Every once in a while, there will be a story in the newspaper about a woman or teenage girl who gives birth unexpectedly. Sometimes she'll be at home or a public place like a shopping mall, but sometimes she'll have gone to a hospital emergency room for sudden alarming symptoms she didn't associate with labor.
Many of us know women who are actively trying to get pregnant. These women are paying close attention -- sometimes intense attention -- to what's happening with their bodies. They know their fertility cycles. They know their basal body temperatures. As my own mother put it, "When we were first trying to have a baby, we kept the road to the gynecologist's pretty warm for about four years -- everything seemed like a sign I might be pregnant."
Those of us who have not experienced pregancy for ourselves have known women who've gotten pregnant. We've heard the stories of awful morning sickness, swollen ankles, and back pain. We've heard of the mood swings and food cravings. Most of all, we've heard of active, kicking fetuses.
Thus, to hear of a woman who went through months of pregnancy without so much as a clue that a baby was growing inside her ... well, it seems a little baffling, doesn't it?
"Was she in denial?" you might wonder. "Was she just plain stupid?"
Based on reports I've heard from acquaintances or read in newspapers or on the Web, denial does play a role in many instances where a woman unexpectedly gives birth. Women and girls who aren't trying for a child or who are otherwise using birth control may overlook pregnancy symptoms.
But other factors can come into play. Poorly-growing fetuses may not be very active, and even normal-sized fetuses may not make much of a visible change to the girth of a woman or girl who has big hips and is obese. Some pregnant women experience monthly vaginal bleeding that mimics their menstrual cycle; the sight of the blood makes them dismiss the possibility of pregnancy. There also seems to be a tendency of women experiencing unexpected births to have other problems, such as an abnormally small placenta or lack of amniotic fluid, that cause them to gain far less weight during pregnancy than they should. Some women (and even their doctors) have initially mistaken pregnancies for tumors.
A woman I met once (I'll call her Cora) didn't realize she was pregnant until she went into labor with her second son. She wasn't married at the time, and was working a waitressing job that kept her very busy, so she might have been eager to discount signs of pregnancy -- such as missed menstrual periods -- as being due to stress.
"I thought he was just gas. I thought I was just gaining some weight," she told me, able to laugh about it three years after the birth. Her son was nearby, running around the house pretending to be a bull and generally terrorizing his older brother. "And when I went into labor, I thought I had food poisoning. I was throwing up, and I had what I thought were awful stomach cramps. It didn't feel anything like when my first boy arrived."
Cora is a large woman, over six feet tall and big-boned. She was living with family, and they said her physique didn't outwardly change that much during her pregnancy.
In Cora's case, everything turned out well: her son was born strong and healthy, and she had the family support to properly care for the surprise addition to the family.
Sometimes, though, things don't turn out so well.
In 2004, the coworker of one of my friends (I'll call her Jane) woke up in the middle of the night in extreme pain to find her sheets soaked in blood. She had no idea what was happening to her, and called "911". When she got to the hospital, the doctor told her she was in labor.
The doctor guessed that Jane was about six months along. Her premature baby girl was born sick and weighed just over four pounds. Jane lost a lot of blood in the birth and was in the hospital herself for several days; the baby is still in the preemie ward.
Jane and her husband had no clue she was pregnant. The main reason was she'd continued to bleed during the times she expected to menstruate; she never missed a period. And between the time she conceived and gave birth, she gained only five pounds (most women normally gain 24-40 pounds during pregnancy).
Jane is voluptuous, but is not overweight. She works as a dancer, so it's possible that she started dieting when she started gaining weight, thus unwittingly endangering her child's health.
The worst part about Jane and her daughter's situation is that Jane has found herself reacting very negatively to the baby. Jane's marriage is rocky, and she and her husband hadn't planned to have children. She went into psychological counseling in the hopes that she can get past her negative feelings and bond with and learn to love her new daughter, who is likely to face a hard road of medical problems.
lara68 says A former co-worker of mine discovered she was pregnant when she was about eight months along. She thought it was a tumor! Denial, stupidity, and obesity were major factors in her case. She gave the baby up for adoption.
Chras4 says I didn't find out I was going to have my third child until I was six months into the pregnancy. I was nursing his infant sister; I hadn't had a period yet (due to nursing, which usually also inhibits ovulation and makes conception unlikely), and I hadn't had any appreciable gain in weight. I was nauseous but attributed that to the flu that was going through the family at the time. In fact, I only discovered I was pregnant when I went to the doctor to try to find out why my daughter wasn't gaining weight. I was only nursing her, not bottle feeding, and lo and behold her unborn brother was hogging all the good stuff.