of time, memory are disrupted.” 

Angelotta said some women have a significant impaired memory for events. 

Angelotta said Bentaas did not recognize her pregnancy until after she gave birth and believed she had a “textbook case of Complete Pregnancy Denial.” 

Angelotta finished by saying a forensic psychiatric evaluation compels her ethically to be objective and tell the truth.  

Crystal Johnson, Minnehaha County State’s Attorney, cross-examined Angelotta, who confirmed she only met with Bentaas once and said she didn’t need to speak with Dirk Bentaas, the baby’s father, because police had spoken with him. 

Johnson stated Bentaas remembers some details of the birth of Baby Andrew but doesn’t recall placing Baby Andrew in a ditch wrapped in a blanket. 

“So she remembers the portions that are consistent with an autopsy report but doesn’t remember the portions that maybe make it look not so good,” Johnson said. 

Angelotta responded Bentaas has amnesia for significant portions of what occurred and that fits “Complete Pregnancy Denial.” 

Johnson said evidence also relates to a hidden pregnancy. Dr. Angelotta said she believes the entire family was also shocked about the birth of Bentaas’ second child.

Johnson lastly asked Dr. Angelotta if Bentaas named the first baby. Dr. Angelotta said Bentaas now accepts the church’s naming of Baby Andrew.

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