What It's Like To Give Birth Without Knowing You're Expecting

As an OB nurse for over a decade, yes, I have seen this scenario a few times. By the time they get to my unit (I work in labor and delivery) someone has already broken the news to the patient that, no, it's not gas. you're having a baby.
09/30/2015 06:39 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

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As an OB nurse for over a decade, yes, I have seen this scenario a few times. By the time they get to my unit (I work in labor and delivery) someone has already broken the news to the patient that, no, it's not gas. you're having a baby.

 

They always come to the ER first (coming to our unit is the last thing they're thinking) with severe abdominal pain. As you would expect, not too often do women come in with say, a finger laceration and then give birth.

But I'm sure that too has happened.

 

Most often, by the time they arrive on our doorstep, not only have their minds been blown, but they're in labor.

Labor. This is an experience that most women have nine months to prepare for, and even then it's a challenge.

 

If you have ever heard the expression "Deer in headlights", then you might have an inkling of what these women are experiencing. And if you have ever been with a woman in labor, then you can imagine how productive a conversation like this -

"Dude. WTF?" - would be.

 

We deal with the immediate physical needs first, while offering emotional support. I always reassure my patient that she is not the first woman who has had this experience. Being supportive and non-judgmental is crucial. People come to me for nursing care, not my personal opinion of their problem. So it is very rare that I have a conversation that ever delves into the how and why.

 

That being said, I have had a couple of conversations with women who did discuss details of their surprise birth.

 

One girl had come in with, no surprise, crippling abdominal pain. The ER (who are a very astute lot) did an ultrasound and voila! No it's not appendicitis, you're having a bambino! Not only that, but the baby was breech, so she needed an emergency C-section. They hustled her over to us tout de suite, and wham, bam, thank you ma'am, an hour later she bounces into our PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) where yours truly was assigned to do recovery that day.

 

She had been loaded up with enough Versed and Fentanyl to make a junkie high. People either quietly rest (pass out), or get very chatty (we call them the happy drunks) and discuss everything over and over again.

Now, considering all danger was over, she wasn't in any pain, and wanted to talk; I indulged my curiosity. I should say, I just listened, while she started the process of de-briefing.

 

She was a young woman (late teens) who came from a depressed socio-economic background. Her perception of things over the last nine months was deeply rooted in denial. I'm not a psychologist, but I have been pregnant, and I know there is nothing that feels like a full term baby moving inside you. You can SEE elbows and knees, the pressure on your diaphragm and bladder is intense. They get the hiccups for chrissake.

 

So, even though I could see she was very genuinely shocked and blown away, a part of me knew, that a part of her knew.

 

Denial is not just a river in Egypt. That makes more sense when said aloud.

 

She described how she had gained weight over the last few months, but it was "all over" so nothing was obvious (uh huh), and she attributed it to her large appetite she'd developed.

Every physical symptom she described was accompanied by a rationalization. Even my trump card-the baby moving-was dismissed as gas. And this was a 7lb kid as I recall.

So, for whatever reason, the part of her that knew she was pregnant didn't/wouldn't communicate with her conscious self. The baby daddy was her boyfriend-"Shit! Charlie is gonna freak out!"-and she denied any history of abuse.

So I don't know what blocked her, but the mind is a powerful thing, and if something as flamingly obvious as being pregnant can be dismissed, then all I can say is-WOW.

 

The other woman I had a chance to speak with (and I'll be brief here), was in her 40's and had stopped having regular periods for over a year before.

She was diagnosed as menopausal, so the thought of being pregnant was as remote to her as the moon.

She delivered pre-term, but the baby was healthy. Her description of her pregnancy symptoms provoked the forehead slapping "what was I thinking?" after the fact.

This woman was truly ignorant of her pregnancy, it just wasn't even a possibility to her. She was unprepared but absolutely happy by the turn of events. It had never occurred to her she would be holding her own baby after her last one 20 years prior.

 

I've seen the TV show "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" and always thought it was in poor taste to sensationalize something as intimate and possibly traumatic to women. I know the shock and entertainment value is there, but look at it as a manifestation of how badly these women (for the most part) wanted to believe that they weren't pregnant.

Something very sad and very scared basically paralyzed them and held them hostage during a process that should be filled with love and support. Even though a part of me is "Dude..WTF", another part is filled with compassion and sadness for the poor women who have lived through this.

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