I was falling asleep at my desk
“When I look back to my ‘pregnancy’, I guess you could say I behaved like a typical uni student throughout. I was going out most weekends and getting drunk with my friends, sleeping my way through class and having a few one-night stands. Although I was studying a bachelor of journalism, I didn’t have any clear idea of what I wanted or where I was headed. I figured I had plenty of time to map this out later.
People ask me how I couldn’t have known I was pregnant, but the signs just weren’t there. Like a lot of young women, I was skipping the sugar pills so I wouldn’t get a period, and although I was sleeping and peeing a lot and experiencing heartburn, I only gained one or two extra kilos and my tummy was so flat that the week before I found out I was pregnant, I was at the beach in a bikini with some friends and I didn’t look any different to how I normally look.
I was lying down one evening when I felt a movement, which I first passed off as indigestion, but when I looked down at my belly, I saw an external movement — an arm or a leg — push out into my belly like the scene from the movie Alien. That’s when I realised I was pregnant, but it wasn’t until I made the necessary appointments and I heard the baby’s heartbeat that it really hit home. Adding to the surprise? The sonographer announcing the baby was measuring between 28 to 30 weeks.
I was a mess initially and I didn’t know what to do. When I contacted the two potential fathers, the first didn’t want to know anything, while the second wanted to use my call as an opportunity to hook up again! Although for the first few days, I’d been thinking seriously about adopting the baby out, I decided then a that I would keep the baby and we would find a way through.
Realising I had to act quickly, I moved in with my sister, who has small children, and she and my mother helped with items such as nursery furniture, prams and baby clothes, while I continued with uni and worked at a cafe until I was 37 weeks. Being busy helped distract me from worrying so much about the future.
Caiden was born mid-semester and I was able to continue on at uni. I would take him along to tutorials in a carrier and work on my assignments during his 2am wake-up calls. He’s even how I got my job — while other uni students were writing in to say, ‘I’ve achieved this and that,’ I was honest and said, ‘Yes, I’ve achieved this and that too but what’s more, I did it with a baby in tow.’ Nothing beats a mother’s time-management skills!
Yes, there are times where I would say having an unexpected family at such a young age is tough — every morning I’m up at 4.30 to get him ready so I can drop him off at childcare at 6.30, then travel another hour to get to work each day — but Caiden and I make a great team and I can’t imagine life without him.” Shereen Ortell, 35, with her mum Edna Ortell. Picture: Tim Carrafa or most of us, the discovery of a pregnancy, often between the four-week and eight-week mark, usually comes with a lengthy side helping of symptoms such a morning sickness, extreme exhaustion, sore breasts and missed periods. But there are many women who don’t get any symptoms, or who miss the signs completely until they are well into their third trimester.
It’s more common oversight than we think, says Professor Stephen Robson, obstetrician and president of RANZCOG (ranzcog.edu.au), who adds that he has personally seen it quite a few times over the years.
While an irregular menstrual cycle, body weight and a relatively inactive baby can all help disguise the impending arrival, Professor Robson says it’s been his experience that a combination of slow body changes, denial and the polite nature of friends and family not wanting to mention any weight gain, all contribute to the “surprise baby” phenomenon.
“Perhaps the most important thing here is the issue of denial,” he says.
“Humans have a strong capacity for denial in stressful situations and an unplanned pregnancy is about as stressful as they come.”
Having a baby, even when planned, can be a huge adjustment, and not having the time to make proper plans can place huge strains on the mother, he adds. “In such a late stage, women have not had the chance to access quality antenatal care and the screening tests that are so important to good pregnancy outcomes. “And more than that, they’ve not had the time to organise their work plans, finances, their lives, so this can have its own set of consequences.” trying to get my partner’s business off the ground, and figured the tiredness was related to that.
I discovered I was pregnant when I went in for a blood test to see why I was feeling so exhausted, and to say I was shocked is putting it mildly. I started panicking about the situation I was in — I struggling with repaying debts from the loan I’d taken out. At first I told myself I had some time to try to get my life in order but when I had the scan and they told me I was 29 weeks, I was terrified about how was going to be able to look after the baby.
I reached out to family and friends, and charities. Red Cross and St Vinnies donated clothing, food hampers, vouchers and a pram, but on the day Jordan was born, I had $10 in my bank account, debt collectors calling me constantly and my repayments were larger than my Centrelink payments. But soon I got pregnant again. Like many, I’d believed that since I was breastfeeding, I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant so I was shocked when I discovered I was pregnant and already at 25 weeks. Again, I’d had no signs — in fact, this time, I was even thinner than before since I’d dropped two dresses from stress.
I decided to make the best of the situation and hit the ground running. Life hasn’t been easy since Jordan was born — mum was diagnosed with breast cancer during my second pregnancy, and I’d finally severed all ties with the boys’ father, so it’s been me and them all the way. But as I tell my family and friends every day, my children saved me and made me a stronger person.”