In a typical 40-week pregnancy it can be a surprise when you go into labor. But for women who don’t realize they are pregnant, childbirth can be the shock of a lifetime. Midwife Rhonda Hepworth is retiring soon after a long career, and the surprise deliveries she was a part of still stand out in her mind.
“A patient [of mine] thought she had stomach flu, cramps and diarrhea,” remembers Hepworth. “She was very uncomfortable, but then the power went out due to a storm. Her mother heard her scream and went running to the bathroom. The girl thought her stomach had fallen out. Her mother grabbed a flash light and grabbed an 8 pound baby boy out of the toilet! Thankfully all was well. The girl was 18, a little heavy and said her periods were always irregular so she did not even suspect she was pregnant.
“Another teenager had horrible stomach pains,” continues Hepworth. “Her mother took her to urgent care. They X-rayed her stomach to see if they could find a blockage and saw a full term 9-plus-pound baby! No one did a pregnancy test before the X-ray. She labored and ended up having a C-section because the baby was too big to push out.”
It is easy to think only the young are so clueless and out of touch with their bodies, but that isn’t always the case. Dr. Daniel Roshan, a board certified high-risk pregnancy maternal fetal medicine OB/GYN, says that many pregnancies are simply uneventful. If your period isn’t regular, many symptoms of pregnancy can be ignored. “For an adult with an irregular cycle, you should be alarmed if there are symptoms of pregnancy and do a urine pregnancy test.”
Fatigue, a little stomach upset, even a little weight gain, can all seem like signs of stress or maybe a virus. Eunice Brownlee thought her new job was the culprit—she wasn’t eating healthy and felt gassy all the time. She’d had a pregnancy test several months back as part of treatment for a kidney infection, but it came back negative just as she’d assumed.
Finally she went to see a doctor, concerned that she might have irritable bowel syndrome. She tells what happened next.
“After a simple examination and a few tests, the doctor came back in and told me, ‘Well you’re going to be fine. You’re just pregnant.’ To say my reaction was shock is a bit of an understatement. When I tried to explain to the doctor that it wasn’t possible because it had been months since I’d had sex, she started with a basic question: when was the start of your last period?
“I couldn’t tell her precisely, but I was sure that it hadn’t been more than a couple of months. My belly looked like more of a beer gut, and my (pregnant) sister was as big as a house. There was no way I could have been as far along as her, even though the math worked out as such since the last time I’d had sex. An ultrasound showed that my baby measured at about 22 weeks. My sister was 23 weeks. I just couldn’t believe it.
“Once I saw that little beating heart on the ultrasound, it all began to make sense. The fluttering in my belly that I attributed to gas was simply the baby beginning to move. The bloating was the expansion of my belly. The fatigue coincided with typical first trimester symptoms.
“I went on to have a normal pregnancy, a textbook labor and a perfect baby girl. Eight years later, we still laugh about how easy my four-month pregnancy actually was.”
Eunice had what many would consider the best of both worlds—knowing about the baby before going into labor but having a less time to worry and wait. A patient of physician’s assistant Ashley Potter didn’t have quite the same experience.
“At 20 years old, I gave birth to a baby boy on April 20, 2013. Little did I know I would be giving birth to a little girl just 10 months later. A few months after my baby boy was born I knew something wasn’t right. I hadn’t started my period. I went in for an appointment with my doctor and came out in total shock. I learned that I was pregnant and 16 weeks along. Being pregnant would have been my last guess as to what was wrong with me. I didn’t have any symptoms. I wasn’t on any type of birth control because my doctor at the time said not to start any birth control until after I had at least one period, which I never did.
“I went through so many emotions; I was happy but at the same time I was so mad. I kept wondering how in the world I would take care of two babies. I had the hardest time breaking the news to my husband. I didn’t know how he would react. I finally told him a few days later. He was supportive. I have birth to a baby girl on Valentine’s Day 2014, just ten months and four days after my baby boy was born.”
What’s the takeaway? Get in touch with your body, especially if you have irregular periods. A pregnancy test is an inexpensive way to put your mind at ease if you’re feeling not quite yourself.